Of Turnarounds and Open Source GIS

By Joe Francica

The past weekend, the Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), named Intergraph CEO, Jim Taylor, 2003 CEO of the Year in its annual report called "Alabama Inc." In his editorial this past Sunday, Huntsville Times (Huntsville, Alabama) Business Section editor, Shelly Haskins, said of the choice this year, "This was a no brainer."

Indeed, Taylor can now officially be dubbed a "turn-around" specialist for taking Intergraph from rags to riches, at least as far as its bank account is concerned.After winning both lawsuits against Intel in 2002, Intergraph has a comfortable $500 Million bank account, according to the Times.And although Taylor places credit for corporate courage on past Chairman and founder Jim Meadlock for taking on Intel, Taylor was the one who reorganized Intergraph into business units that are now profitable, albeit marginally.But after years of losses, even marginal profit, especially in this economy, is saying a lot, and with the stock hovering around $18, the company appears to be in an extremely strong position.

However, Taylor's reign will be coming to an end in the near future.He has already indicated he will step down as soon as a new CEO is found and not much will probably be done with the wad of cash upon which Intergraph sits until then.But what's next? With that kind of money, investment in technology or outright purchase of a competitor is surely being discussed.Yet, moves made by Intergraph long ago provide for interesting possibilities.

Intergraph was the first GIS company to embrace both Windows NT and the Open GIS Consortium.The company has built its products to be open, or as open as you can be on a Windows platform and it was out talking about the benefits of open formats well before other GIS companies.Does it want to be more open? Will it adopt a similar strategy when the pocket book is open to acquire future technological advantages?

That being said, there was an interesting article that I would advise reading.The cover story of the March 3rd issue of Business Week is "The Linux Uprising." The article discusses how IBM, Dell, HP, and Intel are making huge investments in their product development strategy on Linux to the tune of billions of dollars.And according to its website, Oracle is publishing, in open source, a series of libraries and toolkits for Linux that improve Linux's clustering support and adds new developer features.

Open = Linux?

The adoption of Linux by Fortune 500 companies is somewhat staggering such that it has Microsoft's® attention.Don't look for a mass exodus to Linux soon on the desktop, but in the server world, Dell is delivering Linux servers for $4000 each.That price was hard to beat for E*Trade, the online stock trading site, which, as Business Week reported, replaced 60 Sun Sparc machines ($250K each) with 80 Intel-based Linux servers.This is translating into declining server software sales at Microsoft, and Group Vice President James Allchin is calling it Microsoft's primary competitive threat.

So the question becomes, who will deliver a mainstream GIS product on Linux first? Right now, no company seems to be openly discussing either open source GIS or a future version of its products on Linux.OGC has some information about Linux support on its site, but not much.I think that Intergraph stands to gain the most due to its past strategy, by issuing a Linux version of GeoMedia, for example. The business case for this may be a bit murky, but large companies are clearly seeing benefits in cost savings in support of Linux hardware and operation systems.

Where might users look first? A version of GRASS, supported by GPZ Technology, Inc., is available for Linux.Much more information on free or other open source geographical viewers or software solutions is available at the following sites:

I invite others to discuss the technical ramifications of moving to Linux.Clearly, there are pros (faster, more reliable, open source, programming flexibility) and cons (security, quality assurance testing).Plus, what are the economic incentives for GIS companies develop open source products or users to swap out existing installations? Directions Magazine would like to provide as much information to readers as possible and we welcome anyone to submit a paper that would provide additional technical details, economic rationale, and other information.

Published Thursday, March 20th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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