Framing the Net Neutrality Debate

Sorry for the delay in commenting on this, but I’ve been sick with the flu and I’m just now getting back to normal.

Back on February 26th, the FCC voted to treat the Internet as a utility. As a huge fan of “Net Neutrality” I was cautiously optimistic about this, but I was saddened by the fact that the 3-2 vote was along party lines. With the current dysfunctional US government, I was hoping that something as important as a free and open Internet would not be politicized.

Those who would try to control the Internet for their own agenda were quick to respond. Verizon issued a reply that looked like it was created on an old typewriter, implying that ideas created in 1934 (the law that formed the basis of the FCC decision) couldn’t be useful in a modern world. It’s an informal fallacy – instead of trying to describe why the world would be better off with Verizon in control of the Internet, a much harder proposition, they opted to throw a bunch of rhetoric at the problem.

Those against Net Neutrality are going to try to frame the issue as “anti-capitalist”. The problem is that a key component of free markets is “easy entry and exit”. The idea is that if one company is making a profit, competitors will enter in to the marketplace until the overall profit reaches zero. The problem with utilities such as the Internet, electricity and water is that it is not easy to enter or exit the market, which creates barriers to a truly free marketplace. While I can argue that it is uniquely American for a large corporation to try and protect its unfair advantages, it is also anti-capitalist and government should exist to maintain a level playing field.

No, what Verizon dreams about is becoming the Enron of the Internet. I managed to get my hands on a leaked, new “Venron” logo:

Enron demonstrated the problems when you try to mix in greed with a utility. Due to companies such as Enron exerting undue influence in politics, the decision was made to deregulate the generation of electricity in California. Everyone used the same rhetoric being used in the Net Neutrality debate: free markets are the best for the people and “trust us” – why would we want to hurt our own customers? This resulted in skyrocketing energy prices and rolling blackouts throughout the State.

Internet companies such as Verizon are using those same tactics to build opposition to Net Neutrality. Their pet politicians, such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (the State responsible for Enron) have been hard at work trying to tie a free Internet to the idea of “too much government” and you can expect them to compare it to everything from the Affordable Care Act to Climate Change.

We need to respond with the simple mantra that a vote against Net Neutrality is a vote for an “Enron of the Internet”. It’s as easy and straightforward as that. Net Neutrality means that no one company, or cabal of companies, can control the Internet – not even the government. It is a vote for freedom and democracy, and anyone who is against that is against the ideals that created our country in the first place.

Yeah, I know that the Constitution is a really old document (even older than 1934) but it has held up pretty well. Let’s make sure that the opponents of a free Internet aren’t allow to disgrace it as well.

Dell, Rhymes with Fail

Yes, I am a bit frustrated at the moment. This post is something of a plea that someone within the huge organization known as the Dell Computer company has a clue and can help me out. Before you think I’m just a big hater, here is a shot of one of our computer racks:

As you can tell, we do use a lot of Dell hardware (and yes, there is an HP box squeezed in the middle there).

I work hard. As a result of that, I feel I deserve nice things, and what I really want right now is a nice laptop. But I want a laptop that runs Linux well.

I’ve looked at the systems from System76, but I want a higher density screen than they offer. I would look at the new X1 Carbon from Lenovo, but I’m still angry at them for Stoopidfish, and while I plan to wipe any laptop I get from any vendor I still think it will be some time before I can give them money.

No, I like to support Linux-friendly vendors, so I recently ordered the Dell M3800 laptop, Ubuntu edition. I ordered it on February 2nd.

A couple of my three blog readers have contacted me eager for my review, but I wasn’t able to publish it because I have yet to receive the laptop. In fact, it appears my original order has been canceled. Here is the story.

I placed the order on the 2nd, and got an estimated delivery date of the 18th. That would have been perfect as I would have the new machine just before SCaLE. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and my estimated delivery date was pushed out until the 26th.

Well, the 26th came and went with no update from Dell. I finally decided to contact them and I was told they would expedite my case.

