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Copyleft - Seneca College - Free Software and Open Source Symposium. (2000). Retrieved Oct 31, 2007 from the home page of the Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2007: http://fsoss.senecac.on.ca/2007/
Free Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS) - Copyleft - Seneca College. (2000). Retrieved Oct 31, 2007 from the home page of the Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2007: http://fsoss.senecac.on.ca/2007/

Revision as of 09:22, 4 November 2007

FSOSS 2007

What is open source? Is it merely a net result of technical elites that materializes renegade technologies? Is it a philosophy that causes emotional and logical movements to emerge? These are the initial thoughts and reactions I had in regards to the meaning of open source before attending the 2007 Free Software and Open Source Symposium. The FSOSS is a conference consisting of innovators and pioneers of the open source movement and methodologies dedicated to educating and advocating the current and historical definition of open source and what that means for the future. Some of the most respected organizations in the industries, including Microsoft, Mozilla, IBM, and Novell participated by giving lectures, providing financial support and workshops.

Talks on Open Source

The talks that I will summarize and used to base my analysis are the two keynote lectures during the two day symposium: Applying Open Source Concepts to Non-software Industries and Open Source Economics: Stakeholder Perspectives.

The first keynote lecture, Applying Open Source Concepts to Non-software Industries and Open Source Economics was given by Bob Young, co-founder of Red Hat, CEO and Founder of Lulu.com. The synopsis of Young's lecture is comparing the software industry as a spectrum where on “…one end [the industry] being a highly proprietary model where you trust your supplier to build the product or service you need to use without any input or understanding from you, and the other end being the extremely open, transparent and collaboratively built services from Linux to Wikipedia” (FSOSS, 2007).

Young wanted to express that the software development model of open source is not a new idea that has gained movement and formed a trend, but rather this model existed in everyday of our lives. He then states that only a tiny fraction of society is based on the closed model. He did not go into exact details but gave simple anecdotes to support his statement. People are relatively safe while walking during night as others are relatively concerned for the well being of each other. He credits this to society’s values of collaboration and cooperation which are principles of open source. He also states that the National Football League (NFL), a multi-billion dollar sports industry, was initiated on an open source model, where the pioneers of NFL, burrowed the model of how Canadians played football so that they could resolve issues in their business objectives (to prevent their athletes from being injured).

The second keynote lecture, Open Source Economics: Stakeholder Perspectives was given by Dirk Riechle, Lead, Open-source Research Group at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, California. His lecture was about analyzing open source through an economical perspective: “The system integrator perspective, the start-up firm perspective, and the individual software developer perspective” (FSOSS, 2007).

Riechle wanted to show technically, in terms of economics and business perspectives, that the open source model is evolving and revolutionizing the current propriety based software industry. He used technical methods in describing these from graphs and economical models. For example he stated from his own personal research of wikis and blogs that these open source tools are largely being searched and used annually, which is one of his objective basis for supporting the future of open source and its impact on the software industry. Riechle describes that open source should not only be emotional or philosophical rationale for developing software but also economically driven.

Although open source remains a fraction of the software market what is striking is the exponential growth. This demonstrates the significance of the open source community thus affecting various roles within the industry ranging from users, to developers and architects. In terms of economical impact this means that the model driven by open source will force the information technology to evolve and therefore specifically revolutionize the business of specific components of the information technology sector. He concludes that system integrators and well known independent software vendors (ISVs) such as Microsoft and IBM will materialize this theory in a fundamental economical scenario displayed in a graph depicting a customer-demand relationship between price and the customers based on vendor solutions: hardware, software and services.

Analysis of each Speaker's Views on Open Source

Young views the open source model as an element on how society works and operates, may that be translated into software development or into how sports operates. Open source should not be separated from proprietary model but should be based and considered in regards to business objectives. He supports this with an example of developing software solutions for a small dental institution and how a closed model would benefit this specific business as this market is considered to be a niche market. He then contrasts this with operation systems on how the open source model would be the best model for development.

Young understands the driving motivations of open source and commented on Richard Stallman's underlying thesis for protecting the integrity and freedom of information but does not neglect the benefits and values of a closed model. When a crowd asked a question on his views on patents, a principle of the closed model, he personally commented on his dislike but did not contradict his views on open/closed models by giving yet another anecdote describing his views; patents should be treated like vitamin D: “too little will give you health problems, too much can kill you”.

Riechle views on open source can be summed up on the belief that the open source community is sustainable and can thrive in an information technology ecosystem. In this ecosystem he identifies the four main strategies or framework: community, commercial, dual-commercial, and system integrator model. The advantage of a community based model is the support and availability that generates continual business services. Furthermore contribution is easily available for any competent individuals. What this means is that businesses now have a tremendous flexibility in defining what is technologically feasible for their given endeavours and students and inspired developers can be exposed and progress in the industry without being employed.

The main point of Riechle is neither on the previously discussed strategies, nor the dual-commercial strategy, the third approach which simply implies what it’s called, but rather on the last strategy: system integrators and the model built on this framework. System integrators are Riechle’s main argument to why open source model can thrive within the information technology ecosystems and specifically the software industry where it is densely closed source. System integrators show the value of open source to the information technology sector because it gives pricing flexibility therefore translating to higher profit margins and a wider customer outreach. Riechle continues that ISV’s need “ideally employed community open source” (Riechle, 2007) and therefore shows the reasons for large investments on open source communities and projects such as IBM’s Eclipse platform.

