2006 O’Reilly Open Source Convention Summary

I had a great time in Portland, Oregon.

I would say the 2006 O’Reilly Open Source Convention was an eye opener. I got a sampling of the different open source software, technologies and trends out there. A lot of people who have made use of open source in a creative way were present in the conference, whether it is extracting frameworks from their applications and making them open source or using open source software in a creative way.

Various issues (i.e., licensing issues, obstacles to contributing back to open source, etc.) also were made known via panels with representatives from various companies who users of open source like Yahoo!, Google, Six Apart, among others. Fledgling companies (i.e., Laszlo, Alfresco, Green Plum, Digium) which have made open source their business model were there to share their experiences and lessons they learned along the way.

Here are some tidbits of information I have gathered while listening to panels, tutorials and talks. Enjoy!


What does it mean to be open?

In today?s world, free hosted services are increasing in popularity. A sampling of them includes services like Flickr, Yahoo, and Google Mail / Search / Maps. For a lot of us, a lot of these services (i.e., Google Search / Maps / Flickr) have become a necessity. Hence to further open their systems, these hosted services are offering the public APIs with which to access their services. As a developer, you can access these free APIs, however, you don?t even get to see the code. So what does it mean for these services to be open? Is it enough to have APIs that ?magically? work and we treat as black boxes? Being open does not only mean exposing some APIs, it also means having ownership of your data. What happens if you change providers? Let?s say you want to move your pictures from Flickr to Zooomr?

Several movements are in the works like MoveMyData.

Data as the new Intel Inside

With many of the popular website services like Yahoo, Flickr, Delicious, Google, Craigslist, Amazon, Ebay, users are the one who are the key force in making the site the way it is. They contribute and share data. Their contributions form a community and make the website helpful for other people to use. There is this notion that data is the new Intel inside. Tim O?Reilly made a very good point that even if you had the source code of any of these websites, without the data you would not be able to create the same community. You?d be missing your friends in any one of these popular websites.

  • Include Microformats
  • Creative Commons

New Face of Open Source

Extracting frameworks from commercial products or using open source frameworks for commercial products

* Ruby on Rails
** Ruby based web application framework extracted from Basecamp.com.

* Django
** Pthyon based web application framework extracted from Lawrence.com newspaper site

* Seaside web application framework (SmallTalk)
** Used by DabbleDB

Web 2.0 ? trends under this realm:

* AJAX
* Mash-ups
** Websites that pull data from various sources (e.g., Google Maps, Yahoo)
** Checkout ProgrammableWeb
* Ning (www.ning.com)
** Program and create your own social web application online for free.

Open sourcing software (observations from Yahoo!, Google and Craigslist)

* Contributing to open source
** Blockers:
*** For some organizations like Yahoo! And Google, it is hard to contribute more to the open source community as their software is so specialized and may not be useful to anybody.
*** Making software open requires a lot of extra effort:
**** Cleaning up code:
***** Developers are often ashamed or embarrassed to share their code because of the state it is in. Hence, a lot of time has to be spent to clean it up.

**** Licensing:

***** Choosing a license and making sure the code to be open sourced contains no proprietary code in it takes a lot of extra effort.

** Benefits:

*** Builds the brand

**** Google and Yahoo builds brand recognition for contributing to open source

** Involves providing APIs

* Open source increases friction (due to moving architecture to the web)

** Have to mention license ? for license compliance

** 3kb / page view ? gigabytes per day (for Google)

* Data / Protocols

** Not really open source

* Page views per kilowatt-hour

** With thousands of computers, the price of power becomes an issue

Microsoft and Open Source

* port25.technet.com blog

* open xml / open document format ? found in sourceforge
** Documents created on new versions of Microsoft Office will be based on XML-based file formats.
** Previously documents were created on binary-based file formats

* windows installer ? sourceforge
** The Windows Installer XML (WiX) is a toolset that builds Windows installation packages from XML source code. The toolset supports a command line environment that developers may integrate into their build processes to build MSI and MSM setup packages.

* Microsoft community license
** Sugar CRM is using this license

Asymmetric competition

* Companies with users who contribute content don?t need a lot of employees
** Craigslist is the 7th most trafficked site on the net but only has 19 employees as of 2005.

* user self-service

** getting users to the work for you (through an architecture of participation)
*** works for:
**** Craigslist ? users posts thousands of ads
**** Flickr ? users upload and share pictures
**** Del.icio.us ? users add and share bookmarks
**** Yahoo and Google Search ? mainly indexes web content by people and companies
**** Ebay ? users post auctions of products they want to sell
*** Use open source
**** For example – LAMP ? Linux, Apache, MySQL, Php / Perl

O?Reilly Open Source Radar

Companies featured here were identified by O?Reilly to be promising open source projects / communities and are ?on trend? with the big issues shaping the industry.

* Green Plum
** Business Intelligence / Data warehousing database

** Enhanced open source Postgres SQL database and made it scale by parallelizing work

* Hyperic
** Operations software
** Transformed from proprietary application to open-source
** Enable better support for new and emerging technologies via plug-ins

* Django
** Web application framework for content intensive sites like news sites
** Extracted from a solution for lawrence.com

* Mule Source
** Open Source ESB (Enterprise Service Bus)

* Dabble DB
** Data organization web application that works like a spreadsheet
** Based on the open source Smalltalk Seaside web application framework

* Alfresco
** Enterprise Content management (implemented JSR-170)
** Uses open source technologies:
*** Spring
*** Hibernate
*** Lucene
*** MyFaces
*** Based on Aspect-Oriented Programming

* Asterisk
** Open source VoIP Server / PBX

* Ubuntu
** Linux for human beings
** Better and more friendly user interface

Firefox as a Platform ? Conversations with Mike Schroepfer ? VP Engineering for Mozilla

* Client-side session and persistent storage – DOM storage
** Coming out soon
* Javascript
** Increasing influence due to AJAX
** Releasing v1.7 of the language

Lessons from Open Source Businesses

Lesson #1 ? Success is not by association

Lesson #2 ? Friends are nice. Cash is critical. Make both.

Lesson #3 ? Think user community, not developer community.
* Don?t expect a lot of outside help
* You still need a core of dedicated developers to do 90% of the coding

Lesson #4 ? Documentation is worth a lot
* Support calls will go down if you have good documentation

Lesson #5 ? Price cannot be your primary value driver
* Va
lue/performance/innovation should be your sales drivers
* Shift the thinking from PRICE + innovation to INNOVATION + price
* Emphasis should be more on innovation

Lesson #6 ? Be permeable
* Be open, not closed.

Ultimately, open source is not about price, it is about quality.

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