This week I was told that “I regret to inform you that we are not able to process the order 769577335 due to configuration mismatch.”


You drag me along for a month and then tell me that there is a “configuration mismatch”? Now I have to reorder and go through the whole process again? Plus, there was no “mea culpa” and no offer of, heck, free shipping or an expedited order – just “so sorry, try again”.


Like an idiot, I decided to try again.

I got to the order page, and that’s when I found out what the magical “configuration mismatch” was. It turns out that you can’t order a Dell M3800 laptop with Ubuntu and a second hard drive.


In the configuration I want, I want a 256GB SSD for the primary drive and a 1TB HDD for the secondary drive. That should make the operating system fast while giving me lots of room for files and git repos on the slower HDD.

But when I check it, I get this error:

Choosing Windows makes it go away.

I was dumbfounded. The issue that kept me from getting my laptop, and it appears the issue that will keep me from getting this laptop at all, it that Dell doesn’t know how to deal with a second hard drive on Ubuntu.

Just to make sure, I did one of those chat-thingies:

Time 	                Details
03/06/2015 10:24:51AM 	Session Started with Agent (Jayant K S)
03/06/2015 10:24:51AM 	Tarus Balog: "."
03/06/2015 10:24:59AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "Welcome to Dell US Small Business Chat! My name is Jayant Kumar Singh and I will be your Sales Chat Expert. I can be reached at or via phone at 1-800-289-3355 ext. 4166817. How may I help you today?"
03/06/2015 10:25:07AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "Hi Tarus :-)"
03/06/2015 10:25:26AM 	Tarus Balog: "I'm trying to order a Dell M3800 laptop with Ubuntu, but it tells me I can't get a secondary hard drive with Ubuntu, only Windows. Is this true?"
03/06/2015 10:25:52AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "I am sorry about the inconveinence. Glad you chatted in today, I will try my best to help you"
03/06/2015 10:25:57AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "Let me check"
03/06/2015 10:27:17AM 	Tarus Balog: "I get that error"
03/06/2015 10:27:26AM 	Tarus Balog: "and it goes away if I choose Windows"
03/06/2015 10:27:37AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "ok"
03/06/2015 10:29:55AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "I am working on it please stay connected"
03/06/2015 10:30:14AM 	Tarus Balog: "ok"
03/06/2015 10:32:12AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "how much boot drive space do you need and how much for the second"
03/06/2015 10:33:24AM 	Tarus Balog: "I was going to order a 256GB SSD for primary and 1TD HDD for secondary"
03/06/2015 10:34:12AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "Give me 1 Minute"
03/06/2015 10:36:53AM 	Agent (Jayant K S): "I am sorry the second hard drive is not allowed"
03/06/2015 10:37:44AM 	Tarus Balog: "Okay"

My guess is that the Dell provisioning process is so rigid that when it comes to Ubuntu they don’t know how to mount the second drive. This causes the whole thing to fall apart. I don’t know why just mounting it as /data isn’t acceptable, but just when I thought Dell was getting it together when it comes to Linux it appears it is just so much black magic to them.

My hope is that someone from the Dell Linux team will actually see this post and will reply. There is only one thing I really want to know and I have not been able to find out: are there any special PPA’s that ship with the Ubuntu version of the M3800 for drivers, etc. If not, then I’ll buy the Windows version, wipe it and at least have the hardware I want. Yes, it costs me over a $100 more for something I’ll just throw away, but at least I’ll have my laptop issue solved.

This whole process has really soured me on a brand I used to like. My current laptop is the Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu version I bought several years ago and I still like it – I just need more screen real estate. I see now why Apple is able to dominate this market. They always under-promised and over delivered (I never had an Apple order show up late and most showed up a day or more early). I never got some crazy “configuration mismatch” errors when trying to place an order.

And in the few times that Apple made a mistake, they went out of their way to make it better.

A Quick DMCA Note

I just read an interesting article on Google and DMCA takedown notices.

