Positive Trends for FOSS

Every year people make predictions about what’s up and coming in technology. As in, “This is the year of the Blank Blank Blank!“ I don’t like to do that, for the simple reason that I’m terrible at predictions. I have picked one (1) super bowl winner in the last 20 years (shakes fist at Patriots). I make Dick Cheney look like Nostradamus.

But I am pretty good at picking up on trends. You don’t need to be terribly smart to pick up on trends. In fact, since trend calling requires simple, unbiased observation, a high IQ tends to get in the way. No worries here.

I see big gains for open source software next year. Exponential gains. Everywhere I turn I see things trending in that direction:

  • Gartner has found 85% of companies are already using open source software, with most of the remaining 15% expecting to do so within the next year. I generally find Gartner makes me look like Nostradamus, but some trends are so big even they can't miss them.
  • I've seen a dozen or so articles talking about how the current state of the economy is pusing people toward open source software. While over time I've found cost savings to be the least significant benefit to FOSS, in the eyes of someone new to open source, the "free as in beer" part often eclipses the rest. As tech budgets get cut, people have to do more with less. Open source software will quickly become an easy choice for change-averse organizations to make.
  • Internet Explorer usage of all variants has dropped below 70%, with Firefox making up the bulk (+20%) of the rest. 70% still sounds like a lot, but that's a significant and continuing decline. Most computer users are only vaguely aware of what a browser is; I've heard people saying "I'm launching the Internet" when double clicking on the big blue E so many times I don't even face-palm anymore. But now Google is planning to have Chrome ship with new PC's when it's ready. Instead of the big E, pepole will click on the big G (or whatever), because for them it will be "The Internet." When that starts happening, Microsoft will quickly find out what it feels like to be on the other end of the Monopoly stick.
  • Windows market share dived below 90% for the first time. People have been turning to OSX and Linux (particularly on netbooks) rather than getting a box that runs Vista. And you have to work at it to do that. The Macs are expensive, and you have to hunt a bit to find Linux at your local Best Buy.
  • The open source GIS world is booming. The quantity and quality of software choices out there right now is staggering. Dave Bouwman, who is one of the smartest GIS bloggers out there, advises using OpenLayers for the GIS web front end even if you're an ESRI customer. We're the same kind of shop for web development - we do GE or VE mashups if we can, and if we need something beyond that we use OpenLayers/GeoServer, and then if we absolutely, positively have to, we'll use ESRI products. And we paid a lot of money for those products. In most cases, though, the open source software is better.
I see big things for FOSS over the next year or two. If you're one of those 15% that isn't using FOSS right now, there has never been a better time to get in the game.