2010 OSCON – Day Four

The last full day of the conference started off kind of busy for me. I had a number of work things to do (the business doesn’t stop just ’cause I’m at a conference) and I didn’t make it to the convention center until 10am. I ran in order to catch r0ml’s talk where he was going to propose that all software should be in the public domain and that licenses (even OSI approved licenses) indicated failure.

Turns out that session wasn’t until 10:40am, so I decided to wander around the show floor until then. I ran into a couple of people I knew and told them I’d missed the keynotes, to which the reply was “no, you didn’t” so I guess they didn’t go over all that well.

As I was wandering, I met Brian Reale who had come to my talk the day before. He manages ProcessMaker, an open source business process management and workflow tool. We were chatting about running a services company around open source when I realized it was right at 10:40 and I had to run to the session.

As I got close to the room I met Karen and Bradley coming the other way. Apparently the room was so packed that they had to stop letting people in due to fire safety regulations. Grrrr. So r0ml, if you are reading this, you are wrong.


[Note: we watched one geek walk up, be told by the dude at the door that the session was full, and he just shouldered passed him to go in anyway. The door dude just stood there, and we realized why when the geek found the door to be locked. Classic]

We ended up talking awhile in the hallway, and Tom “Spot” Callaway joined us. I haven’t been involved in TriLUG for awhile and so I had not seen him, or even realized he had moved to Boston, so it was nice to catch up. I then wandered back to the Expo.

I was able to finally meet Adam Monsen, who showed up in a blue OpenNMS polo. He also had a nice little gift for me for talking with him a few weeks ago.

I’ve learned if you ever need a conversation starter at a geek show, walk around with a bottle of single malt under your arm. You’ll meet a lot of people.

Adam and I continued our discussion over lunch, and they he had to get back to work promoting Mifos. Eric and I decided to walk around some more when I bumped into Brian Aker.

I follow Brian’s blog, and for the last several months I’ve seen him working on this large monorail project. Since he just tends to post pictures, I never understood what it was for, so I got to ask him. It turns out that he is building a 500 foot long monorail to be deployed at the Burning Man festival next year. I’ve never been (for years I’ve been spending Labor Day up in the North Carolina mountains) but some friends of mine haven’t missed it for over a decade and so from their stories I’ve always wanted to go. It would be cool to see it in action.

I also got to meet Aaron Williamson of the SFLC. He is the resident free software on Android guru, and we chatted about free software (free as in freedom) as well as the fact that Android isn’t 100% free (he told me there are three pieces of proprietary driver code on his G1).

Continuing that theme, I did actually make it to a session when I went to see Jesse Vincent’s K-9 e-mail client talk. Everyone I asked about FOSS on the Android mentioned his mail program, so it was cool to listen to its history and to learn how Android has evolved to be a lot more open to the open source development style over the years.

After that I went back to the hotel room to drop off some things before heading out to dinner. OpenNMS is heavily used in Oregon, from OSU to Clackamas County, the state of Oregon and even the City of Portland. My friend Stan, who I met at an OpenNMS training session earlier this year, came with his wife Jane to take me out to dinner.

In continuing the McMenamins theme started on Monday, we drove out to Edgefield.

Edgefield was once a “poor farm“. From Wikipedia:

Poor farms were county or town-run residences where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported at public expense. They were common in the United States beginning in the middle of the 19th century and declined in use after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935 with most disappearing completely by about 1950.

Most were working farms that produced at least some of the produce, grain, and livestock they consumed. Residents were expected to provide labor to the extent that their health would allow, both in the fields and in providing housekeeping and care for other residents. Rules were strict and accommodations minimal.

It is now a complex that includes restaurants, bars, a hotel, a spa and a golf course, among other things. We shared a nice meal (where I sampled their artisan made gin) and then walked around the grounds for a bit. In the background you could hear a bluegrass band that was playing a free concert to a rather large crowd in one of the side fields.

