What do you think when I say open source? Is it quirky, innovative software that is produced by geeks in the bedroom and supported by an honest group of collaborative free-thinkers?

That is certainly the common perception of open source – an approach to IT development that promotes the free access and modification to resource materials. Be careful, however, of generalisations.

Once a niche activity, open source is quickly becoming a business norm. Three quarters (76%) of CIOs currently use free software across their enterprise and over half (51%) intend to deploy more in 2010, according to research from Global Graphics (see further reading, below).

That is certainly a considerable proportion of the marketplace. And the reason for such significance can be linked to the increasingly vendor-supported nature of open source software. What is fast developing is a middle ground between openness and commercialisation.

Are you ready, and how far should you go towards being an open enterprise? First, be aware that open source is no longer the preserve of bedroom-based developers.

Growing diversity leaves analyst Gartner (see further reading) to conclude that three distinct categories of open source software will have emerged by the end of 2011: community projects, vendor-centric projects and commercial community projects, which have vendor-independent support channels.

Second, take heart if potential issues surrounding licensing and maintenance concern you. Open source is now a very professional IT activity. At least 70% of the revenue from commercial open source software will come from vendor-centric projects with dual-license business models by 2012, according to Gartner.

Finally, many of your peers are already using open source; in fact, many are reliant on it. The aforementioned Global Graphics research shows that more than half (54%) of CIOs use more than 10 different free software products in their organisation.

Openness needn’t be scary but you need to be prepared for the continued shift towards a subtle combination of free software and commercial community projects. Open source might not be the mainstream but you will need to find key partners that can help you create a conventional approach.