June 2, 2005

Red Hat Summit Day 2: Good collaboration and more

Author: Joe Barr

Day 2 of the Red Hat Summit in New Orleans began with speeches from Red Hat's Michael Tiemann and IBM's Irving Wladawsky-Berger. I also caught up with free music guru John Buckman for his thoughts on making money from music online.Michael Tiemann, Red Hat's vice president for open source affairs, kicked off the second day of the Summit with an academic and historical explanation of the open source phenomenon. Tiemann drew parallels from works like "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies" by Jared Diamond and "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville, and discussed the impact of collaborative software development on today's software industry.

Tiemann said that the closed, proprietary, monopolistic software model is dead or dying, and the 21st century belongs to open source and open standards. Tiemann was not talking just about writing the code, but also about its design. Under the old model, suppliers presented consumers with a product, which they either liked or didn't. Under the new model, with open source and open standards, users are brought into the picture much earlier and actually participate in the design.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's vice president of technical strategy and innovation, was next on the stage. A focused, energetic, and entertaining speaker, Wladawsky-Berger offered a message similar to Tiemann's: collaboration is good.

Michael Tiemann's Keynote

Wladawsky-Berger noted that we are living in an age of increased innovation in all aspects of our lives. Speaking of IBM's "On Demand" business model, he noted that the issue was larger than IBM and was in fact being called different names by different firms trying to come up with the best solution to deliver the software and the services that an individual customer requires.

Like Tiemann, Wladawsky-Berger poked a little fun of the old model, saying that when a PowerPoint presentation for a business design of a new software system is given to programmers, an impedence mismatch occurs and no one really knows what the programmers will bring back. Also, like Tiemann, he sees the solution requiring a much greater level of understanding of the task to be solved than is the norm in traditional IT, meaning more customer involvement at the design stage.

In his summary, Wladawsky-Berger noted that "open source collaboration is an absolute key to the 21st century."

On a slightly different note

One of the more interesting stories I've heard at the Summit is not about Linux or any other free software at all: it's about free music. John Buckman's notion of open music is that it is free as in streaming. You can't download the music without purchasing it, or freely distribute it if you do purchase it. But you can listen to it for free, and buy it if you like it.

Buckman, founder of Magnatune, explained his business model this way: "Basically, as soon as you move out of college, get a day job, and sit there in your office, you generally have some music that you'd like to listen to. You listen to the same old stuff that you've listened to forever. You come home, and you've got a girlfriend or a boyfriend, or kids, and you don't have a lot of time to find music. The Internet is an ideal place to find music, but people don't have time to dance through sites that have tons and tons of MP3s. They need to find something that has good stuff, and they need to listen, and then go back to whatever they're doing. So with Magnatune, people can listen to an entire album beforehand, for free. You go to Magnatune, and say you hit Classical, and you hit play an album. The assumption is that if you're listening to my music while you're doing other stuff, you'll end up buying some."

Irving Wladawsky-Berger's Keynote

Buckman told me that his business, which opened two years ago, is already profitable. His company reviews 400 submissions a month by people who want to be published by Magnatune. Only about 10% of the albums submitted are accepted.

One big difference for artists published by Magnatune compared to traditional record labels is the way they are paid. Typically, artists don't receive a dime in royalties from their albums unless and until the record company says the album is profitable. Since the record company does the accounting, it controls whether that ever happens. With Magnatune, artists are paid half of any and all revenue the company receives. Revenue, not profit. No smoke-and-mirror Hollywood accounting needed.

Desktop BOF

Still on the subject of multimedia, but from a different perspective, I sat in on a Desktop birds-of-a-feather panel yesterday led by Havoc Pennington, desktop architect at Red Hat. With Pennington were representatives from Intel and RealNetworks and several Red Hat engineers who support the desktop or desktop applications.

The next release of Helix Player -- code named Balto -- is due in September and will bring Linux users closer to the day when they can enjoy some of the premium content available on RealPlayer -- services like Nascar.com's TrackPass. Balto features will include lower latency, faster startup, play lists, and subscription services like RadioPass.

Pennington seemed a little surprised by the number in attendence who are interested in the Linux desktop. The bad news is that there does not appear to be a change coming anytime soon in Red Hat's view of the Linux desktop as a necessary evil, supported only because it's required in order to sell more server software, rather than a desired goal on its own merits.

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