Free Software and Open Source Symposium, 2011
The 10th “Free Software and Open Source Symposium”, commonly known as FSOSS, is an annual event held in Seneca College to discuss and share the latest trends in open source.
“It is an event aimed at bringing together industry, developers, educators and the community and any other interested parties to discuss open source, open web, and academic/industry partnerships.” – Source, FSOSS 2011
There were two presentations that I really wanted to attend (which I will discuss later in this paper) and I was left with two options – either pay the registration fee or go in as a volunteer. I decided to go for the latter as my current financial standings is not in my favour.
There are many presentations that were held during FSOSS 2011. I had the opportunity to attend a number of these presentations and I will talk about two of them.
Mike Hoye: How to start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software
One of the presentations I attended was from Mike Hoye. Mike started a new internet based business in late 2010. He did this after he quit his job and was given a one year deadline to start a new business and bring in profit. His company launched products like BeSDS and BerrySync. His presentation is to talk about what he did right or wrong and the lessons he learnt from it. As an individual trying to launch a technological product in a highly saturated market, it is hard to deliver a stable and competitive product within an estimated timeline. According to Mike, one of the biggest challenging was trying to resist the temptation to add features to the product to make it stand out from the others. This often ends in missing the deadline, while the company is losing money in the meantime.
According to Mike, one of the key rules to ensuring that a small start-up business could survive is to stick to an initial plan and try to get a product out into the market. This rule can be seen often in the open source world where products are released often and quick. The reason for doing such an approach is to get a product out there. The longer a product stays as an idea, the older and staler the idea becomes. This is the reason for saying “no, no, no…repeatedly”. To adopt a new feature into the product requires additional research and software fixes which will take time and time is a major constraint for a new company.
The model of starting a new business that delivers technological solution is quite similar to the model of operation adopted by the open source community. This involves tracking any issues that may arise and managing the source code. As such, one of the biggest assets of a new start-up company is their source code and the issues of their software solutions. Without them, the business will not be able to sustain itself in the market. As Mike Hoye states “If you are small and nimble, you can still pick your battles that make your opponent’s assets irrelevant”.
One of the many problems that plague a new start-up is trying to hide their ideas from big corporations. The reason for doing so is often individual wishes to protect their ideas and try to prevent corporations capitalizing on their ideas. This is one of the biggest mistakes that a new start-up can make as it is important that big corporations cannot ship a product that is bigger, better and fast due to research and budget approval which will usually take a year before a prototype is created. Therefore, it is highly important that the company ship a small percentage of the idea in the form of a product and then improve on them in the later versions. This way, the idea is out in the market for various users to test it out and improvements are made based on the feedback that we get. This process of developing a software product is similar to how the Linux distributions are made. A famous example is how the iPhones were launched. The initial iPhone excelled in only one feature, which is the multi-touch functionality. One the other hand, the general basic features are commonly available with other phones.
Another problem that often plagues a new technological start-up the developer tends to write a lot of program code. This is not advisable as most of those codes could already be written by someone else and may even be more efficient. This is always more financially and timely feasible than writing your own code, which will have bugs and will take time to fix. Being an open source business, program codes are usually not proprietary and the start-up company can often make use of them as long as those works are properly credited and appreciated. This is often accomplished through a social contract with the open source community. Open source code is a form of social contract and there is no licensing involved. As a common and appropriate thing in a social contract, the start-up company should give back to the community as well. By doing so, we can also build a good relationship with those individuals and can request their help when the time requires.
Mike Hoye closes of his presentation by summarizing the mistakes he made during his one year period and they are:
- Late Marketing – This caused a problem as users are not aware of the existence of his product
- Working mainly alone – This is one of the biggest mistake that developers fall into. By working alone, we are limited to the knowledge we have and the product does not grow. This is one of the main reasons he advocated to have a product out in the market as soon as possible so that other individuals may get involved.
Chris Tyler – Consumer, Creator, Cloud: The Future of Computing, and the Role of Open Source
The second presentation that I attended and wished to discuss in this report was from Chris Tyler. He talked about how the future of computing is proceeding and how can open source fit into this future.
Chris Tyler is a professor in Seneca College. From his blog, Chris is a “Christian, college professor, computer programmer, system administrator, author, and consultant. My specialty is open source, particularly Fedora Linux.”
In his presentation, Chris Tyler believes that the future of computing is going to the web. This concept is currently being used and advertised by big corporations. One of the most common examples that are seen is "To the cloud" by Microsoft. The advantages of going to the cloud are numerous. Users are able to access their content on different machine anytime which is stored on some servers hosted by companies that sell "cloud" server space.
According to Chris, the future of the web can be sub-categorized into Consumer of content, creator of content and storing of content. As a consumer of content, Chris meant all users of the internet. As a user of the web, we all consume content made by some other individual or company at one point or another. The open source community had been highly active in helping users consume content from the web. Open source software has made rapid progress in this field. Another category that open source software is highly active and has made rapid progress is in the storing of content. Open source software that helps user stores data on the cloud have improved dramatically over the years and can compete effectively with proprietary software.
One sub-category that the open source has been coming up short when compared to proprietary software is the creator of content. According to Chris, creators of content are of many types. Whenever a user creates an email, he/she is a creator of content. The problem with open source software as a creator of content is that they are lacking any good product that caters to multimedia users. I think this is caused mainly due to that fact that programmers have always been bad designers.
Another topic that Chris talked about during his presentation is how computer processors have advanced so rapidly that handheld devices are currently as powerful as their desktop counterparts. This brings up the question as to how content are being delivered to such devices and how those said content are being consumed. The current trend in the smartphone and tablet market is filled with tonnes of “Apps”. Most of these apps are highly customised version of a website, which is designed to work better on smaller screens. Chris argued this by saying that with the presence of HTML5, Apps are useless and waste of resources. He supports this argument by emphasizing that web developers and designers should research and improve their device so that contents are available in both desktop and smartphone browsers.
What did I learn?
Both the presentation brought out a lot of good points. I tried to develop an idea with a friend over the summer and the reason for failing in that venture was trying to add more feature to make the product stand out. This was the biggest mistake we made as we kept pushing back the deadline due to scope creep. After listening to the presentation by Mike Hoye, I was able to understand many things that seemed obvious at the time. The reason why I failed in my attempt to create a product out of my idea may be due to my lack of experience.
From the presentation by Chris Tyler, there are number subtle points that I wished to disagree. One such point is that Apps are useless when the web designer can make create a site catered to small screens. The reason for using an App and not a browser on the phone is the usability that is available with the app which is not available when using the browser. I believe that apps are designed to allow a user to accomplish simple and commonly used task, which is laid out in convenient positions within the app, instead of going through a browser on a small screen.
The FSOSS event was a big insight for me into the world of Open Source. The open source community had always made me wonder how they operate and how they survive in a cut-throat market. By attending FSOSS, I managed to gain additional insight to this world where everyone helps one another.