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Open Source Will Change Enterprises, Says BT Guru

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Software licences are a fiction, and open source is ready for use by every consumer, says Jeremy Ruston, BT’s head of open source innovation.

Open source is ready to change the way enterprises operate, and British Telecom is just the kind of organisation to get the best out of it, the BT open source leader has told eWEEK Europe.

From the outside, BT might look like the kind of monolith that would have trouble coming to terms with the new paradigm presented by open source but the opposite is true, says Jeremy Ruston, BT’s head of open source innovation.

Hired by BT  two years ago to get the company’s open source house in order, Ruston has gone native and adopted an evangelistic role – both inside and outside the company. This month, he ran an event, Accelerating Enterprise Adoption of Open Source Software which set out how the new model will change business.

Ruston’s event included Mark Shuttleworth, the head of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, and BT’s chief scientist, as well as open source advocates from IBM and an open source legal expert.

140 people came along – around half of them from outside BT.

Ironically, at the same time on the other side of London, a BT executive followed Steve Ballmer on stage to extol the virtues of the Microsoft way. “There was nothing deliberate about this clash,” Ruston assured me.

Promoting open source in BT and outside

Ruston’s company Osmosoft, creator of TiddlyWiki, was bought by BT two years ago, largely, it seems, to get hold of Ruston as an open source advocate within the telecom giant. “Osmosoft was a nano-sized company,” he said.

“At a senior level BT had realised there was innovation in open source, and the company needed to understand that,” he explained. Ruston’s role, it emerged, was to evangelise open source, both within and outside BT.

“BT is a platform company – and what we need to make a platform successful is an ecosystem that builds value around it,” Ruston said. He’s talking about BT making its systems extendable, 

Ecosystems are popular right now, given the current very visible (but very closed and controlled) ecosystem on Apple’s iPhone, and the competition amongst other phone makers to have an equally extendable system. “Apple sets great limitations to what that the community can do. It’s an anti-example of what an open community can do. By making no barriers to entry, you end up with a richer community,”

Ruston has an easier time promoting open source than senior management, he said: “It’s hard for senior management to influence things, but buying Osmosoft, sent a big strong signal through the company,” he said. “A big grand gesture sends a message across the company.”

Part of his job has been making the existing open source activity within BT more visible and co-ordinated. “Wwhen I arrived at BT, I lifted up every stone and found open source playing a part,”