They then drove me back into Portland and dropped me a Club Barracuda, where Rackspace, Linux Fund, iX Systems and MindTouch were hosting a party. It started off a little slow but then began to fill up. I ran into Eric again (Rackspace hosted a hiring “meet and greet” beforehand and I believe he was required to attend) as well as Stephen Walli, but I also got to spend some time with Ilan Rabinovich and Amber Graner (Amber is a fellow North Carolinian). While we were talking, a man named Roger came up to chat and it turns out he works with Stan at the City. Talk about a small world.

A little after 11pm we decided to head back. While waiting for the train I looked over an saw a man in a MariaDB shirt. I thought it might be Monty Widenius, so I looked up his picture on Google and sure enough, it was him. I walked over and introduced myself.

While we were talking I met Jeff Mitchell of KDE. He knew our very own Ben Reed and as we walked back to the hotel he was hoping Ben could find the time to update his Mac packages for Amarok. Ben ported KDE natively to the Mac when TrollTech opened up Qt awhile back, so Ben, if you are reading this, Jeff says “hi”.

There is still a half day of show left (I doubt I’ll make it there on Friday) but overall I had a good time. I was surprised that Sourceforge didn’t do its Community Choice Awards this year (not that OpenNMS would win anyway) but other than that I enjoyed it.

It was really nice to see (at least among my biased, self-filtered list of contacts) the growing backlash against open core calling itself open source or at least a much larger group of people who cared about the difference.

Next stop: Dev-Jam!

2010 OSCON – Day Three

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”.

He did start off his presentation with a quote from Harlan Ellison. I collaborated with Harlan on a short story that can be found in his collection Slippage (Jane Doe #112).

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.

2010 OSCON – Day Two

For the second day of the conference, I had two tutorials lined up. Both, I’m happy to say, were really good.

The first one was on Puppet. While I’ve known about Puppet for some time, I had no experience with it, so I thought I’d be cool to check out. The tutorial was organized well and while I believe I’ve only scratched the surface of using the tool, the ability to easily add users via the command line on OS X is worth it alone (I kid, but I attempted to add a user to a Mac remotely this week and I ended up just changing my password and having a guy there log in and do it through the GUI). Since I just brought two new servers online, I’m thinking about deploying Puppet to keep them in sync. Of course, the idea of an integration between Puppet and OpenNMS obviously suggests itself, so I’ll be looking for ideas when I play with it.

The second tutorial was on Request Tracker (RT). The course was taught by Jesse Vincent, who started the project. We’ve used RT for years and we’re getting ready to do a new deployment, so I was hoping to pick up some new tricks.

One that I’m excited about is that it looks like we’ll be able to put together a single sign-on solution between OpenNMS and RT. We already have a tight integration, but we have a client who is interested in making it even tighter, and that was a requirement.

What I enjoyed most about the talk was learning more about Best Practical and talking with Jesse. Best Practical is a true open source company like OpenNMS, and it was fun to swap stories and poke fun at the VC-backed fauxpen source crowd.

It was a full day, and I was happy to unwind with an old friend of mine who took me out to Miyamoto Sushi. The place seats 9, the food was extremely fresh and the portions huge. Being old, I called it an early night. I went back to the hotel to catch up on some work and to get ready for the first day of the main conference.

2010 OSCON – Day One

My trip to OSCON was pretty uneventful, with the exception of getting hassled at airport security. Well, hassled is too strong a word – the TSA folks were friendly and professional – but I did hit a snag with my new contact lens solution.

I am extremely nearsighted (about -7 for those keeping score at home), but I manage by wearing contacts. However, as I have gotten older I’ve run into problems wearing them, so my doctor has me on some strange no preservative contact solutions which includes a cleaning product called “One Step” by Sauflon.

First off, One Step only comes in large bottles (you use about a half ounce a night so the TSA approved size won’t last a week) and second, it contains hydrogen peroxide.

