For developers, open source solves one problem, proprietary products with vendor lock-in, but creates another problem,
how to get all the open source components to interoperate in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) implementation.
The lack of interoperability standards or profiles for open source software is hampering applications development in general, and SOA and Ajax projects in particular, says Michael Goulde, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. That is why he is guardedly hopeful that the newly formed Open Solutions Alliance may succeed in providing guidelines and possibly standards for getting open source components to work together.
According to Goulde, interoperability has largely been overlooked in open source development where parts are built without much thought as to how they might fit into a whole.
"The general approach in the world of open source is for highly componentized projects that meet a specific need," Goulde said. "The challenge is to assemble and integrate those components into more complete platforms and infrastructures. And that's not easy."
The problem is common to all software product development ,but presents a special challenge for open source, said Barry Klawans, CTO at JasperSoft Corp., chief spokesman for OSA and chair of its interoperability working group.
"I don't think it's unique to open source," Klawans said. "Traditional proprietary software doesn't work with anything but itself usually. The difference is that in the proprietary world people have entire suites of products. All the commercial vendors want to be a one-stop shop. In open source development, people tend to focus on doing one thing and doing it really, really well. They tend to build very good functionality, but they don't always stop to think about people who are deploying more than one thing."
While open source has the potential to revolutionize the software industry, the lack of a standard approach to interoperability is slowing its forward progress, Goulde said. The wide range of choices open source offers to a developer, while attractive in theory can be overwhelming in practice, he said.
"People have so many choices and there are not guidelines to make the choices," the analyst said. "There's also an almost infinite number of combinations that makes support and maintenance involving complementary products difficult. Trying to wade through it all is tough. It would be nice to have some standard profiles that people agree are useful."
OSA offers hope that open source interoperability can be addressed, Goulde said. But since the group is in it's early formative stages, he said, developers will have to wait and see what it eventually delivers.
The genesis of OSA dates back to last November when a group of open source vendors began talking about forming an alliance to address interoperability, Klawans said. The group officially announced its formation as a vendor-neutral consortium in February. More details on working groups, new members and the election of a board of directors will be announced at LinuxWorld in August, he said.
Besides JasperSoft, Klawans' employer, the initial membership list includes Adaptive Planning Inc., Dark Horse Ventures LLC.'s Centric CRM, CollabNet Inc., EnterpriseDB Corp., Hyperic Inc., Openbravo S.L., Open Source Technology Group Inc.'s SourceForge.net, SpikeSource Inc. and Talend Inc.
OSA is hoping to attract additional members, Klawans said. One of the reasons it has not yet elected a board of directors was to avoid shutting perspective members out of a chance to have a vote, he added.
Goulde said it is hoped OSA will eventually attract major vendors as it will need all the resources it can get to fulfill its mission.