"Sustainable, Open Source Software and All"

In an earlier post I mentioned Lyle Estill’s book “Small is Possible“. It is the followup to “Biodiesel Power” and focuses on the efforts of a small community in North Carolina as it tries to “feed itself, fuel itself, heal itself and govern itself.”

People are probably tired of me going on and on about the community being the heart of open source. I know I sound like a broken record, but with the current bastardization of the term “open source” by commercial software companies I feel compelled to point out that you don’t get the benefits attributed to open source software unless you have an empowered community. I saw a press release from one such company the other day that was going to “unveil” its latest software release at Red Hat Summit. Unveil open source software? You wanna see the latest OpenNMS, check it out of subversion and build it. You don’t have to wait for someone to allow you to do it. There is nothing hidden, nothing to “unveil”.

The community has been key to OpenNMS. This year is our fourth Dev-Jam developers conference. We (the .com side of things) spend a lot of money on Dev-Jam, but we get every cent back in the form of a better OpenNMS. It is the one time of year where the core of the community gets together, face to face, to decide on the future direction of OpenNMS. It isn’t dictated by the commercial side of the business, and there are many more people in attendance than are employed by the OpenNMS Group. The OpenNMS Group is strictly a services company, while the software is owned by the community at large.

[Note: we’re still looking for Dev-Jam sponsors (grin)]

I am often surprised at how well this model translates to other new endeavors, such as Lyle’s biodiesel operation. It started out as an experiment in a blender, grew to form a coop, and then became a commercial enterprise. Now that he is producing over a million gallons a year, one would assume that he’d just want to build a bigger plant. No, he’d rather see others replicate what he is doing, and he and his team will be glad to help you do it. In much the same way that I sell expertise with OpenNMS, Piedmont Biofuels will sell you their expertise to get your biofuel operation underway. Lyle has created a “reference implementation” of a biodiesel plant, just as we are trying to create a reference implementation of a management framework that is completely open source.

Apparently I’m not the only one who sees the parallels. Michael Tiemann read Lyle’s book and had some cool comments on his blog. I’ve never met Michael but we seem to share the same philosophy when it comes to open source. Together, it *is* possible to build powerful and sustainable solutions, both within software and within our lives and communities.

[Note: I’m storing a bunch of “Small Is Possible” books for Lyle in a spare office so he gave me a box. All new support contracts and renewals will get a copy. While supplies last.]