Open Source for America

It’s been a pretty busy and interesting week. OSCON is going on out in California, and David and Matt are there for OpenNMS. As it is the probably the premiere open source conference it seems important to attend, but when I went a couple of years ago I really didn’t enjoy it.

Part of the reason is that I am not a developer, and the conference is very developer-centric. The other part is that while I maintain an e-mail correspondence with a number of open source “superstars”, the vibe is all strange at OSCON. If I meet these people in any other situation or conference we’re cool, but at OSCON it is different. I don’t want to say they are standoffish, as that isn’t the case, it just seems that it is harder for me to just walk up to them and start talking.

I know I’m not making any sense, so I’ll move on.

Oh, a big “congrats” to Brian Aker and the other winners for their Google O’Reilly Open Source Award. It is well deserved and I’m a little jealous, sort of the same way I felt when Tobi Oetiker got his SAGE achievement award at LISA. The jealousy stems from the fact that I’d love to get awards like this, but it should never happen. Not because I don’t work hard, but OpenNMS is such a community driven project that there really isn’t a single person we can recognize as being responsible for OpenNMS. I’m just a cheerleader, and my reward is being able to watch such an incredible team of people take the field.

Another announcement made this week was the founding of Open Source for America. This is a lobbying group designed to promote free and open source software in the US government. Their first goal is stated:

Aligned with our commitment to the four principles, our goals are to help effect change in the U.S. Federal government policies and practices to allow the federal government to better utilize free and open source software;

I think this is a great idea, but I was seriously confused when I read the list of founding members, which include such companies as Oracle, most likely involved due to its purchase of Sun; Medsphere, which sued its founders out of the company for daring to open source their “open source” software, and Alfresco.

I find that last company’s involvement amusing, since their most vocal employee often rants on about how “open source” is not free software, yet they helped found an organization, with “open source” in its name, blatantly based on the four principals of free software. It comes across as a little hypocritical and self-serving.

However, quite a bit of the organization reads like a Who’s Who of free and open source software, and so I asked one of the advisors to help me explain the discrepancy. He replied:

.. the companies involved wanted the biggest tent possible. Also, there are no dues being charged, so there’s no reason for people to think twice about joining up. The belief of the parties putting this together … is that the Administration will not speak to individual vendors, but will greet an association in proportion to the size of its membership, so they are bulking up.

Makes sense.

I am one of those guys who always thinks twice about signing up for stuff, so I am going to wait awhile before getting involved (I am also surprised that they didn’t involve Mark Taylor of Sirius IT who has a lot of experience with promoting FLOSS in government for the EU).

Unfortunately, this “thinking twice” gets me labelled some sort of free software zealot, and I’m not invited to cool parties with lots of shrimp cocktail and free drinks. It did land me a free sushi lunch with Andrew Oliver, a board member of the Open Source Initiative.

We met yesterday in Chapel Hill and the one hour lunch turned into more like a four hour gabfest on free and open software (those that know me are probably not surprised).

One of the cool things he brought up, and which I had not considered, came up during a discussion of venture capital. VCs usually fund rather novel ideas (well, for certain values of “novel”). Perhaps the idea of an open source company has grown past that novelty stage and is more mainstream than we think. For example, no one would go to a VC firm if they wanted to open up a restaurant. They’d go to either the bank or to individual investors, most likely family and friends. Heck, that’s what we did with The OpenNMS Group. I think it would be an indication that open source has arrived if the idea of starting an open source company did not immediately begin with “get VC money”.

He also complained about our lack of marketing with respect to OpenNMS. I have often resisted doing any kind of formal marketing because it is hard to reconcile my core beliefs of transparency, openness and no bullshit with what usually passes for marketing. Yet it would be great to be able to communicate that OpenNMS is a real company with real customers and a long track record of delivering the highest quality management solutions, and not just a bunch of open source zealots hanging out in North Carolina.

So I was happy to find a company called Bold Interactive that does marketing but shares our ideals that clients are partners and not checkbooks, and that doing good, besides being the right thing to do, has positive financial benefits. We are just getting started on what will be our first ever formal marketing effort, and I expect the community to provide feedback and keep us honest.

In addition, Bold introduced us to a really talented public relations person named Margaret Gifford. She has an amazing amount of marketing experience coupled with the same attitude we look for in all of our partners (she resigned from a very powerful position due to quality of life issues) and we are happy to have her apply that experience to getting the word out about OpenNMS.

Well, if you’ve read this far you really should get a hobby, and I want to apologize for the rambling and newsy nature of this post.

One thought on “Open Source for America

  1. “I know I’m not making any sense, so I’ll move on.” Well -that- made a lot of sense. Awesome blogpost. I’ll spring for shrimp cocktail and drinks at our next lunch, if not our next party 🙂

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