Companies are beginning to see open source software as a viable alternative for the enterprise, according to a leading analyst.

Open source software has been garnering increased interest at an enterprise level. Earlier this week MandrakeSoft announced it had released the latest version of its Linux software, codenamed Dolphin.

The move follows reports that the market for application development had matured to the point where organisations were now willing to consider open source instead of vendor-specific toolsets.

In a recent IT Manager poll one respondent commented that the issues affecting the use of open source software within organisations were probably clouded by a severe lack of open systems expertise amongst the Microsoft PC-orientated technical people needed to support open systems.

“Open source allows the horizons of IT to broaden at a remarkable pace and in my opinion any IT company–no matter what specific area–not willing to even think about open source software will eventually become a dead horse,” commented another respondent.

Robin Simpson, research director at industry analyst Gartner Australasia, said that he thinks there has been a trend over the last couple of months of enterprises assessing the costs of maintaining software licences.

Simpson said it had seen businesses very seriously looking at alternatives. “I think open software in the desktop environment–people are starting to look hard at the idea right now,” he said.

According to Simpson, they have also seen in particular, varieties of Linux increasingly being adopted in smaller server farms. “They’re discovering with a Linux-based system they can create a standard server image and deploy it to all those pieces of hardware,” he said.

A recent Gartner research paper focusing on Linux found that businesses were beginning to regard Linux as a worthy alternative to Unix and Windows.

“Linux got its start in many organisations as a tactical solution without the approval or support of corporate IT, pulling limited duty for departmental Web, file and print serving, often right under the nose of an unsuspecting CIO,” the report states. “But that role is changing. Server vendors have been beefing up Linux, addressing long-neglected performance, migration, support and security issues.”

Jeff Waugh, president of the Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG), breaks the issues affecting the use of open source software by organisations into two groups: real problems and perceived problems.

Waugh said the whole open source world was new to some IT professionals and IT management might not always be getting the best information about the pros and cons.

Waugh cites staffing as among one of the real issues facing enterprises looking at implementing open source software. “Businesses don’t necessarily know how to train their staff or find experts in open source,” he said. Likewise, lack of knowledge about certification available may also face some companies. Although he said there were certifications, such as the Linux Professional Institute, and the RedHat Certified Engineer, Waugh admits not all businesses might be aware of these.

Some companies also have the misconception that there is a lack of support available for open source software, Waugh said. But he believes that there are more support companies around, as a growing number of businesses become involved in the open source process.