Riechle then shows how career and education progression is based on an open source model. Although he targeted to various firms employing IT positions and how open source benefits and evolves the career paths of IT professionals, he discusses the structure of roles within open source: users, developers and committers. The highly respected and valued role is the committers but in order to be a committer one must actively be a user and have a developer type role to achieve this status. Learning and much of traditional career paths are very much the same. Progression and success is not only based on competence or credential backgrounds but on various right experiences where principles of open source like cooperation and collaboration are evident.

Comparisons of Speakers Views

As described above, both Young and Riechle’s lecture clearly complimented each others views on what truly open source is. It was very important that both Young and Riechle had not only technical software knowledge but had similar business disciplines, where Young was more of an entrepreneur and Riechle inclined in the research, and that each speaker was on opposite sides of the software industry. Young coming from a background where he favours and values open source, which we see how his great respect of it when he commented on his relationship with Richard Stallman despite his financial success in gaining revenue for open source content with Red Hat, while Riechle’s current employer SAP is proprietary based and therefore values and does business under the rationale of a commercial and closed source model.

Both Young and Riechle view that open source is ultimately a high level method or framework. They both convey that understanding and gaining raw facts and information is crucial in effectively and efficiently applying open source to a given situation. Young and Riechle agree that it is foolish to completely ignore one model or another and to label one “good” or “evil”. They displayed that these philosophies are not absolute but rather relative to society and economics.

Young did not discredit the achievements of closed source software businesses and functions that affected the electronic world but rather commented that the success lied in the environment and how society reacted. Young stated that proprietary companies like Microsoft understood that society, business and the surrounding environments were not prepared for comprehending the internal details of the technology but rather the outcome that it provided. Young further commented that the intellectual property laws that affected software were based on individuals with no programming background. Young commented that closed source benefited niche markets while Riechle displayed this statement through basic economics measured in revenue and demands for customers.

In affect technology and software, during the 1970s and throughout much of the 90s was predominately considered a niche market, where only a selected few were regarded as experts and technically competent. A large part of society was willing to pay for these services because access and resources to alternatives were scarce. But as the information technology matures barriers of technological literacy slowly continues to come down and society and organizations began to explore methods of leveraging and exploiting technology in order to meet their specific needs. Riechle describes the increasing support of open source communities from large ISV’s and the growing need for system integrators to provide services to specific client IT solutions. While Young stated that the operating systems would now benefit the open source model because of the saturated market and the diverse demographics it contains.

Society and how people continue to do business will affect what model should be used. Young and Riechle continue to show that the model of open source is essential for community based activities such as education, societal functions and business operations. Open source ultimately empowers a group of individuals to achieve something that is greater than any talented or skilled individual or an entity can achieve. Young commented and marvelled about the innovation of Seneca’s Computer Studies program in including open source as a viable educational direction and that more institutes need to re-think how education should be taught especially in the field of technology and computer science. The benefits for implementing an open source model for education is that it allows students to put their educations to work by practicing what they learn in an industry setting. This model has existed and the benefits are shown when other education institutes have implemented this approach which can be seen through coop and research internship programs.

What this does regardless it be relative to the software industry or displayed in educational programs is that it levels the bar from a credential form of screening to a performance based. Screening and selecting solely based on credentials in my opinion draws its principles from closed source model because it focuses on the individual and accomplished achieved under a contained environment, such as the university/college system as oppose to what the individual has experiences and capable in achieving in a real life situations where various forms of interactions and problems are coupled with community and society. Riechle concurred when he examined the roles in open source communities and how this affected the current career path of IT professionals. Riechle expressed that credentials, technical and even non-technical experiences within a closed based model is not enough for IT professionals as the information technology industry is becoming increasingly open and dependent on these communities.

Final Thoughts on Open Source

The Free Software and Open Source Symposium showcased a wide and diverse array of open source technology and influences in the software industry including IBM, Miro, Mozilla and Pure Data, a fascinating visual programming concept. The two key notes presented by Young and Riechle continued to challenge and encourage all the ideas, concepts, philosophies and methodologies of open source and the model driven, to respond to the business and the economics that affects both the information technology industry and the society in which we live in. This forms my own views and understanding of the definition of open source and the open model which is simply strategy for a specific business or work that has specific purpose, whether we find this in everyday life or through analysis of economical data.

It is foolish to prefer open source content merely on the claims of providing free resource, or that it gives control how software should be written. The reason is the negligence placed on the purpose of open source. Open source serves to encourage inspired computer scientists and computer programmers to achieve their ambitions. Just as physical elements in the universe are freely available for mankind to master, open source allows educators and innovators to continually foster learning, discovery, creativity and inspirations in a digital virtual environment. Society should embrace open source because it serves to benefit their needs. Business should not neglect or exploit open source as history has proven how valuable an open model is to the progression of the economy.

I also comprehend how valuable business and economical knowledge is for software developers. I encourage that conferences and advocates of open source and information technology continually equip students to value business principles and practices. I do not believe that making money is wrong; the root of evil is money not making money. I support and even more respect the commercial based model. Supporters of open source and technical elites need to dispel any myths and negative connotations on proprietary technology; they need to understand the rationale behind these companies. It is the responsibility of the technical elites to ensure that integrity and correct business ethics remain in companies that enforce a closed source approach because the potential for revenue out justifies any reasons for providing an opened source alterative. Likewise business and social leaders need to continually be educated in the area of computer science and open source principles. By equipping and educating these leaders in the information world and what open source is, they could help empower people to pursue excellence and to constrain those that abuse and distort the intended purpose of the digital world.


Free Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS) - Copyleft - Seneca College. (2000). Retrieved Oct 31, 2007 from the home page of the Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2007: http://fsoss.senecac.on.ca/2007/