Guy Nirpaz commented on my post about Oracle’s potential BEA acquisition…
…stating that he believed that OSS should be on my list of the big 4 (IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft) if you consider middleware in particular. I would agree that middleware is certainly an area which OSS is playing an increasingly important role.
However, OSS does not necessarily represent the increase in choice you might expect as in many cases the big players either dominate or can dominate if they choose to (the investment in OSS by big players is excellently covered in a Harvard Business School working paper referred to here). In those cases, there is a potential risk that the OSS becomes positioned as the entry level offering with the pay-per-license version containing the features required for serious use or used to reduce the level of choice available by putting pressure on smaller vendors.
For smaller backers of middleware OSS, historically it has proven difficult to create a sustainable and scalable business model. However, I believe that is a market maturity issue rather than an underlying weakness in OSS approach. Already, we are seeing the emergence of some interesting business strategies which seem capable of sustaining a growing business. If one or more of these work out, then OSS enterprise middleware players may emerge (or existing vendors successfully transition to Open Source business) which will challenge the hegemony of the big 4.