Sunday, November 16, 2008

Great Panel Discussion!


Thanks to Gwyn Firth Murray, Larry Augustin, and Jeff Luczcz for a very entertaining panel discussion around Open Source at the recent eBig meeting.

I was a bit nervous about how this panel would come together since I was the 'rookie,' whereas Gwyn had worked with Larry and Jeff separately before. However, the commonality of the passion for Open Source brought this panel together nicely and there was an excellent exchange of ideas between and amongst the panel (as well as our audience). I think we had someone in the audience comment on the fact that it seemed like we had all known each other a long time! :)

The areas we covered during the talk were: licensing, community development, and reasons for using Open Source. I think the panel all agreed on good reasons for using Open Source, with all of us giving cogent examples of what the value proposition for using Open Source is (taking advantage of the huge amount of R&D and work that goes into good Open Source projects, like the Linux kernel), and the fact that you are most likely using it right now, without even knowing it (server side, or possibly even in a mobile/handheld device).

The discussion of Open Source's value proposition dovetailed into a talk about making money with the proper business model around its utilization, and especially due diligence in code/compliance reviews prior to shipping a product or being acquired as a company. Due to the large percentage of audience members who were startup-focused, a lot of discussion was around exit strategy as it applied to Open Source compliance.

However, my focus was definitely on the community aspects, and utilizing the exponential power of what the community builds to give you a head start in your business. I shared some anecdotes about my experience at Motorola, when I worked with various teams to shepherd their code changes back to the community. While I tried to share both positive and not so positive experiences, I wanted the audience to understand how to properly work with the community, as well as which pitfalls to avoid. There wasn't as much talk about open sourcing of your own code, but more on how to utilize existing Open Source code out there.

There was a fair amount of discussion of whether Open Source was entering a 'quiet' period, since we don't hear as much about it now. The panel generally agreed that it is a GOOD thing when we factor into it that things like the Amazon Kindle, Android phones, etc. are being sold based not on their Open Source content, but on their lower cost, and better features for end users, which are enabled by the use of Open Source. The eco-systems in these products from a developer and manufacturer standpoint are happening 'behind the scenes,' but the fact is that it is almost impossible to use any sort of technology these days without there being some Open Source component to it, whether on the front end, or with the LAMP stack on the back end.

I made sure to point out that community goodwill should not be the sole reason that you get into utilizing Open Source, and that my favorite expression (WIIFM) holds true here as well. There was also a reminder by me that sometimes as a company, if you need something the community is unwilling or unable to provide, you should consider whether putting that in your protected IP versus back into the community really is the best approach from a business standpoint.

There was definitely discussion around the work I'm doing at CollabNet with DISA to help build a sourceforge.net equivalent inside of the .mil network. I think that crystalized it for a lot of folks that if DoD is realizing the power of not only Open Source itself, but of the community model used to produce it, that small businesses should be thinking of it as well.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, and I learned a lot from all of my colleagues on the panel. I'd like to thank Jack Repenning (CollabNet's CTO) for suggesting me to Gwyn to fill in for him while he was traveling, and also Gwyn herself for being a gracious panel moderator, and taking a chance on the panel 'rookie.' :)

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