OpenNMS was recently the victim of a bogus takedown notice. While that has been resolved (hats off to Google for dealing with 20 million of these things per month), I thought it funny that, when you typed in “OpenNMS data collection how-to” in a Google search, there was a link at the bottom explaining that one link had been removed as the result of a DMCA action, but it included a link to the original complaint that included the links involved.

So it was still possible to find the link – it just took a little extra work.

This just further illustrates the silliness of this stupid law. Without that link, we wouldn’t have been able to showcase how F5 Networks and their shoddy lawyers improperly included four OpenNMS related links in their takedown notice, so if this new action results in even less transparency, it may become impossible to right such abuses.

If our elected representatives would spend less time worrying about silly things and focus on laws like this that cause real damage to productivity, perhaps the economy would correct itself.

Phone Unlocking

Okay, I just scanned through my Google Reader feed (adios, Reader, I’ll miss ya) and found yet another rant about unlocking phones and I just can’t keep silent. My guess is that this won’t be one of my better posts, so you might as well go and check out xkcd. It’s always a hoot.

In the US at least, when you buy a phone you can often get it at a greatly discounted price if you buy it “locked” to a particular carrier’s network. The debate is whether or not one can legally unlock a phone without the carrier’s permission.

Now, it has always been illegal to unlock a phone while it is “under contract”. This has nothing to do with copyright law and everything to do with contract law. These days most carriers will unlock your phone once it is out of the time span of your agreement. The 3GS I use while overseas was happily unlocked by AT&T since its contract was over.

However, there are people providing software to unlock your phone without the carrier’s permission. This is usually done to circumvent the contract so that one can get a great deal on a phone yet use it on another network. This doesn’t make much sense to do in order to switch to another network full time as you are still under contract to make payments to the original carrier, but it can save a bunch of money if you travel overseas a lot and want to use your same phone yet not get raped by high mobile data fees.

The carriers are trying to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – as flawed a piece of legislation as there ever was – to block this software.

Since the DMCA deals with copyright, the administration of the law falls on the Librarian of Congress. They can issue exemptions to the DMCA, and for the last three years unlocking phones has enjoyed this exemption. This year the exemption was not renewed, and so it is now possible for the carriers to pursue legal action against people and companies involved in unlocking phones.

NOTE: This has nothing, zero, nada, zilch to do with “rooting” a device or installing different software on it, which is still legal.

This has caused a bunch of moral outrage, including a petition to get the White House involved.

I think it’s crap.

You want to sign a petition? Sign one to get the DMCA thrown out. When a huge company like F5 Networks can issue a letter to Google that results in the removal of legitimate webpages, like several dealing with the OpenNMS project, and costs me time and effort to try and get it reversed – that should be illegal. Heck, phone unlocking isn’t even a copyright issue so I doubt a court test would hold up, but abuse of the DMCA with junk such as this should be illegal.

You want to sign a petition? Sign one to get carriers to remove the “no class action” clause from their contracts. Since they all do it, it’s collusion, and there is no place in the market one can turn to that allows consumers to have any real recourse when the carriers do something stupid. If the phone unlocking hubbub was about requiring carriers to unlock out of contract phones, I could get behind it, but as far as I know, they do that already.

But if you just want to get out of your legal obligations to save a few bucks, cry me a river. When the Librarian originally granted the exemption, consumers had few options in getting either unlocked phones or getting off-contract phones unlocked. This has changed and the decision to remove the exemption is a good one.

I am especially unhappy when I see people in the Free and Open software movement unlocking their phones early. Enough people already associate free software advocates with software pirates that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Don’t like a contract? Don’t sign it.

But I truly wish we could remove the DMCA and replace it with something less insane. That’s a petition I’ll sign.

Hat tip: This great article on what’s really going on.

Intuit Payroll Hell

Okay, so I was all excited that we were opening an office in Georgia. Over the years we have had employees in other states outside of North Carolina (Ohio, Massachusetts and Georgia) but since we never had an actual office presence in those states, they officially worked out of the NC office, and so I withheld NC taxes and unemployment for them and they filed NC tax returns as out of state workers.

