Will freeware change IT forever?

Not long ago if you were trying to make a living selling freeware -- now known as "open source software" -- you got no respect from the "payware" vendors or from the people running the IT departments. These days, however, nearly all of Microsoft's rivals are rushing to team up with a freeware provider in an attempt to broaden their overall base of support.

IBM is the latest vendor to jump on the open source software bandwagon by establishing an alliance with the makers of the Apache Web server. Although Netscape Communications and Microsoft like to talk about their Web server initiatives, neither company comes close to enjoying the level of customer support that the folks at Apache have earned.

In fact, if you look at just about every major commercial Web site, you're more than likely to find an Apache Web server. So for IBM, which is still trying to find its way on the Internet, the deal with Apache is a huge win.

At the same time, it represents a huge loss for Netscape, which in an amazing act of hubris declined an overture from IBM even though by all accounts my enemy's enemy should be my friend. So instead of gaining thousands of IBM salespeople pushing Netscape products around the globe, Netscape executives will have to rely on their own sales efforts to combat not only Microsoft, but also IBM and probably Oracle and Sun as well.

You have to wonder whether IBM has considered just how much potential an open source code movement could have now that freeware has garnered support from its company on the server end and from Netscape on the browser side. After all, there are tons of very good open source code implementations in all kinds of software categories.

So the real question is, has IBM in its effort to halt Microsoft's growth into the enterprise sown the seeds of destruction for the industry's economic software model? Or have we reached a point where the actual price of software is irrelevant compared to the cost of implementing and maintaining that software?

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