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The MA Software Council's OSS SIG Kickoff Meeting
Thursday, June 30 2005 @ 12:45 AM EDT

Time for some fun.

Remember I told you about the kickoff meeting of the Massachusetts Software Council's Open Source Software SIG, their Open Source Summit, last week? Dan Bricklin, President of Software Garden, and Bob Zurek, Vice President, Advanced Technology, Ascential Software (now part of IBM) were moderators for the conference, which was held at Babson College near Boston last Friday.

For all of us who wanted to go but couldn't be there in person, audio tapes are now available, and they are delightful. I don't know when I've enjoyed a conference so much. If they were all like this one, I'd go to lots of conferences, and I wouldn't go hide in the ladies' room, either, like I did at LinuxWorld. Really, this one sounded like a lot of fun, informal but idea-oriented and very productive as a result.

There were three sessions, one on legal issues, one on business issues, and one on how to run an open source project, plus a, um, lively talk by Mark Fleury, CEO of JBOSS, as the keynote speaker at lunch. He's Dr. Fleury, by the way. He has a PhD in Physics. It was very much an interactive speech, with the audience participating fully. How could they help it? He started by stating his admiration for the Microsoft business model (all those high margins, I imagine) and said it was a myth that programmers will code for the love of it and described programmers who are not paid to do software as "amateurs". Well, that got a reaction, as you might imagine. He seemed to love being controversial and took the reactions with zest and some panache. You won't be bored. Of course, he's wrong.

: )

I'll probably get an email now.

There was lots of audience participation, more so than at other conferences I've attended or listened to, and lots of lawyers there, I hear. Lots of execs and lots of programmers too. During the business session, someone asked the audience if there was anyone there who *didn't* read Groklaw every day, and one or two hands went up. When they asked next how many *did* read it, all the hands went up except for the two. Later, a representative from Microsoft stood up to respond to a point, and I thought, I wonder if he's one of the two who don't read Groklaw. Maybe he raised both his hands. Just horsing around. I don't know who the one or two were. I hope they are here now though. Welcome to Groklaw, whoever you are. I am happy to have you here.

The event was sponsored by Ascential Software, and the cost of audio taping was paid for by Novell. Software Garden processed the tapes into audio computer files and uploaded them to the Internet. With Dan's permission, I'm mirroring them so we don't melt his server, but if you have any trouble downloading, you can get them -- and lots of more info -- here or from Dan's SIG blog. If you have "podcast catching" software, like iPodder, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the recordings at http://www.peapodcast.com/msc-oss-sig/msc-oss-sig.xml.

Here are the mp3s (huge, of course) and some slides that go with them. Right click to download, please:

Session 1 - with attorneys Karen Copenhaver of Black Duck Software and Ira Heffan of the law firm Goodwin Procter.
Slides for Session 1 [PDF]

Session 2 - Open Source Business Models and Strategies, with representatives from IBM (Douglas Heintzman), JasperSoft (Al Campa), Optaros (Robert "R0ML" Lefkowitz), Iona (Eric Newcomer), and Red Hat (Nick Carr). You can read Eric's blog for his impressions, as well.

Session 3 - Open Source Technical Discussion on how to organize and run an Open Source project, with Novell's Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza
Slides for Session 3 [PDF]

Luncheon talk by Mark Fleury, CEO of JBOSS
Slides for luncheon talk [PDF].

Anyhow, listen especially to the legal issues session. I learned plenty from the discussion. Look for an interesting comment from Jack Messman, CEO of Novell, on SCO at 27:13. He says that Novell sold SCO the rights to use the copyrights, but they, Novell, still own them. However, they also got a license back on their own technology to use UNIX with their customers, he explains, so they can use UNIX in Linux. So even if SCO were to prevail in its claim that Novell turned over copyrights to them, Novell has the license. "If you want to make the SCO problem and the issue of UNIX in Linux go away," he said, "use SUSE Linux."

Karen Copenhaver of Black Duck is very easy to listen to, and despite being a lawyer, easy to understand too when she explains legal issues. She also talks a bit about SCO about halfway through, right after Mr. Messman, and she also talks about patents. She seems to feel Open Source has an advantage over proprietary software companies, and she is not worried about patent trolls in the Open Source space, and she also has some intriguing ideas about patent termination clauses. I am kicking myself that I didn't go in person. It was clearly a very enjoyable and unusually productive summit.

When you listen to the business segment, you'll notice that some in the audience who were there express a bit of puzzlement about exactly how to interact appropriately with the FOSS community. I hear in one man's voice a real sincerity in asking about it. After you listen, I would like you to help me think about how to make it clearer to companies like that how to transition into FOSS interaction, and how to make them feel at home. So if any of your brainiacs can help me think about this, I would appreciate your input. Also, if any of those who asked the question wish to ask their questions here, feel free. If they are reading us every day, we do really need to extend a welcome to them and help them find answers to their questions, don't you think?

No one likes going to a gathering where they don't know anyone and don't know what is expected. Maybe a few thrive in that atmosphere, but most of us don't. It's uncomfortable not knowing what is expected. We all like to feel confident that we know what fork to use at a formal dinner, no? It's no different for proprietary companies trying to transition to participation with the community. So, I think we need to start thinking about sharing experiences. If any of you have worked at companies or run companies that have dipped your toes in FOSS waters, would you consider telling us your experiences? What have you learned? What didn't work? What did? What would you tell your best friend if he asked you how best to work with the community?

If anyone is inspired to want to transcribe the business or tech sessions, feel free. I'm working on the first segment already. I found that one, on legal issues, the most interesting, naturally, but I'll bet a lot of you will love the technical session with Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman from Novell. Talk about kick myself for not being there to meet them. Nat's blog about his talk fills in a blank that happened when the tape was turned over. Psst. Note to you lawyers: He asks if anyone knows a good PI plaintiff's lawyer.

I enjoyed the tapes enormously and wish so much I could have attended. I was invited. Next time, I hope life's circumstances make it possible to go. It's fun to imagine everyone. Here are some more attendees' reactions:

Stephen Walli
Gordon Haff
Bob Zurek

In my mind's eye, I am imagining sitting there when they ask who reads Groklaw every day and seeing virtually everyone in the room raising his or her hand. And I'm smiling. I've often written about not wanting to be famous, and how uncomfortable it makes me when people point me out in a crowd. But knowing that so many people whom I admire read my work, well, it's a satisfaction beyond words, one that makes it all worthwhile.

Of course, that's in my imagination. If I'd been there in person, no doubt I'd have turned beet red and headed straight for the ladies' room, hyperventilating all the way. Some things don't change, no matter how many people read what you write. But it's fun to play it over in my mind, safe in my little office.


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