Today was the official start of the conference, and time for keynotes and sessions.
The morning keynote was interesting in that it involved a number of presenters, each of whom had about 10 minutes to talk, versus one long presentation. Tim O’Reilly started it off. I usually run hot and cold with Tim, but today’s talk I’d rate at “lukewarm”.
Well, “collaborated” is probably too strong a term. Harlan has this gig where he’ll show up at a bookstore and write a short story in a day. If you spend a certain amount in the store you get a free copy of the manuscript. He was doing this in New Orleans at a Bookstar when I just happened to walk past, and he was surprisingly approachable.
He was talking with George Alec Effinger about some plot points, and me, being the shy and withdrawn person I am, jumped into the conversation. Anyway, he used some of my ideas in the short story, and although I have never talked to him since then, I did strike up an actual mail (not e-mail) correspondence with Effinger that spanned a couple of years (until his untimely death in 2002).
Anyway, where was I.
Oh, the keynote.
The last time I was at OSCON, Tim was all about “Web 2.0”. This year it is “Government 2.0”, and the first few speakers after him focused on how open source and the open source way could be applied to making government better. This included talks by Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America and Bryan Sivak from the government of DC. Both were interesting, but when Jennifer was speaking I thought if I heard the term “millennials” one more time I was going to hurl.
Stormy Peters gave the best presentation, going over the reasons why you should care about the security and freedom of your personal data (thoughts, pictures, etc.) that are published on-line (the “picking up the dog poo” analogy she used was priceless). She also gave several examples of free and open source options for many popular social networking sites (Identica vs. Twitter for example).
The last speaker was Martin Mikos, who tried to gloss over the fact that his latest endeavor, Eucalyptus, is a open core/fauxpen source commercial software company that is trying to gain mindshare by touting itself as open source. I found it hard not to heckle.
When you have, right on your slide, that your business plan is to generate revenue by selling “enterprise” closed-source software – you are a commercial software company.
He pointed out that the MySQL sale put millions of dollars into the pockets of developers, which is true, but it also put the MySQL project, one of the most successful open source projects ever made (well, truly open source at least until about 2006) into a tailspin when it landed at Oracle. Yes, certain MySQL people got wealthy, but it was at the expense of the open source community.
Getting wealthy at the expense of your community is wrong and antithetical to open source. Sorry.
Others seem to agree with me. Even though the open source side of Eucalyptus is part of Ubuntu’s private cloud strategy, NASA went with Rackspace to form OpenStack mainly because the commercial side of Eucalyptus was at odds with NASA’s desire for everything to be open source.
Luckily, he didn’t speak too long.
After the keynotes, the sessions started. The first one I went to was called “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: The Joys of Engineering Leadership“.
This was run by a couple of Googlers who gave some real common sense advice about management in technical fields. I once wrote a guide for the management of one company I worked for called “Geeks: Care and Feeding” to try to cover some of this, but luckily I don’t really have to use it at OpenNMS. We tend to hire straight out of the community, and if people are willing to do something for free they tend to make awesome employees when you pay them.
One thing I had not heard of was “The Compliment Sandwich“. It’s when timid managers criticize an employee, but sandwich it between two compliments. It makes the manager feel better but more often than not the employee only remembers the compliments.
The second session was a panel discussion on motivating members of an open source community with financial rewards. I have to say that I didn’t pay too much attention, and I should have been warned by the fact that is was a panel discussion and as Chris Dibona says “all panel discussions stink.” One main criticism I have for panel discussions is that rarely is the audience included, but there was a lot of give and take in this one, I just couldn’t get into the subject matter.
By now it was lunch time, and the buffet sponsored by Google was really good (surprisingly so for a conference). As I was leaving I ran into Stephen Walli and Cat Allman, and I finally got to tell Stephen how much I enjoyed his post on how open source companies should not focus on selling to their community, and it was great to see Cat as always.
As we were talking, Robert “r0ml” Lefkowitz joined us. Now, I had never heard of r0ml before but he is quite the character, and I decided to attend his session “Collaboration vs. Competition: Who Wins and Who Loses?”
The thesis of his talk was that “collaboration == good” and “competition == bad”. Some of his arguments were quite persuasive but a few toward the end were a little flat. For example, he argued that in cooperative situations there tends to be an even mix of men and women, but since open source tends to be mainly male it must be competitive. I believe this is the Fallacy of “Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc“, as the ratio of men to women in technology fields is due more to societal gender roles than competition, but I often get my informal fallacies mixed up (which is odd since the Internet gives me so many opportunities to practice identifying them).
He made me think, however, and I like that.
On Thursday he is proposing that we do away with licensing and publish everything in the public domain. I heartily disagree with that, so it should be interesting.
I skipped the next session to wander the Expo Hall and to get ready for my own talk. It was supposed to be a 40 minute version of my “So, You Think You Want to Start an Open Source Business?” talk but I read it wrong and thought it was 50 minutes. Bradley Kuhn and Karen Sandler were presenting after me and I hope my delay in shutting up wasn’t too rude.
At the moment the talk has 3 ratings all of “5 stars” so I think it went well.
I then ran to see “From ‘Titanic’ to ‘Awesome’ – Open Source Continuity In Practice” by Simon Phipps. Simon was responsible for a lot of the open source movement within Sun, and I always wanted to meet him.
He gave a talk on how true open source communities can survive when their main sponsor (i.e. Sun/Oracle) goes away, and to my delight demonstrated how open core/fauxpen source companies quite often don’t have such communities.
Even OpenNMS didn’t score 100% on his criteria, getting dinged on the fact that the copyright and trademark are held by a single organization, but we did pass with high marks on the rest.
Simon’s session was the last for the day, and I had about an hour to relax before going to the “Android: Hands On” session that night. This was a three hour introduction to writing Android apps, sponsored by Google.
While part of me thought it might happen, it was still delightful to walk into the room and get handed my very own Nexus One. Now that I actually had an Android phone, I would be in a position to rethink my reasons for getting an iPhone.
But I’m still frustrated. I went to the marketplace to look for free (as in freedom) apps but was deluged with free (as in crap) apps. I bought up Wikipedia to search for open source apps for Android, and was extremely disappointed in the rather small number of them.
[On a side note, the guy next to me asked what I thought of the new Wikipedia redesign. I mentioned that it looked nice but I was still not used to having the search box on the right side. It turns out he was Trevor Parscal, the guy who designed it. Gotta love OSCON]
If I move from the iPhone I want to run as many free apps as possible. I also don’t want to have to sync via Google. As much as I love them as a company, I don’t want my e-mail, my contacts and my calendar on their servers. Where is the sync for Thunderbird or Evolution? Where is the sync for Lightning? One would think the open source community would be itching to create FOSS apps for Android. Perhaps it is due to Android running a Java VM, who knows.
One thing I really, really want them to do is to add a FOSS category to the marketplace. That would go a long way to both getting FOSS apps adopted and promoted.
But for now it looks like if I want to sync my address book I’ll need Missing Sync. If I want to sync my music I’ll need Salling Media Sync. So here I am, once again locking myself into commercial software with respect to my phone.
I did tear my eyes away from the phone long enough to listen to the REST discussion during the seminar. OpenNMS 1.8 has a robust RESTful interface, and the iPhone app is based on it. Now that there are a couple of Android phones in the office (Jeff bought one after returning his iPhone 4) I am hoping an Android version of the OpenNMS mobile app isn’t too far away. It will be nice to have one more FOSS app for the platform.
By the time the session was over it was past 10pm, so Eric and I grabbed a late dinner at Denny’s (right next to the La Quinta, of course) and called it a night.