User:Moussa1/FSOSS 2011

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Free Software and Open Source Symposium Research Paper

Author: Moussa Tabcharani

Introduction

Free Software and Open Source Symposium was very informative; I attended a few seminars and found the idea behind this gathering very useful and resourceful known that I normally do not participate in such events. This was the first time I had gone to a software conference of any sort. Given I had to work all day Saturday, I chose to attend a few seminars on Friday.

How to start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software

The first session I attended on Friday was “How to start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software” which was presented by Mike Hoye – To be quite frank, I enjoyed this seminar to a certain limit (given there was not much information about open source software) even though it showed that the presenter was quite enthusiastic about his personal success and the overall topic of the presentation.

Mike Hoye left his job about a year ago and pursued to open his own internet company by evolving an idea/solution he had in mind which has been doing really well thus far.

Mike Hoye discussed ways of thinking and gradual steps to start development on successful trendy products or services—he also made things look clearer than they really are regarding major or even minor ideas and projects that have been building up in our minds but simply have not gotten much attention from the carrier due to various specific reasons.

The advantage of working on a new idea or project is that it includes small teams of people that might only have membership rules that are arbitrary and flexible but open to a lot more than typical big corporations. These teams are loosely connected by an ideology or it could be something they would want to make or participate in. The other differential factor is that there are no rules because it’s a “new thing”, in a way that there are rules and laws on how people can act in a society, or policies, standards and procedures that big corporations require their employees to undertake. However, when working in small teams and on your own ideas, in other word—being a “non-stage actor” (as Mike put it) there are no gatekeepers in a way that there are no people who could say you cannot do a certain thing as an individual. This opens up a new world of opportunities and potential ideas that could ultimately become quite significantly large. Personally, I found this statement to be very true as I was oblivious and quite blinded to it—relating it to my current ongoing corporate job experience at American Express that I have had for the past 5 years. As an employee for a large corporation, you are “thrown” in a team for a specific application which you will keep working on for n amount of time until you leave the company or the application ceases to exist. It is very rare that these corporations often listen to your ideas and consider them, or even if they end up doing so, there ends up being some sort of limitation—be it a policy, budget, or standard rule that will conclude by making your idea completely irrelevant and unfeasible.

A very interesting story that happened at American Express a few years back when I had proposed an idea to simplify the promotion process going from one environment to another. Leaders were very intrigued on the idea that I had initially proposed and found it interesting and potentially successful. This idea was taken into consideration, a committee was formed for this insider project and a budget was thrown into it for a period of 5 months. 5 months later it was decided to go ahead with the project which followed by assigning a developer to work half-time for design and build which concluded by making a poorer version of what I had already been working on for the past 6-7 months. Now they will never take what I did as a base step, or to build on top of it, because it has to follow the standard life cycle of a typical IT project—which consists of writing a project charter, assign a PM, have other leaders approve and make sure it does not conflict with their interests or current projects they are working with. After that has been done, certain development technology standards are applied by the World Technology Standard department which would need to be followed for creating this new tool. In other words, it will be almost impossible to use someone else’s idea or draft work as a base due to baffling big corporation politics. Essentially, in this scenario what you would need to do is develop the project on your own and propose the finished solution to your leaders and hope to be bought out.

The advantage a small team has on working on their own ideas is that everyone part of this group has a shot even if it does not conclude with the desired outcome. These groups are usually messy and chaotic; roles are technically extraneous because the types of tasks vary significantly for each member. For example, you might be the DBA on this project and also you might be taking care of the User Interface design of this project—you would be ultimately working on these 2 tasks which are usually performed by 2 different roles.

How to succeed…

Mike also discussed about the essentials of starting up an internet company. The 2 basic elements are issue tracking and development tools. Large scale companies that you are trying to compete with have got the latter and way more.

The biggest challenge in starting up your own company is your competition—big organizations that would wipe you out with no effort. Mike shared an ancient story when this topic was brought up; there was an ancient battle between the French and the English where the English army (15,000 soldiers) was understaffed compared to their opponent (60,000) by a factor of 75%. The English got to pick their territory and did not have much armor compared to the French. The latter had to drag their armor through the mud and had lost 1/3 of their aristocracy trying to go through that hill while the English attacked shortly after. The valuable lesson here is that if you are small and nimble and you could pick the fight that you want to pick; you could do better than just taking away an enemy’s strength or rationalizing it, you could make the thing that your enemy is best at irrelevant. “Pick your battles in a way to make their strengths irrelevant.”

“It’s better to do 1 thing really well rather than doing 5 things OK.” Google started out doing 1 thing only and they did it amazingly… look where they are at now. If you were to look back at the functionality of the first generation iPhone you will find it quite astonishing at what it did compared to their latest 4S version. Apple has accomplished a gradual evolution and their overall trend is only going upwards.

In order to succeed, you need to focus on 1 idea which you will have to perform really well. Take 10% of this idea (the absolute narrowest part) and ship that for version 1. At some point, if your idea is successful, you are able to say “NO” to the features you will not ship so you can be the person who picks whether you are having that fight or not. Issue tracker will contain all the brilliant features and brainstorming you will ship for version 2.

