July 31, 2004

OSCON winds down with success story, economic nonsense, and a big gorilla

Author: Jay Lyman

The final day at OSCON kicked off with an encouraging and standing ovation-evoking keynote from Cartography Associates President David Rumsey, who laid out how open source principles may be applied to an emerging "digital library world." That was followed by a Novell talk about the success of switching from proprietary to open source, a discussion of some "nonsense" economic theory, and a call for open source to step up and help feed a big, bad gorilla known as King Kong. Earlier OSCON stories:Day one, day two, day three, day four.

Novell's David Patrick, former Ximian chief executive and a player in the company's about face away from proprietary software, filled in for Chris Stone at the last minute, telling some of OSCON's 2,000-plus attendees what they wanted to hear.

"Where are you living if you think you can compete without a Linux strategy?" Patrick said in reference to his "virtual reality" slide. Patrick added that Novell is leading by example and has told all of its employees they should be using a Linux desktop by the end of the year. As it is now, 98 percent of the company's employees have been moved over to OpenOffice.org, and you cannot open documents in the company's email system without the open source suite, Patrick said. Novell's transformation from proprietary to open source has included a new marketing push -- something else the company was not known for previously, he added.

"We're a case study here," Patrick said. "We're building tools about how to transition."

Instead of decrying the evil of proprietary vendor lock-in, Patrick embraced it, telling the audience that those ill-conceived efforts were among the biggest driving forces in the formation of the open source movement.

As more open source business models emerge, the idea, the use, and the code are all becoming more mature, making opportunity greater, according to Patrick.

"It's about maintaining and supporting our customers, and these are the models that work very well in the open source world," he said.

Among myths mentioned by Patrick were: that OSS will destroy the software industry; that all open source programmers color their long head and facial hair; that open source is a fad; that open source is the only way; and that there is no money to be made in open source.

"We didn't invest $260 million for nothing," said Patrick, who also referred to open source financial backing from the likes of IBM, HP, and Red Hat.

On the future for open source, Patrick said despite its power, open source will not replace all proprietary code. He added that the legacy of open source lies in choice and giving customers what they want, rather than making them conform business practices to one-size-fits-all software.

Patrick also pointed to coming offerings, including a new Novell Linux desktop package later this year and, to the cheers of the OSCON audience, a full-blown Linux desktop client for $50 by next year.

"That, we believe, is very exciting," he said. "For those that don't believe this is happening -- it's happening."

After the discussion on some of Novell's wise economic and strategic decisions, there was a talk with Three Rivers Institute founder and director Kent Beck on why existing open source economics don't add up. With a talk focused on how the open source economic model makes people who pay mortgages and save for college anxious, Beck had his own myths, including the idea that giving software away is: "a clear symbol of chronic and systemic low self esteem."

Beck's bottom line was about turning potential money -- it doesn't cost any less to send a kid to college or buy a new TV if you've written an awesome program that a lot of people use -- into real money through sponsorship, patronage, pay-per-use, licensing [no jeers from the group], and "complements," which Beck likened to Vegas resorts paying to keep airfare cheap for bodies at the tables.

The final keynote and event of the conference was another appearance from Weta Digital's Milton Ngan, a repeat OSCON speaker who helped produce the Lord of the Rings films and had both good and bad things to say about open source.

Criticizing Red Hat for "sort of changing the rules" on graphical effects gurus, Ngan said for the same money as working with the company's software, Weta could assemble its own "hot shot team."

Still, Ngan pointed to improvements in the process of making the sequences that go into a film such as Return of the King, and credited open source for some efficiencies. Still, Ngan also used his talk to solicit an open source replacement to FileMaker for database use, which is used "by everyone in the film industry," he said.

For his group's next project, a remake of the classic tale of King Kong, Ngan said it is likely the film may rely on open source even more than previous films and will be in the same class as LOTR.

"The future is King Kong," Ngan said. "Don't be surprised to see the same level of passion and detail that goes into it. It's going to be as big or bigger than Return of the King."

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