There are number of factors coming together that lead me to believe that open source's moment is right now, today, this year. Open source already runs so many things and just last week as Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, he asked Scott McNealy of Sun to prepare a report on open source technologies as a first step toward exploring the use of open source in government.
When you combine this with the current economic crisis, the maturation of open source products in general, and a willingness to explore FOSS (free and open source software) as a reasonable alternative, these factors are coming together at this one moment in time and it's time for Open Source to step up.
Consider MySQL and Apache's host of projects, which are used in businesses every day of the year. Alfresco is a serious player in content management to name but a few excellent enterprise-class open source products. On the desktop Firefox and Thunderbird are as likely to be found as Internet Explorer and Outlook or Outlook Express these days on a Windows machine and OpenOffice is reasonable, free alternative to Microsoft Office.
The economy is a mess. IT budgets are tight. Companies are looking for ways to cut costs. Now is the time to look at open source.
As I've written here before, it's not free, but it does greatly reduce the cost of software purchases because you are no longer burdened by expensive licensing requirements. You still have all of the other costs related to implementation, maintenance, training and so forth. There are always costs associated with implementing any software, but this gives you a flexible, lower-cost alternative and many organizations will be taking a closer look if they haven't already.
President Obama has promised to find ways to reduce the cost of running the federal government and open source is a way to do that. Chances are there are lots of open source projects running in the government today, but if you put the weight of the presidential bully pulpit behind it, it's going to have an impact. And the government is a huge customer, which will be looking at open source businesses, not just the free downloads. They will want support and services and training and the business ecosystem around open source should appeal to Obama and his grassroots approach to governing.
Of course, it's important to remember that the large commercial software companies are also powerful economic entities that create lots of jobs, and they are not going to go away or take this lightly, but it could put some pressure on these companies to put some of their products under open source or reduce costs. But it could also put them into fighting mode. High tech companies were good to Obama and he will likely avoid biting the hand that fed him.
It's Coming Together
Just last week Alfresco released Alfresco Labs 3, perhaps the most comprehensive open source content management system ever released. Last year saw the releases of Firefox 3 and OpenOffice 3.
Open source tools are maturing. They have real use cases in real homes and businesses. All of these factors lead me to believe the time has come for open source. Maybe it's already arrived, but with a push from the United States government combined with a soft economy, it could truly be the moment for open source to flourish.