Now that we have an actual office in Georgia, I thought I’d better start withholding GA taxes and unemployment. So I contacted my payroll provider to make this happen.

I have been using Quickbooks on the Mac for bookkeeping for many years now, and their preferred payroll provider was a company called Paycycle. I liked Paycycle and never had much trouble with them, but several years ago they were purchased by Intuit and things have gone downhill.

When I contacted Intuit about adding the new state (which used to be pretty easy under Paycycle) I was told I would need to upgrade my service, basically doubling my cost. Considering the time I would have to spend in switching to another provider, I agreed to the change.

Thus began my descent into Payroll Hell.

The moment they switched my service, my Payroll To Do list filled up with seven years worth of tasks requesting me to enter in state tax information, not only for NC but for OH, MA and GA. As I was heading out at the time for a three week trip to Europe, I didn’t think much of it and figured I could fix it with a phone call when I got back.

I should have found the time.

The night that payroll was due for January, I was in London. Usually the payroll process takes less than five minutes, but this time it wouldn’t complete, with the system throwing a very unhelpful error message. I was lucky that the hotel had decent Internet access, so I was able to contact Intuit support on-line and after about two hours they managed to get the system to allow me to run payroll.

That is when I found out that even though they doubled my fees, they were not going to electronically file my state taxes (sigh).

When I returned to the US I made getting the payroll system fixed a priority. So I called Intuit support again and thought that my request, to simply set the state taxes history to start on 1 January, was a simple one.

I was wrong.

After spending another two hours on the phone, I was told that the only way I could get the system back to normal would be to enter in values for state taxes going back to 2006, for all four states.

Not happening. I told they guy to just put the system back to where it was before, and he said he couldn’t do that as the service would now be “Basic” and not include electronic filing of Federal taxes. Again, all of these different levels of service obviously point to the Intuit influence, as Paycycle was pretty much a devotee of the Apple method of simplicity.

I told the guy to forget it, and I would find another solution.

My first stop was the Bank of America site. I’ve been a client of theirs for decades, but it turns out that their payroll solution is provided by Intuit. No way I was going down that path again, but I did notice that it was considerably cheaper to get it through BofA and that electronic filing of state taxes was included. Another way that long term clients like myself were getting screwed.

When I look for vendors, I like to visit the list of OpenNMS Group customers. It turns out that ADP is a client. Now it is ADP Dealer Services and not the ADP division that would provide my payroll, but I like patronizing companies that patronize us, so I signed up. Our February payroll should be handled by them.

Today I called Intuit to cancel my service. The representative pointed me to a section on the web page where, after logging in, I could cancel the service. So I dutifully filled out the little exit interview, clicked submit and …

It generated an error asking me to fill out the interview I just filled out.


Another call to Intuit, another 30 minutes or so on hold, and I’m told that I have to clear the state tax “to do” items, the very reason I’m canceling the service, before I could cancel the service.

I’m afraid I went a little non-linear.

After my rant, I sat on hold for ten more minutes until I could speak with a supervisor. She was able to cancel my account. My goodness, maybe they should put her on the front lines.

Anyway, just wanted to post my experience in case any of my three readers was considering using Intuit Payroll services. In a word, don’t.

OpenNMS, F5 and Bogus DMCA Notices

I don’t know much about the network infrastructure company F5. I know some of our users have their gear, and I’ve heard positive things about it, but one place where F5 fails is in its legal department.

It was pointed out to me today that four pages hosted on the website were named in a DMCA Copyright Complaint to Google. The complaint states:

These URL pages submitted contain questions taken without authorisation from their owners and holders ( which are Examination Questions from tests by which Trainees of F5 are able to become qualifed support technicians for F5 products. F5 itself writes on these Training questions:

F5 offers instructor-led courses that provide a hands-on learning environment, real-world problem-solving activities, and immediate constructive feedback. Our courses follow an aggressive schedule of accelerated lessons covering many of our application delivery networking products.

