Database management systems, operating systems, solutions used to manage the performance and operation of computer networks, and a host of other software programs are key elements in the world of information technology. Without them, e-commerce would not be possible. These critical systems and applications are developed by large, powerful companies like Microsoft, as well as by the cooperative efforts of developers, users, and enthusiasts with like interests and concerns. In the latter scenario, the resulting systems are said to be open, because the source code (the instructions that serve as their foundations) on which they are built is not proprietary or controlled by a central organization; it is freely available to developers and end-users, including companies seeking to build custom e-commerce solutions. In addition to critical system software, the Internet and World Wide Web have been called open systems because of their development and control is distributed among millions of users.
Both approaches have inherent advantages and disadvantages. In May 2001, Craig Mundie, Microsoft's senior vice president of advanced strategies, denounced open-systems development. According to CIO, during a speech at New York University's Stern School of Business, Mundie argued: "The open source development model leads to a strong possibility of 'forking' a code base, resulting in the development of multiple incompatible versions of programs, weakened interoperability, product instability, and hindering business' ability to strategically plan for the future. Furthermore, it has inherent security risks and can force intellectual property into the public domain." Mundie's comments angered members of the open source community who were quick to point out that innovative open systems were being used successfully by many software developers.
It has been argued that open systems further competition because the technology behind them is not proprietary. More parties are then able to develop applications and components for them. This can work to the system's benefit because more perspectives contribute to its development. When more developers are able to provide input about a system, it becomes easier to fix flaws and bugs that hinder performance; roll out improvements; increase the speed of system evolution; and combine an application's components in new and exciting ways not intended by the original developer.
In the early 2000s, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was a non-profit organization that offered an open source software certification mark and program to developers. Through its program, OSI managed and promoted the Open Source Definition (OSD) for the public good. The OSD set forth specific criteria that true open source software needed to meet, including the availability of a program's source code and the absence of restrictions pertaining to free redistribution. The OSD sought to present and clarify what the software community as a whole defined as open source, since the term was being used rather widely and in different contexts.
One example of open source software is the freely distributed and cooperatively developed operating system called Linux, which in the early 2000s was a popular, stable platform for running networks, including Web servers, e-mail servers, and domain name servers. Like many open systems, Linux is universal and functions on many different platforms, including Macintosh and IBM-PCs. Compared to more expensive operating systems, Linux was an economical alternative for cost-conscious companies that needed to quickly create Web-based applications or support programs used for e-commerce. Linux is very similar to UNIX—another open system that is vital to e-commerce. Like Linux, UNIX is used to run many Web servers and computer workstations. More specifically, it is a popular system to use for processing Web-based transactions. Behind the system's popularity are characteristics like scalability, dependability, manageability, security, and availability. UNIX was created for use by researchers and scientists during the 1970s, but collaboratively evolved into a powerful business tool. In 2001, UNIX became the foundation for Macintosh's OS X operating system.
Heller, Martha. "Does the Open-Source Movement Hurt Innovation?" CIO, May 17, 2001. Available from comment.cio.com.
Liebmann, Lenny. "Network Management Goes Open Source." Communications News, April 2001.
Patrizio, Andy. "Unix: Not Just for Geeks Anymore." InformationWeek, March 5, 2001.
SEE ALSO: Linux; UNIX