Of course, the highly diluted hydrogen peroxide solution for my contacts is perfect bomb making material (sarcasm mine) so there is no way I could take it on the plane. I ended up having to work my way back out of security to check my bag. It made it to Portland with no issue (it was the third bag off the plane) so no harm, no foul.

Plus, it is delightfully cool and unusually dry in Portland which is a welcome change from the 100F+ days back home.

Note: While I haven’t used Twitter in a long time, I do ‘dent occasionally if you are in to that sort of thing.

Monday morning I set off for the Convention Center. Along the way I saw a guy who just struck me as a computer geek: jeans, dark t-shirt and walking with a backpack, and then I realized it was Eric Evans (OGP), an old friend from Rackspace. He is giving a tutorial on Tuesday on Cassandra, and it was nice to see him again.

My morning tutorial was on git. Considering that OpenNMS has a large number of developers spread out around the world, managing all of the code and merging it into a common repo can be difficult. We used to use subversion but switched to git last year, and I have to be honest that it is still a little bit like black magic to me.

At the tutorial I ran into Ken Eshelby, a long time OpenNMS user who manages about 100,000 interfaces with the application. It turns out that of the four tutorials I am attending, he is in three of them.

I wish I could say I got a lot out of the tutorial, but while it was obvious that Scott Chacon knew his stuff, he went through it so fast that it was almost impossible for me to keep up.

For example, I remember at one time he asked if people knew what “rebasing” was, and he followed it up by asking how many people used it. He then laughed and said more people used it than knew what it was, but the fact was that we couldn’t get our hands up fast enough in response to his first question before he asked the second.

The second tutorial, at least for me, was better. Josh Berkus gave a talk on keeping databases healthy (with a focus on PostgreSQL). I know Josh from SCaLE and he, too, really knows his stuff. Since OpenNMS currently runs only on Postgres, we often have to maintain our client’s database instances to insure that OpenNMS is optimally responsive. We are moving toward database independence by using Object/Relational Mapping (ORM) in the form of Hibernate, and of course Josh was against this from a performance standpoint, but I argued that since OpenNMS is a network management application platform versus a plain application we want to offer as many options to our users as possible, including choice of database. This allows for them to leverage in-house expertise to build truly custom solutions, and that flexibility is worth the performance trade off.

That evening Ken took Eric and me to a place called the Kennedy School. This is an old schoolhouse that has been turned into a rather unique collection of bars, a restaurant and a movie theatre (among other things). We sampled some of the local brew and then saw Iron Man 2, which was okay for $3 (not being familiar with the “Avengers” mythology I have the same neutral feeling about both it and the first movie) and my only complaint was I wanted more screen time for Scarlett Johansson.

It was cool that part of the movie took place in Monaco, where I managed to visit back in May.

If you’re at OSCON and want to meet up, let me know.

Monty Says: A Definition of an Open Source Company

Just a quick post as I head toward OSCON.

Monty Widenius, one of the founders of MySQL, has an interesting post where he makes an attempt to define what it means to be an “open source company“. I’m happy to say that the OpenNMS Group meets that definition, but I’m not 100% sure it is complete as the requirement that an open source company is one that “produces software” does leave out a number of companies that promote and deploy open source solutions without actually writing code. But I think it is a start.

I also hate that I missed the Community Leadership Summit due to a prior (and totally enjoyable) commitment, but we were able to at least sponsor it. If this is any indication of what went on I’ll have to be sure to make the next one.

Yes, Just a Bit More On Ye Olde Open Core

My friend Alex Finger (OGP) and his family are visiting from France, and we spent a very pleasant day at a nearby lake. I had to leave a little early to take care of the horses, so I had some time to catch up on my RSS feeds waiting for them to return.

I was surprised to see that Larry Augustin had posted to his blog, since he does that pretty infrequently, so I assume all of the questioning about whether or not SugarCRM is open source is hitting close to home. Not as bad as a flawed cell phone antenna design, but I guess bad enough.

