Open Source Think Tank results

May 8, 2007

LXer (one of my favorite news sites) had a link the other day to the results (pdf here) of some self-proclaimed Open Source Think tank held recently. It was held at the posh Silverado Resort in Napa, so you don’t have to read a sentence further to determine the type of attendees. But would you be surprised if they defined themselves as “thought leaders”? Me neither. I always ask why I don’t get invited to more highbrow think tank meetings at resorts…it’s probably due to introductory paragraphs like this one.

Moving on, I first noticed that the platinum sponsors were Microsoft and Novell, so my curiosity was heightened even more. My thoughts on the results posted in the executive summary?

Attendees: 102 people from 81 organizations attended, including 32 executives and 16 CTO/CIOs.

Hosts: Olliance and DLA Piper? I don’t know much about either. I have worked with Silicon Valley Bank before though. The groups seems very centered on monetizing Open Source based on their business goals and backgrounds.  Most likely also funding software start-ups.  I can never tell whether this is ever a “Good Thing ™” or not. Where does “moving Open Source from a viable to a successful business model” and “repurposing Open Source communities and letting Suits profit from existing code and concepts?” Who knows, I’m just a simple man trying to pound out a blog entry in between meetings today.

Keynote: I’m not sure the facts listed are earth shattering, but they might certainly be new for the prototypical attendee.

Panel discussions: Now we get into the interesting parts of the report. In general I agree with the results based on what I see in the business climate. Organizations are now in the “pragmatic” phase in thinking about Open Source solutions, but its got to measure up. The point on Open Source “lacking compliance with many standards” is curious. We’re not talking about the XHTML 1.1 standard in a browser, we’re talking about ISO and other recognized certifications, all of which take effort and money. You’ll likely see corporate benefactors step in here.

Cost is another topic worth discussing in this section.  It’s tough to quantify risk in pre-project Risk Assessments and Analysis research.  It’s tougher to quantify impact and consequence from OSS choices that have unfamiliar licensing terms and lead to new and untested support relationships.

Brainstorming sessions: There are four brainstorming sessions, and really only two are of interest to me.  Licensing continues to be both the raison d’etre of OSS as well as an Achilles heel that leads to sheer embarrassments like Ice Weasel (which sounds like a derivative of the Cleveland Steamer).  I’d recommend that everyone read these sections with an open mind and draw their own conclusions.  There’s some inflammatory statements here to be sure, but not as many as I expected based on my first impressions.

Microsoft – Novell Q&A: I’ll simply repeat the opening line in this section: “Due to the controversy around the Microsoft-Novell deal represented in Mark Radcliffe’s presentation, the conference hosts gave Microsoft and Novell the opportunity to explain the agreement from their perspective.” Microsoft and Novell are thinking, “Dammit, we’re the platinum sponsors here.  We’re the reason you got to fly out here!  Now sit down, shut up, and listen to our excuses for a while.  At the end, please fill out a comment card whether you believe us or not.  Yes, you’ve got to fill out a comment card to get the Executive Gift bag for all attendees.”

Conclusions and Summary: There seemed to be a shift from “can it work?” to “operational realities” for OSS and OSS-based businesses since the last meeting.  That’s a good sign.

“A very interesting observation by a European participant was that in Europe, open source is driven by the community, in the US, it’s driven by commercial companies, and in Asia, open source is driven by governments.”  What do people think of that statement?

In general, I began reading this think tank summary because I was suspicious of the validity of the meeting and the existence of any ulterior motives.  After reading the summary and absorbing some of the reactions of attendees, I feel a bit more at ease (ie probably no more for ulterior motives that many other seminars/discussion groups with agendas).  If you want to get some insight on how many businesses perceive and approach OSS, this executive summary seems pretty accurate.


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