Live from the Mass. Technology Leadership Council Open Source Summit

Updated 7:40 AM June 22:  Dan Bricklin has now posted his own blog entry on the event here, which includes not only multiple audio podcast segments for the entire event, but also his 1 hour and 10 minute video podcast of the OLPC demo (follow the URL at Dan's blog). 
Open source summits seem to be all the rage these days, so I'm blogging from another one this week. In this case, it’s the second somewhat similar event staged by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, the largest and oldest technology membership association in the Commonwealth. Rather than repeat the dance card, you can see my prior entry on the program here. Dan Bricklin is taping the event, so I'll add a link to the podcast here when he posts that.  Interestingly (or incongruously) enough, the event is being hosted by Microsoft, consistent with its somewhat schizophrenic strategy of both moving cautiously into the open source marketplace while at the same time seeking to protect its core products from erosion. (Dan is also doing his usual Happy Feet routine, dashing around the room with a microphone to capture every question.)
I arrived somewhat late, due to the even more than usually villainous traffic this morning on Route 128, but caught most of the first panel (the legal one) which overviewed events of note over the past year, as well as first-hand accounts from members of some of the GPL3 committees of what it's been like in those venues as the parlous process of consensus building proceeded in the run up to the imminent release of the final version of GPL3. Karen Copenhaver did a great job chairing the panel, and the presentations were interesting and informative, but didn't inspire any particularly provocative comments or questions from the floor.  The good news here is that the emotional stage of GPL3 creation is over, and consensus has been reached.  The fact that there are no new suprises to be learned and no arm waving to be engaged in means we should be able to look forward to a smooth release and roll out of the final text of the new license.

Things are picking up now, with vendor panel, chaired by a puckish Jay Batson, a VC from Northbridge Ventures, and one of the event organizers. 

Jay has posed a number of interesting questions, focusing on questions of note such as the Microsoft-Novell deal. Long answers came back from the representatives of Novell, Microsoft, Red Hat and others, but Doug Heintzman, Director of Strategy for IBM’s Software Group (standing in for the originally scheduled Bob Suttor) responded to several such questions with the simple statement "We don’t believe in suing our customers." A nice sentiment, and one the marketplace tends to appreciate.

The most timely exchanges, not surprisingly, involved the questions, comments and answers focusing on the string of agreements with Novell, and more recently with other distro vendors (most recently Linspire), in the context of the "235 patent" Fortune article. Not surprisingly, Microsoft and Novell painted their arrangement as being "for the benefit of their customers," and as beneficial to the growth of Linux. Novell’s Justin Steinman, Novell’s long-suffering corporate spokesman for the Microsoft deal, pointed to the huge growth of it’s Linux business since the deal was inked, but whether this is incremental Linux market growth or simply sales that have shifted from other distro vendors is, of course, a different question. I felt constrained to point out that for 20 years Unix, and then Linux customers, hadn’t felt the need to be protected by such agreements.  It’s curious why customers should now suddenly need assurance.

The next section of the program is dedicated to "lightning rounds," i.e., six-minute time slots during which local companies with business models based on open source can pitch their businesses, moderated by Mark Withington, founder and Acting President of BostonPHP. Those models cover a fairly wide range, from Black Duck, the IPR vetting firm ("Know your code"), to Akaza Research, which " provides clinical research informatics solutions based on OpenClinica: the premier open source clinical trials management system." 

Others in the process of presenting right now are Apatar ("Pursuing the long tail of data integration"), Drupal (the open source Web development platform, and not a commercial presenter at all), EnterpriseDB ("EnterpriseDB Advanced Server is an enterprise-class relational database management system (RDBMS) that is compatible with applications written for Oracle") with a rather intimidating shark logo, IBM (perhaps you’ve already heard of them), Plone ("Plone is a ready-to-run content management system that is built on the powerful and free Zope application server"), DevZuz (formerly Simula Labs, an OSS incubator that sold off a couple of projects and took another to market: "DevZuz offers a proven, scalable delivery platform built to enable IT organizations to rapidly and predictably extract value from the use of open source projects during the development process"), SnapLogic ("SnapLogic™ is an Open Source solution that transforms data into services using the standard technologies of the Web"), SofCheck (pre-runtime error detection), and SugarCRM ("commercial open source customer relationship management (CRM) software for companies of all sizes").