While his post is very heartfelt, it is full of misdirection about the meaning of the term “open source”. He refers to the word “open” a lot, but “open” and “open source” are two different things. Heck, one of the most popular network management product suites of all time was called OpenView, but the “open” in the name had nothing to do with open source software.

Remember, for the sake of any discussion I start about “open source,” I mean open source as defined by the Open Source Definition (OSD). While some of the fauxpen source proponents claim it is inadequate, until a better definition is created and adopted that is the one I’m going to reference.

Now, let’s look at some of the better quotes:

Open Source is at the heart of SugarCRM’s business. Well over half of our engineering effort produces code that is released under an OSI approved license.

Well over half? Well, that’s pretty good, but is open source code something that can be divided? Can I say “here is the product, but you only get to use half of it under an open source license”. Who decides which half? If I look at in in binary, do I just get to use the ones or just the zeroes?

While neither Google nor Microsoft publish half the code they create under an open source license, in pure lines of code I bet they publish more per year than SugarCRM. Does that make them open source? It just seems to me to be contrary to the whole idea of open source software to only do it halfway.

SugarCRM always makes available full source code to all of our customers. In all cases (Community, Professional, or Enterprise), our customers receive full source code to our products

Heh – this may seem like Larry is being pretty magnanimous about making all of that code available, but since SugarCRM is written in PHP it is not possible to hide the code in the first place. Well, that’s not entirely true – I knew of a commercial software company that used a wrapper program to encrypt and decrypt shell scripts – but for the most part you can’t hide the code.

In all cases our customers have the right to run our products anywhere: in their own datacenters, in our datacenters, or at any of a variety of cloud service providers. In all cases our customers own their data and have full access to their complete database.

I think this paragraph is very misleading. Sure, SugarCRM customers can run the code anywhere – per SugarCRM’s definition of anywhere. Can they give me the enterprise code to run on my machines? Can I then give it to someone else? Can they make changes to the code and distribute it to anyone? While I haven’t seen the licensing for their paid edition, my guess is no. In that case, the slightly less than half of their software that does not have these freedoms is definitely not open source, at least by the OSD.

Consider a ‘traditional’ hosted (Software as a Service, or SaaS) CRM provider. Your data resides on their servers, under their control. If their systems go down, you go down. If it doesn’t operate the way you want it to, you’re out of luck. Even if they were to give you access to their source code, you are still not in control of your own destiny, because you wouldn’t be allowed to modify it, or even run it, if you wanted to.

By “traditional” he means Salesforce. In that case it is true that you don’t get access to the code, but the user interface is incredibly flexible so that you can create a very custom, branded look and feel if you so choose. You can also export your data any time you want. And let’s not forget – SugarCRM also offers a hosted service, so the same things said about availability affect them as well.

There is no real difference between the Salesforce hosted solution and having to pay for commercial software that, while I can see the code, I am not free to modify and distribute or, heck, even change the number of users (SugarCRM is priced per user per year). Again, I haven’t seen the contract, but my guess is that if you don’t pay at the end of that year, you have to stop using the software. Think about it – you invest in an “open” software solution that you have to stop using unless to continuously pay for it. Isn’t that exactly the same as a hosted solution?

Now, I’m not arguing that the fact that one can see and modify the code, albeit in a less than open source fashion, is a bad thing, but it is a far cry from real open source. It is just a better commercial software model, no matter how much the fauxpen source (or to be politically correct – open core) guys say different.

As I get ready to leave for the OpenNMS Dev-Jam conference, I can’t help but contrast us to these other companies. In the case of SugarCRM, it is Larry Augustin who makes the decisions about what is open and how much (and he’ll sue you if you get it wrong). With OpenNMS, it is the community and ultimately the users who decide what happens. Isn’t that a kind of openness worth pursuing?

Or am I just holding it wrong?

UPDATE: I was chatting with Alex about this post and he mentioned that the company he works for is deploying SAP. With their license they have all of the same benefits that Larry touts about SugarCRM, they can see and modify the code for use within the organization, etc., but one would be hard pressed to call SAP open source. It has to be more than just seeing some of the code.