It further states:


I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

The information in this notification is accurate, and I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

This, to use a complicated legal term, is complete crap, at least with respect to the referenced links on our website, and it makes me angry that this kind of sloppy research is allowed to pass just because F5 has a lot more money than our little project (and apparently uses it to hire lazy legal help).

I don’t really have an opinion on the original complaint. It does appear that most of the links do point to web-based study sites which may have lifted questions from F5 tests. It is a long tradition to provide study questions for exams, but if they did actually source those questions from F5 copywritten material without permission I think F5 has a valid issue.

What I strongly disagree with is that our project is grouped into that list when it is quite obvious that none of those links references F5 material. Heck, one link is to an IRC log that only contains the characters “F5” as part of a hex string.

I’m not too worried about it. The notice was not aimed at us, and Google would be stupid to de-index those pages (at the moment it appears they haven’t). What worries me is this trend where large companies use vague laws like the DMCA coupled with lazy legal work to bully others.

UPDATE: It does appear that Google has de-indexed those pages. Luckily, they have an easy form you can fill out to file a counter-notice, which I have done. I got an e-mail verifying receipt, but with a notice that it may take some time, but I’ll keep updating this post with the status.

Lands' End, You Are Dead to Me.

[UPDATE: Lands’ End contacted me and went to great links to rectify the situation, so be sure to click through to the link if you decide to read this.]

I can’t stress how important computer systems are to today’s business world. Here is an example of a company who is doing it wrong and one who is doing it right.

For years I’ve used LandsEnd Business Outfitters for our OpenNMS polos. The shirts are high quality, the ordering process is simple and on the occasion that I do need help, a human picks up in three rings and solves my problem with that one call.

Then, they “upgraded their system”. Now, my orders don’t get processed, when I call I sit in queue for a half hour (thank goodness for speaker phones) and when I do get to speak to a human, they don’t have any visibility into the order process so they can’t tell me a valid status. Then they make stuff up, like “well, your order was placed a month ago so it should be shipping by the end of the week”. When the end of the week comes and goes and it doesn’t ship, I have to repeat the process.

To add insult to injury, they are offering people who place orders now free logos. The order I canceled this morning was for nearly US$3000, over US$500 of which was logo fees. If I restarted the process now it probably wouldn’t take a month and I’d save a ton of money, but if I had remained “loyal” it would cost me. Did they offer some sort of concession due to the delay? No, so I’m looking to switch companies (perhaps Brand Fuel – anyone have a suggestion?).

Contrast this with Amazon. Amazon consistently under promises and over delivers, which two day orders arriving in one, and offering one day Saturday delivery in some places.

Recently I had to place orders on and Not only did my US login work on those sites, all of my account information was also available. Heck, even their “Prime” shipping service worked for me in Germany. The order I placed on the German site was done totally in German, which I don’t speak, yet the process was so similar to what I experience on the US site that it took me the same amount of time to process the order.

Guess who gets to keep me as a customer?

The Centurylink Amateurs Are At It Again

Hey, #centurylink, if you want to play with the big boys, you are going to have to invest in qualified people. Not people who take out business networks for hours at a time.

I was looking forward to starting my Labor Day vacation a little early today, but that’s not going to happen. About 2am this morning Centurylink made some changes to their network (both my home DSL circuit and my father’s, who lives an hour away, got new DHCP address) and the network at the office went down completely.

When I called, the automated voice told me that they were aware of the outage and that it would be fixed by 4pm.


a) in what universe is a business class circuit allowed to have a 14 hour outage?

b) who does a major network change on a Friday?

c) who does a major network change on a Friday before a major holiday?

d) If you can’t plan an outage, including disaster recovery, to last less than an hour or two, get out of the business.

This was on top of a routing loop last week that almost cost me a major customer (since we had a demo planned and couldn’t reach the server we needed).

I waited a couple of hours and then decided I wanted to vent. So I called Centurylink back. I didn’t expect it to get anything fixed faster but I figured I’d at least get a “mea culpa” and a little “we screwed up – sorry”.

