October 16, 2006

ApacheCon 2006 wrapup

Author: Joe Barr

ApacheCon 2006 ended its week-long run in Austin, Texas, on Friday. The event proved that Linux is not the only brightly shining star in the world of free and open source software.

Most of the sessions on all three days of ApacheCon were technically oriented. Not being a server guy, I stayed away from those and sat in on business or licensing-related talks.

Among the best of what I missed was a series of talks by Rich Bowen from Asbury College, whose presentations included the "20 things you didn't know you could do with your Apache Web server." I heard more recommendations and kudos for that one than any other single presentation. I also heard that Patrick Ball's keynote on Thursday was excellent. Ball is the CTO and director of the Human Rights Program at Benetech.

Open Source adoption in the Enterprise

Winston Damarillo, the CEO of Simula Labs, explained on Thursday how corporate IT should approach adoption of open source software. His talk was aimed primarily at IT buyers considering open source, and it was based on his experience at Simula Labs and elsewhere selling open source solutions.

Damarillo noted almost immediately that "You don't have to apologize today for selling open source," emphasizing that the decision facing IT buyers today is no longer whether to embrace open source, but rather how to do it. He cited Simula Labs' 40 new customers year-to-date as evidence of that. He also noted that open source solutions are not being chosen simply because of lower TCO, saying, "The next generation of innovation will come from open source."

One of the most important things I heard Damarillo discuss was the notion of evaluating the "bus factor" of a project: How well would the project do if its lead developer/maintainer were run over by a bus? This is something that has been discussed in the Linux community for years in regards to Linus Torvalds.

Schlock Mercenary

Friday's keynote was presented by cartoonist Howard Tayler, creator of the Schlock Mercenary comic strip/Web site. Tayler's keynote was a nuts-and-bolts talk on how to make a living as a cartoonist.

A few years ago, Tayler recounted, he was knocking down about $100K a year working for Novell. He gave that up in order to pursue his dream of being a cartoonist. At first he thought he wanted to be a syndicated cartoonist, with a strip that appeared in thousands of newspapers. But that was before he learned a few harsh realities about the industry, one of those being that newspaper cartoonists don't make enough to live on.

But he also learned that over the past 10 years, thousands of new Web comics have appeared, and of those, a couple dozen have been successful enough to earn a living for their creators. He cited Penny Arcade as one of the most successful, describing it as being a "dream job" for the guys who created it. The reason it's easier to make a buck doing comic strips online rather than through newspaper syndication is that the syndicates take about 50% of the gross off the top, so there isn't much left after they get their share.

Tayler then talked about how to monetize his Web site. He makes roughly $1,500 a month from Google ads, but the best way he has found is through book sales -- though not with a traditional publisher.

Using a $10 retail price as an example, Tayler explained that it costs the publisher a dollar to produce the book. The publisher sells to a distributor or distributors, getting a dollar or two above cost per book for its trouble. Distributors sell the $10 book to retailers for about $6, though they don't always sell the book for full price.

Tayler self-published his book "Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management" using a printer in China. He made a $22K profit within 30 days on pre-orders for the book. It's worth noting that the books are based on the comic strips on the Web, and it doesn't cost anything to read the strips there.

In his conclusion, he gave thanks to the crowd, saying that without Apache, he would not be living his dream.


This was my first ApacheCon, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend. It was good for me to see that the GPL is not the only license out there. Even though the GPL is clearly the favorite of free software developers, other licenses allow greater adoption of free and open source software in the enterprise. It was also good to see successful models for free and open source project governance other than what we see with Linux. From the beginning, Apache has been ruled by committee, a mix of both meritocracy and popularity. It's a democratic community rather than a feudal one.

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