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Open to Openness

Famed cartoonist Charles Schultz once said, "No problem's too big to run away from." That view might have been fine for good ol' Charlie Brown, but it's not exactly a formula for success in the executive suite.

Health care executives tend to examine potential problems from multiple angles, sorting through complexities, sometimes uncovering unique opportunities. For example, in this month's issue, Bruce Wilder, a practicing neurological surgeon and legal counselor based in Pittsburgh, recommends that the federal government make available a cross-platform, open-source electronic health record (EHR) system. Dr. Wilder explains that the EHR's components should be customized for different care settings (e.g., hospital vs. group practice). However, the modules should be able to seamlessly interact.

According to Dr. Wilder, WorldVistA EHR, an open-source EHR based on the Department of Veterans Affairs' VistA project, would deliver the desired capabilities. The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology confirmed WorldVistA EHR VOE/1.0 as a certified ambulatory EHR product on April 30, 2007.

Dr. Wilder is currently preparing proposals to the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association and the American Public Health Association to adopt policy supporting the implementation of open-source EHR systems.


Market-wide momentum

From a broader perspective, looking out beyond health care, open-source software appears to be gaining mainstream traction. According to technology research firm IDC, worldwide revenue for open-source software, which totaled $1.8 billion in 2006, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26 percent, reaching $5.8 billion by 2011.

Enterprises are judging open source on its up-front cost, total cost of ownership, reliability and features, just as they would a commercial product, IDC Analyst Matt Lawton told IDG News Service. He added that traditional open-source issues — potential liability for patent infringement and availability of technical support — don't seem to be immediate concerns among IT decision-makers.

"Software is software, and things like functionality and reliability are the most important attributes, regardless of whether the software is open-source or not," Lawton commented. "But having said that, to the extent that open-source can save end-users money, they are all ears."

If open-source software is increasingly being considered equivalent to proprietary software, that creates opportunities in the enterprise market for open-source applications to run on servers, desktop computers and mobile devices, the IDG report noted.

On Aug. 6, Lenovo Group, the world's No. 3 PC maker, said it would start selling laptops preloaded with open-source Linux software from Novell instead of Microsoft's Windows. The announcement came at LinuxWorld, attended by an estimated 11,000 IT managers. Reuters reported that the laptops will be sold to business customers and consumers beginning in the fourth quarter of this year.

Reuters also reported that in May No. 2 PC maker Dell began selling to U.S. consumers three models preloaded with a version of Linux from Ubuntu, a non-profit group. The move came after CEO Michael Dell asked customers for new-product suggestions; Linux PCs overwhelmingly topped the wish-list.

Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu founder, told Reuters last month that he expects Dell to expand its Linux PC program. He added that other large PC makers are negotiating deals to introduce models preloaded with Ubuntu.

Source:  Vol. 11 •Issue 8 • Page 8, Editorial Angle, Open to Openness,

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