All in all, an interesting sampling of projects, plays and prospects, covering open source concepts that are not only in various stages of maturity, but also addressing marketplace opportunities and trends of various degrees of maturity.  As well as a representative illustration of what’s going on in Massachusetts in the open source sector – including a VC (Jay Batson again) speed-pitching an open source project in which his fund has no discernible financial interest. 

I unfortunately had to duck out for a conference call, and missed most of the One Lap Top Per Child demo and talk; from time to time I peered in from the hallway, listening to my conference call through one ear and Ivan Krsti with the other.  What I could pick up included "must be open source….like glass legos…kids should be able to take it apart…distance learning…the future…" and so on.  Very provocative, and luckily Dan was not only audio but videotaping this part of the program, and may have a link to the video portion as soon as this afternoon (link to be added here when I have it).  I’m looking forward to catching it then, and will add a few thoughts when I do.

Updated 7:40 AM June 22:  Dan has now posted his own blog entry here, which includes not only multiple audio podcast segments for the entire event, but also his 1 hour and 10 minute video podcast of the OLPC demo (follow the URL at Dan’s blog).  Dan tees the significance of this project up well as follows:

Ivan recently gave a talk at Google that focused on the security aspects of the software and other aspects of the project. Here the presentation (at least the second half of it) is much more about the software, including the UI, the software stack used, Open Source Software issues (he doesn’t believe this project would have been possible without Open Source), and some live demos.

I think this is an extremely important project for many reasons. Unfortunately, much of what is so special is only obvious once you look at the details (which is why I did this video). This is not a "laptop" at all like a normal one you’d find in CompUSA. The hardware is quite different, the software is quite different, the goals are quite different. It is not a "toy" compared to a "real" PC. They are different beasts. This machine looks very real and very fertile for innovation. A "real" PC would not meet the needs of this project even if it cost only $50.

<End update>

The last thing that’s worth pausing on might be how a Massachusetts Open Source Summit and a West Coast-based Open Summit (the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit) compare.   The most obvious difference lay in that the number of developers here was far, far lower than at the West Coast event.  Also, most people were in the forties, Dan may have been the only one in T shirt and jeans (almost the uniform at the event that Google provided the venue for), and there were even some ties (ties!) in evidence.  Overall, the audience tended heavily to corporate representatives, VCs and service providers.   That’s due in part to the fact that the organizer, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council is not an individual-membership oriented organization.  But still.

For whatever reason, the open source community, like the high tech community in general, doesn’t stick its head up as far here in stuffy old New England.  It’s a shame, because there are actually a lot of open source community members here.  Sadly, it seems like they have to come out to Groklaw to play virtually, because the 128 area just doesn’t offer the kind of real-world venues for interaction that Silicon Valley provides.  I expect that it might not matter that much for the individuals, but it probably does matter for the local economy.  If we offered a more nurturing environment, more of the best local developers might start something locally, rather than become a part of something else remotely.  Oh well.

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Comments (3)

  1. Andy, any feel for the audience’s reaction to GPL v3? Are people still nervous about it, or is that slowly sliding into acceptance?  

    • I added some thoughts to the main text to this just now when I finished the blog entry.  The answer, as you’ll see, is that I think that people have pretty well digested the GPL3 changes and are ready to see the final text be released, and then wait to see what happens.  The good news is that the process has been open enough, and those involved in the drafting have been vocal enough, that everybody has already had plenty of time to vent, and for their opinions to be taken into account.  Personally, I think that 95% of what will be said has already been said, and individual projects will simply make up their minds what they’re going to do at the pace with which they are comfortable.  Anyway, we won’t have long to wait to find out.

        –  Andy

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