The Open Solutions Alliance, a nonprofit group backed by a number of commercial open-source vendors, released a survey on Wednesday that found interoperability is a foremost concern among open-source-software customers.

The group, which includes CollabNet, EnterpriseDB and others, contended in a statement that if its members overcome interoperability challenges, they stand to “out-Microsoft Microsoft by offering a fully interoperable suite of business tools.”

“We think interoperability has to be a core feature [of open-source software] from the very beginning,” OSA’s president, Dominic Sartorio, said in an interview. “Most commercial open-source companies are finding a good amount of success. But how many opportunities are they leaving on the table because they’re not interoperable?”

The OSA singled out Microsoft, as opposed to Oracle or SAP, because its member companies mostly target midmarket customers, according to Sartorio. “We have one common competitor: Microsoft.”

OSA derived the study’s findings from a series of forums it held this year in Europe and the U.S. It said some 100 people attended the events.

Participants cited a variety of interoperability scenarios and concerns, including single sign-on for identity management.

Another involved user interface interoperability. “A lot of people try to plug open-source projects into an enterprise portal, and they want a unified look and feel,” Sartorio said.

Customers also cited cross-platform portability and data integration challenges.

In addition, the study found that:

— Lower up-front cost was the most important driver for adoption of open-source products, but this was tempered by concerns that spending on support and services would be greater. That feeling in turn was mitigated by a belief among respondents that open-source products will become more mature over time and easier to support.

— Few customers cited the ability to customize source code as a selling point for open-source applications, preferring instead that it handle their needs out of the box.

Sartorio said OSA’s work will continue in 2008. “This is going to be an ongoing effort. We’re scratching the surface here with issues customers brought up in these forums,” he said.

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