The monkey in first level who answered the call not only did not apologize, but seemed to act if 14 hour outages were normal. When I explained to him that my business depends on that circuit and in fact we’d flown a guy up from Atlanta in order to work today (but that couldn’t happen from the office, now could it) he dismissed my concerns with “well, it’s an area outage, not just your circuit”.

I then pointed out that my home DSL line was fine, and since I live 10 miles from the office it obviously wasn’t an “area outage”. His suggestion? We needed to upgrade to a T1.

A T1? Was is this, 1993?

When I pointed out that a T1 was only 1.544 Mbps he told me I was wrong, that it was much faster than the 10 Mbps I was getting now. I suggested that there might be some sort of technology one could run over a T1 that would result in higher realized speeds (i.e. DSL over a T1 versus a POTS line) and that must be what he was referring to, he continued to insist that a T1 was much faster.


I then asked to speak to a manager, and was told I couldn’t but that the monkey would be happy to relay any concerns I had.

I’m going to do it myself after the Time Warner guy gets back to me with my new office circuit. I recommend that anyone running a business that depends on Internet access stay as far as possible away from Centurylink, and that probably goes for voice service as well considering the level of customer support they find acceptable.

Another Story About Broken Healthcare

I had a wonderful weekend away on the North Carolina coast, but when I returned home I found that I had a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina:

Dear Group Administrator:

According to our records, your group insurance premium has not been received. As a result, claims for services rendered after 02/29/2012, are now suspended.

This was followed by:

If you are planning to terminate your group coverage, please be advised that under North Carolina General Statute 58-50-40 employers are required to give employees 45 days prior notice of insurance cancellations. Violation of this law is a felony.

What a way to harsh the mood. First I’m informed that claims will be denied and then I’m threatened with a felony.

The part that pisses me off the most is that I pay all premiums on time. I pay my bills. On time. I have no idea what our business credit score is, but my personal score is over 800 at all three major reporting agencies. I take debts seriously.

This letter is a result of a bug in their software. It turns out that our annual renewal starts on 1 March. This is when our premiums increase, on average 30-35%, and for some reason this causes their billing system to invoice us late.

Usually, the insurance premium invoice arrives at the beginning of the prior month – i.e. I already have an invoice for April that’s due on the 22nd of March. But because of their billing system issues, my March bill did arrive until March 1st, with a due date of the 12th.

I paid it on the 8th, and according to my bank, BCBSNC cashed the check on the 12th – the same day they sent me a letter for non-payment.

What’s funny is that I have a collection of six of these letters. Yes, every single year they do this to me, and I’m not taking it anymore. In the spirit of Karen Sandler, I’d decided to take them to task for their crappy software.

So I called 877-237-6275, the number on the letter I received from “Sonya Walker, Director of Membership Operations” where I sat in queue for 20 minutes. I was then greeted by “Chris” who told me, oh, yeah, your account is paid in full, and that my payment and the letter must have passed in the mail.

I informed him that this wasn’t the case – I was never in arrears and that I was about to get very angry. If he wanted to, I suggested he transfer me to a supervisor, because I was getting ready to yell.

He decided to transfer me. Wise man.

After another 20 minutes of waiting I found myself talking to Misha Newman. I explained the situation again that I was tired of being told I was delinquent in my payments when it was untrue, and she replied that their software couldn’t handle renewals, which is why the letters get sent.

I asked for a bug report number.

She was a bit confused, so I told her that I’ve been getting these for six years now and that it needed to be fixed if they want to keep me as a customer. You can’t just send out threatening letters and then brush it off. If BCBSNC can’t manage the simplest accounting issue, doesn’t that cast serious doubt on their ability to manage things more complex things like medical claims?

I want someone in their IT department to at least document the issue and give me a way to know when it has been fixed.

