What's an FSOSS?
This was my first year attending the Free Software & Open Source Symposium / Linux Fest (FSOSS). Of course being a Senecan for over 4 years I had heard of FSOSS and knew it was something for open source enthusiasts but never had I participated nor really thought about what goes on there. With a bit of research I quickly learned that FSOSS is where new trends, new projects, and anything open source is discussed and demonstrated through a day of workshops and 2 days of presentations. This year I missed out on the workshops but attended a few presentations and have chosen to offer my analysis on two in particular that express different perspectives on how open source has benefited the speaker. The two presentations summarized and analyzed in this paper are How to Start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software and Take Control of your TV with XBMC.
How to Start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software
The first talk I attended was presented by Mike Hoye and was titled How to Start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software. Hoye quit his 9-5 day job to pursue a business of his own. If you’re wondering what this business is, so am I. All I was able to pick up from his presentation about his start-up was that he developed 2, maybe 3, open source products with limited resources and did so with success. Hoye’s business was not the focus of his presentation and I think he spent a whole 20 seconds talking about it. The focus was on how open source software and the open source community gave Hoye the opportunity to ship a successful product with a modest amount of time and capital.
Hoye defined open source in three different ways:
1. Open source as an ASSET
2. Open source as a PROCESS
3. Open source as a CONTRACT
Starting off with open source as an asset, Hoye explained that “if you’re small and nimble you can still pick your battles that make your opponent’s assets irrelevant.” He expanded this idea with an example of corporations vs. small organizations; A corporation may have more man power and money but realize that they probably will never be able to get a better product faster to market than a small organization would. The idea here is to not fear something that is bigger than you or driven by lots of resources but to see your open source software as something good and something that solves a problem.
Hoye’s second idea of open source as a process teaches us that we don’t necessarily need to start writing code. In fact he told us that writing code should be our last resort. We should start by researching and ask ourselves if we need to solve this problem or has somebody already done it for us. Hoye also explains that it is important to keep your scope as small as possible. Hoye’s definition of open source as a process is probably the most important to note if you want to get your product to market fast. Say ‘No’ to new features because they take too long. Start with something small and make it awesome. Once you do that you will be able to build something else awesome on top of it.
Lastly, Hoye defines open source as a contract. He says open source is a social contract which is more important than any license. He says we need to give back and pay off our technical debt. If you’re good at something do it for free and find value in what you do not how much you get back for it.
What we can take away from Hoye’s presentation is that open source is here to help and can be the difference between your business’ success or failure. Hoye knew he had limited resources when he decided to pursue his own start-up. He also knew that despite these limited resources he would still be able to meet his goals. This was done through the use of open source software and contributions from the open source community.
Take Control of your TV with XBMC
The second talk I attended was titled Take Control of your TV with XBMC and was presented by Lawrence Mandel. Mandel is not, nor was, part of the XBMC development team but just happens to be an XBMC lover and expert since he has been using it for the last 5 years. Although not a developer for this project he is deeply involved in the open source community as a program manager for Firefox that focuses on browser cross cutting initiatives. Prior to that he was involved with the Eclipse and Apache communities and is the founder of the Web Tools Platform (WTP) and Woden projects. (http://fsoss.senecac.on.ca/2011/user/50).
Mandel spent most of his one hour time slot going through the XBMC feature list while showing live demos of all its capabilities. XBMC is an award winning, open source media centre that can run on Linux, Windows, OSX, and iOS. As the title of the presentation suggests it allows its user to literally take control of what is played on their TV. This goes beyond what we typically see on a TV; In addition to shows and movies it can also display your photos, clicked through one by one or as a hands-free, slide show equipped with background music of your choice. It will also show you movie images, trailers, and summaries. Another great feature of XMBC is that it will be your memory for you! You no longer have to remember which episode of True Blood, for example, you last saw. XBMC tracks the viewed episodes in your series library and displays this information on the screen. Mandel also points out that with XBMC you have the power to take control of your TV by eliminating what we may not want to see, like commercials or shows that just don’t interest us. Its content is 100% controlled by you. Although not the starring role but definitely worth mentioning, you can import music files into XBMC and it supports all file types. One last thing I’d like to mention is that what XBMC displays on your TV can be controlled by other devices. Mandel has configured his iPad to be able to select shows and movies from within his XBMC and display it on any TV in his house.
Although Mandel spent a good chuck of his presentation going over the long list of features XBMC has to offer I’m sure that was not the heart of his talk. Mandel was simply giving us an example of what the open source community can accomplish. XBMC along with other great open source software is the epitome of why developers participate in projects like these. People everywhere have the opportunity to use free software that will be life changing, if only in the smallest way.
The greatest difference I noticed between these two speakers is that Hoye did not speak about the open source products he developed nor any other open source product. He spoke about what open source can do for you. On the contrary Mandel focused his presentation on one open source product and spoke about what you can do with it. Although Mandel did not explicitly talk about how great open source software is and encourage his audience to get involved and give back to the community it is quite clear that he is a supporter of it.
Mandel gave an example of how a piece of the open source community has innovated the way we view our TV. He gave us an example of how open source can change our lives from an entertainment perspective. On the other hand Hoye gave us an example of how open source can change our lives from a business and professional level. Mandel and Hoye’s talks were completely different but they go hand in hand. Hoye spoke about how to go about developing a successful product that takes advantage of the open source community while Mandel gave us a great example of what such a product may be. Both Mandel and Hoye see open source software as an opportunity but given the context of their presentations maybe have a different idea what that opportunity is. Hoye saw an opportunity to start a successful business and make money. Mandel saw an opportunity to make the entertainment factor in his life a little bit sweeter.
I think there is a big misconception about open source software which is that it just doesn’t measure up to closed source software. I think a lot of people associate open source software with having lots of bugs and sub-standard capabilities. I also think that open source software flies under the radar and doesn’t receive the praise it deserves. This of course goes for the open source developers as well. There are millions of users who use and download free software and probably don’t realize that there is a community of developers working hard to provide free solutions. When something is free it is easy to forget about how much time and effort went into making it what it is. Just because something is free doesn’t mean it was easy to do. And just because a piece of software has a small bug doesn’t give a user reason to discredit it completely. FSOSS is great way to give the software and developers the credit they deserve. It reminds users and educates new users of how an open community can accomplish great things. It also reminds and educates us on the amount and wide array of resources, whether this be information, assistance, sense of community, add-ons, plug-ins, new releases, better versions, etc. that the open source community has to offer. Listening to Hoye and Mandel speak about what open source has done for them reminded me of those exact things.
Going from an open source user and abuser to very recently an open source developer my views have changed quite a bit. By user and abuser I mean someone who did not completely understand what open source meant, entailed, nor really appreciated the free software I use every day. Without Filezilla, Zen Cart, Magento, Firefox, Vuze, and way more my life would be a lot less exciting and a lot more challenging. I did not have the appreciation for open source that it deserves before entering into the open source development course at Seneca. My appreciation quickly started to grow as it was brought to my attention that people all over the world are connected through one common piece of software and the limits on this one piece of software are endless when you open it up for all to see. Listening to Hoye and Mandel speak only confirmed and strengthened my views on open source.