Firefox's New Beau

If Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPod is the most overhyped product on the market today, then surely Firefox must be a close second. You know Firefox, don't you? It's the open-source browser produced by the Mozilla Foundation that has been downloaded more than 50 million times since its release last November.

The hype says that Firefox will ultimately overtake and make invalid Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) security-challenged Internet Explorer. I'll believe that when it happens. But it is worth noting that no less than IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) has chosen to make Firefox a browsing standard for its corporate PCs. reports that some 30,000 IBM employees, or roughly 10% of the staff, already use Firefox. Now the rest of the company can download the browser from internal servers and receive technical support from IBM's in-house IT department. That's a huge endorsement, but it's also much more. IBM chief information officer Brian Truskowski told that he considers the move part of the company's commitment to open-source products, such as the Linux operating system.

I've been in and around tech for near 15 years now, so I find IBM's commitment staggering. That's because IT managers, like mutual fund managers, tend to act as a group. This endorsement could very well start a chain reaction across corporate America.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not about to argue that Mr. Softy should worry. It might be justified in doing so but, from a Foolish investor's point of view, it doesn't matter. What matters is that IBM is willing to make such a big investment in open source. You see, open-source products such as Linux don't charge licensing fees. Sounds good, right? Sure, if we were really talking about free software. But we aren't. Indeed, IT managers have long feared that adopting open-source anything would mean they'd have no one to turn to when problems arose, which would in turn create big costs in bug fixes and maintenance. IBM's move suggests those fears may finally be subsiding.

If so, it's good news for every tech firm that is making bets on open source to sell more products, such as Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT  ) . Or, for that matter, Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) , which today reports is working with Mozilla on a project that could challenge the dominance of Microsoft's very popular Outlook personal information manager.

Bottom line: Open source is a lot foxier today than it was yesterday. The discerning Fool will take heart and look for opportunities to profit as a result.

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What's the next new thing? That's what we're asking atMotley Fool Rule Breakers. Take a risk-free 30-day trial to see what the buzz is about.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is curious about Firefox, but he uses Safari. What's your take? Should Mr. Softy be worried? Share your thoughts with other Fools at the Microsoft discussion board. Tim owns shares of Oracle. You can find out what else is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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