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Open Source: The Next Generation

La Quinta Inns, the national hotel chain, has just shifted its fast-growing online reservation system from BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic application server to a lesser-known open-source product called JBoss. The reasons for the switch from commercial software to an open-source alternative sound familiar: good performance, increased flexibility, and lower costs. They're the same benefits that have driven many companies to try the open-source operating system Linux and the Apache Web server in the past few years.

What's different this time are the names of the open-source products being deployed by La Quinta Corp. and a growing number of companies. In addition to JBoss, they include the Tomcat Java Servlet engine and MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Berkeley DB databases.

"It's pretty clear that the open-source projects are building out on top of existing infrastructure," writes Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, in an E-mail interview. "Right now, the databases are obviously starting to come of age, and much of the usage there builds on top of successes of open source in the kernel and Web space."

This second generation of open-source products is different in many ways from its predecessors--including lacking a rich uncle to help the products get ahead. They can't count on endorsements from influential technology companies such as IBM that helped propel Linux and Apache. That's because some of the newer open-source offerings threaten the market share of commercial products. JBoss performs functions similar to IBM's WebSphere, while MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Berkeley DB are relational databases of the same general type as IBM's DB2 and Oracle's flagship system.

Still, they're slowly winning converts. "If somebody asked me a year and a half ago if I would use an open-source database, I would have laughed," says Jamie Cash, director of technology architecture at the National Leisure Group Inc., a travel-packaging company with annual revenue of about $1 billion. Cash, an Oracle customer, isn't laughing now as he eyes MySQL for potential use at National Leisure. The company already runs JBoss in a system that pulls together information from airlines, hotels, car-rental agencies, and destination-activity vendors.

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