I also demanded an apology from “Sonya Walker” if she even exists. It is quite common for large companies to make up names and positions for letters like the one I received. When someone calls to complain, it gives them a code to route the call. Ms. Newman informed me that Ms. Walker was no longer with their group, but that she did exist, and she would be happy to get her director to send me a letter. That should be interesting.

The sad part is that I doubt the alternatives to BCBSNC are any better (suggestions welcome). I think it is incredibly callous of them to value my time so poorly. On just this call alone I spent nearly an hour. You might say that I brought it on myself, which is partially true, but I also have over a dozen people that rely on me to make those insurance payments and I can’t be sure that there wasn’t some other mistake – so I’m forced to make that call.

I can’t help but think if health care was more transparent and used more open source ideas, if not software, that problems like this would be less common and easier to fix.

MonitoringForge, RIP

The following post contains language that some may find offensive. If that describes you, please skip it. I don’t aim to be crude for the sake of being crude, but sometimes certain words can’t be replaced.


At times, I am an asshole. I know this. Being human and full of faults I sometimes let my emotions get the better of me. But sometimes I believe I am unfairly portrayed as an asshole. It’s just that my bullshit meter pegs a little quicker than most.

Back in 2006, the Open Management Consortium was announced to a lot of fanfare. We were asked to join at the 11th hour, but something didn’t seem quite right to me. While the idea was strong, in order to get a bunch of separate and often competing companies to play nice together involves a lot more than a mission statement. It requires a tremendous amount of work and time.

Needless to say, the Consortium didn’t get much traction outside of a lot of press, and even a reboot in 2008 didn’t help. The domain name is now parked (and possibly up for sale it seems).

Jump forward to 2009 and the formation of MonitoringForge. A similar organization as the Consortium, I was just as wary about it and I said so. This got me labeled as an asshole, as in “why can’t you just be nice for once and stop being so negative.” It’s just that it seemed to be to be nothing more than a marketing ploy, and I felt the need to tell people about it.

As I was looking for my Sourceforge password today (I had to change it earlier this year due to a security issue and couldn’t remember what I had changed it to), I came across an exchange I’d had with Ross Turk about MonitoringForge and decided to see whatever happened to it. The website just says “The Monitoringforge Service was stopped as of June 30.” and lists a contact e-mail.

Now I’m not sure if it was this June 30th or last year’s June 30th (their twitter feed stopped in May of last year), but I think it is funny that the site was launched with such hoopla but died with nary a whimper.

The natural asshole part of me brings this up with a touch of schadenfreude. But the reason I’m writing about it has a direct bearing on open source and running an open source business.

When you are just starting out, the temptation is to do anything, simply anything, to get noticed. If you are a VC-backed company, marketing and perceived value is more than half of the business plan. But in the long run, your customers and your potential customers will put more value into your words and actions than your press releases.

I work hard not to involve OpenNMS or lend my name to any endeavor in which I am not 100% confident. It’s hard enough to get a large company to trust in a small company without having a string of failures to cast doubt. When I tell our clients that I plan for OpenNMS to be around in 10, 20, or even 50 years I mean it, and while they may not fully believe it, at least I haven’t given them any reason to worry by trading that trust for some short-lived notoriety.

Another thing I do that earns me the “asshole” or “zealot” title is rail against the improper use of the term “open source” when it comes to business models. Matt Aslett wrote recently about a number of companies dropping the term “open source” from their marketing, and he listed several of them. He wrote “The list below represents a small and unscientific sample, but these are among the highest profile open source-related vendors” which included companies like Zenoss and Groundwork.

We didn’t make the cut. Perhaps if we had joined in the Open Management Consortium (like Zenoss) or MonitoringForge (like Groundwork, who built it) we would have been “high profile” enough to make his list. But since the article was basically about a retreat from open source I can see at least one reason why we were omitted. It could also be why Zenoss is facing a user revolt and possible fork and we, thank goodness, are not.

I present this as a cautionary tale. In business, focus above all else on your customers. Be completely truthful and never get involved in anything you do not believe in 100%. Remember the sage Tony Montana who said “All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one.”