Two Problems with Free

Things have been delightfully busy here at OpenNMS, and with Dev Jam coming up the level of excitement around the project is pretty high.

One of the people coming to Dev Jam, Matt Raykowski (OGP) send me a link today to a Slashdot article bringing up the “open source vs. open core” debate again, this time with respect to SugarCRM. Apparently some of the new features of the product are only available to paying customers.

I’ve been staying out of the recent resurgence in the “open core” debate (check out the 451 Group for a summary). If these fauxpen source vendors would simply call their product “open core” versus “open source” there wouldn’t be anything to talk about, but they need to market themselves as “open source” as opposed to “just another commercial software company with a great API” to get any traction.

The Slashdot article quotes Martin Schneider of SugarCRM stating “We are an open source company and it’s why we’re better than proprietary companies” which is total crap. Just being open source doesn’t make you better, but the fact that he would sum up his pitch that way just goes to show how much the term “open source” is tied to their marketing.

In contrast, take a look at OpenNMS. OpenNMS is a very powerful, flexible and scalable network management application platform that happens to be free and open source software. For many large enterprises and carriers, that makes it a better solution (especially when the alternatives charge per managed device), but for many smaller companies they’d be better off with Solarwinds’ Orion, a commercial software product, or something similar. Just being open source doesn’t automatically make OpenNMS the right choice and better than a proprietary solution for everyone.

Personally, in the case of SugarCRM, we struggled with the community edition for six months before signing up with Salesforce. For us it wasn’t a better solution even though Salesforce isn’t open.

In looking through the comments on the Slashdot article (yes, I know, I know) it seems there is some debate over if the paid version might really be open source. If it is, that seems like a really stupid business model, since if the paid version is freely distributable (a requirement of the OSI’s open source definition which I’m sticking by until someone offers a better alternative) then they could theoretically only sell it once and that person can choose to make it available to everyone. I doubt that Larry Augustin (the dark lord of open source) would do something like that since if anyone can make a buck from open core it’s him.

Anyway, in my mind Brian Prentice of Gartner put the whole open core debate to bed with his “Emperor’s New Clothes” post, so enough about that.

What I want to whine about today is two problems I continually face running a business on free and open source software, namely that pesky term “free”. If only Richard Stallman had added three more letters to coin “freedom software” my life would be so much easier.

The first issue is that when people here “free” they think cheap or not very good. In the best case they wonder “what’s the catch?” In many of our deployments we’ve replaced OpenView and Tivoli simply because they could not do what OpenNMS can, so even though it is free software that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

The second one arises when it is time to actually spend money on free software, such as with a support contract or professional services. A common deployment scenario is that a network manager or system admin needs a tool like OpenNMS. They go to their boss and ask if they can install it, and the boss asks how much it costs. When the answer is “free” they go, “Sure, knock yourself out.”

Now once the system is installed and there is a need for services or support, they go back to their boss and ask to spend some money, to which the boss says “I thought you said it was free?”

Open core is dead – the writing is on the wall – what with companies like Compiere going back to their commercial software roots and the VC market that funds it rapidly shrinking. The challenge now is to get across the value of free software coupled with commercial services in lieu of a commercial software solution, open core or not.


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OpenNMS at Watkins Glen

As you all know, we at OpenNMS are down with auto racing, so it was cool to get this note from a client this weekend:

Had the opportunity to attend the Watkins Glen Indy Car race this past weekend here in the Finger Lakes. Upon doing so, I wore my nice OpenNMS golf-polo shirt that you sent. While walking through the garage area of all the cars, another spectator approached me and said; “it’s not often you see someone wearing an OpenNMS shirt”. My reply was “so you know what that is then…” and of course the answer was Yes! Well, I didn’t have the chance to find out who he was, or where he worked, but… I just thought I’d pass this along.