Last week I attended the Web 2.0 conference put on by O'Reilly and LiveMedia in San Francisco. I must admit, it felt a bit like 1999 again. I don't mean that in a bad way, but rather from the perspective that there is innovation and excitement once again. Lets face it, there were a few pretty slow years in the IT industry when the bubble burst. When spending stalls and jobs get cut, no one wants to hear about anything new.
For those who haven't heard the term AJAX before it's really about delivering a rich client experience in a browser. That's not exactly a brand new approach, but it has matured considerably in the last couple of years. A good example of a rich client web-based application is Google's GMail or Google Maps. The interesting thing is you can now build your own AJAX applications using tools like Morfik (a startup from New Zealand) or the OpenLaszlo platform. Actually AJAX based email was everywhere at this show. Zimbra has an open source Exchange compatible server (now in beta) as well as an Ajax browser based client. (And it's also imap, pop3 and Outlook compatible.) Laszlo is licensing applications including an email solution to ISPs and Morfik showed their own demo email application that is basically equivalent to GMail.
I ran into at least half a dozen startup companies who are all building on open source using the LAMP stack and MySQL. In fact all of today's hot companies are building on open source. Whether it's Google, Yahoo, Technoratti, Feedster, theFaceBook, NeoPets, or dozens of others, open source has become the preferred way to build a modern enterprise architecture. In the case of startups, it's clear that open source can make it much easier to keep the costs low, which is a good thing.
But what does it say when companies like Yahoo, Google or even VC backed companies with millions in the bank chose to use open source? A few years ago, you could argue that open source software wasn't as good as the "expensive stuff." Today it's a moot point. Take a look at Zimbra, SugarCRM, MySQL or JBoss and decide for yourself whether they stack up to the closed source proprietary solutions. While open source doesn't have all of the feature bloat, I would argue that when it meets your needs it's better than the closed solutions: More reliable, faster, easier to use. Who wants to pay extra for a lot of features you may never use and complexity you don't want? At the Web 2.0 conference it was clear that open source is an unstoppable force and it just keeps getting better.
Check out the links below for more coverage and some of the interesting new companies that were launched at Web 2.0. The USA Today story is good for a balanced (if skeptical) perspective.