No to new things, no to new ideas— you need to keep saying No and master a simple thing that solves an issue that has not been addressed.

Keep in mind…

The biggest common mistake that Mike shared is getting late for marketing; usually technical aspect of the product is focused on more and the marketing piece is forgotten about (buying ads, online promoting, etc).

Making a product that nobody knows about is as good as not making a product at all.

As a conclusion, I grasped that you should never perform something you do really well for free, you can decide what the reward is (i.e.: money, a thankful credit, or a simple acknowledgment or recognition on a webpage somewhere). Do not ever devalue the work that you do by giving it away for nothing. If you are starting up a new company or simply evolving an idea you have had in your mind, try to work in small teams and not alone—get other people as creative and enthusiastic as you are involved as this will only bring more knowledge and asset to the overall project. Also, finding a common workspace is an advantage as staying at home all the time could get quite depressing. “Get out of the house; keep your social skills from falling off.”

Take control of your TV with XBMC

The second seminar I attended was “Take control of your TV with XBMC” by Lawrence Mandel— this was more of a “cool” technical presentation describing how you can turn your TV into an entertainment hub for digital media using this open source software.

The XBMC idea originally started in 2004, following a committee foundation formation in 2009. Today, a large active developer community from around the world contributes to this award-winning free open source software.

What makes a TV great is the content that is brought on to it and not its technical specifications. XBMC gives you control over that content with a beautiful user interface that can be fully customizable. Rogers as well as other cable providers provide hundreds of channels as well as On Demand service with a variety of movies and TV shows; however it is the carrier’s content and not your own. Another difference is the absence of commercials in XBMC and that you do not have to waste 10 minutes of commercial time each time you watch a 30 minute TV episode.

From what Lawrence mentioned, XBMC provides a broad media support of all types which differentiates it from other systems like Apple TV or game consoles (Xbox, PS3, etc) that generally have restrictions to what type of content you could play.

XBMC runs on all main operating system platforms: Windows, Linux, OSX and iOS.

The cheapest way to set up this intricate system is to get Apple TV (usually $120 from the Apple Store) and have it “jail broken” so it entitles you to install third party software like XBMC in this case. The only downfall of using Apple TV is that it can only stream out content to a maximum of 720p. However, if that is an issue, you could install XBMC on a more powerful box like an Xbox.

Your content is available on all your screens/systems that are on the network and you could simply control it from anywhere via the web, phone or tablet. This breaks the limitation to the traditional senses of using the remote control for directing what you want to watch and which screen to stream it to.

XBMC is fully customizable; you can tailor it to be whatever you want it to be. You can select the User Interface theme layout that you would like from a variety list of skins. Also, it offers a list of add-ons/plug-ins to browse through which are available to you to install with a single click. These add-ons can customize your system in various ways and will remain up-to-date as long as they are on the system (add-on examples: Twitter, Youtube, Netflix handler, Gmail checker, Weather, etc).

What content can you display on XBMC? The type of content that could be displayed on XBMC ranges from music, TV shows, movies, photos, and various snippets tailored to address your needs.

Fun Facts about XBMC…

· A very interesting fact is that XBMC will automatically populate media information (from the web) for movies and TV shows based on the title name and year of the video. The latter information is sufficient enough to grab the rest of the media details such as: cast, cover picture, and trailer if any.

· Unfinished videos will resume from where you last left off

· Supports movie subtitles

· Set the image ratio to stretch/shrink the picture size for a better display

· TV shows will display checkmarks on currently viewed episodes (so you know which episode you are at)

· Multi-task capability in a sense where you could play music in the background and browse through photo albums at the same time

· Mobile/Tablet applications to control streaming to different stations/screens across your home

The only 2 disadvantages…

One thing that is missing from this solution is the lack of live content streaming (i.e.: sports, news feeds, special events). For example, the 10pm news is not available live, it is usually available for streaming after the program is done. However, you may be able to find online live streams through some websites of these programs.

The other disadvantage is that XBMC is not capable of playing DRM (Digital Rights Management) content (videos, songs, etc) bought from iTunes or any other digital media store.

To conclude about this interesting presentation, I believe XBMC is a great solution for everyone who likes streaming organized media content from a centralized workstation onto all the available screens you have at home, at the office or even businesses such as hotels. Installing XBMC is quite easy and has zero cost. The software is only a few years old and has gone a long way so far leading to believe that there are a lot more features to come that XBMC will have yet to offer. The best part of it all is that it is completely free and everyone is encouraged to contribute to the project in some way.

Conclusion

Personally, I really enjoyed the FSOSS presentations that I have attended this year—the mixture of presentations ranged from technical discussions and rationalization to successful personal testimonials. It is definitely a great way to share knowledge over different aspects of open source software platforms and solutions and it is of course a great channel for networking and socializing amongst other people who share the same interests and passion. I will definitely come back next year.