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Room for niche open source companies to serve business needs

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While the number of open source players continues to grow, there remains a niche for companies to act as business matchmakers, says Anton De Wet, one of the directors of Obsidian.

These "beekeepers" will also form an increasingly important role as business looks for open source alternatives.
"It's clear that the open source movement has gone far beyond the webpage development stage, which is set to revolutionise communication," De Wet says.
Obsidian, one of the providers of key open source and related products such as security solutions, operating systems, clustering software, global file systems, groupware and virtualisation, claims to be one of the leading beekeepers in the open source movement.
Beekeepers are seen as open source businesses that are able to match what the software makers produce with what the business world needs.
Speaking at the Open Source event organised by the Cape IT Initiative (CITI), De Wet said open protocols were needed for the industry to fully exploit open source software as a service.
By way of example, De Wet says: "We are going to reach a stage where Open Source software will translate voice into a users language. So if someone was speaking English to a Spanish-speaking client, the software will do the voice translation to Spanish."
Microsoft, a company often perceived as the enemy by developers in the open source community, has also adopted some open source. According to David Jacobs, the technical director of Consequent, South Africa has a huge opportunity to use open source as a service, and there is still room for the small players.
"Software as a Service (SaaS) works best where the client base is a 'long-tail', which is a mix where you have a handful of big clients, and a larger number of mid-market and smaller players. With this construction, it is a win-win for all three players: The software vendor gets an initial set of large clients to fund the project. The larger clients get more features than they would just doing a custom development, and the smaller clients get to use a product they could never afford to build themselves."
Locally, Jacobs suggested that the big municipalities of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town should work with smaller companies to install open source solutions and then rollout to smaller municipalities in the rest of the country. The smaller municipalities would in turn use small companies to support the solution, he adds.
Consequent, the consulting and software development company, has been working with the Amsterdam Municipality to close roads using open source software as a service. Although Adams believes in the future of web-based companies, he pointed out the following risks:
* Security;
* Service Level Agreements;
* Web process integration; and
* Bandwith constraints, especially in South Africa.
CITI has been encouraging dialogue in the open source Community through its initiative, the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) Forum for the last two years. In late 2007, the FOSS Forum invited Microsoft to give account of their open source software initiatives.