Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2011
The Free Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS) is an annual event where speakers discuss open source and free software projects and subjects that influence the open source world. The conference spanned 3 days from Thursday to Saturday. Thursday was when the workshops occurred; I attended the Processing.js workshop hosted by Jon Buckley and Dave Humphrey and then the Android Development workshop by Simon Chang. Friday and Saturday were when the presentations occurred. The presentations I went to were:
- "How to start an Internet Famous Business with Open Source Software" by Mike Hoye
- "Building a Commercial Game Using Processing.js for Cross-Platform Delivery" by Dawn Mercer, Jeremy Friedberg, Daniel Hodgin, and David Perit
- "Free and Open Strategy as Practice: Participant Perspectives" by Mekki MacAulay
- "A Slice of Raspberry Pi" by Eben Upton
- "Introduction to the Google Android Platform" by Simon Chang
- "When you cannot be there... Remote access and collaboration" by Raul Suarez
- "How Web Browsers Work" by Ehsan Akhgari
While I really enjoyed the talks, the two perspectives that will be discussed will the presentations by Mekki MacAulay and Eben Upton.
Free and Open Source Strategy as Practice: Participant Perspectives - Mekki MacAulay
One of the presentations I attended on Friday was a presentation held by Mekki MacAulay. Mekki is a PhD candidate studying at the Schulich School of Business. The reason why I chose this talk to cover was due to the nature of the presentation. Many of the presentations during FSOSS were about a particular project the speaker was on, and those presentations more often than not spoke about that project and the things that affected the project and focused less on the open source technologies that enabled their project to, in most cases, thrive. In terms of scope, they were very localized. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but because of the larger impact Mekki's research can have, as well as my background in studying the humanities, I felt really drawn by the presentation.
The presentation revolved around the study of various open source practices that may either help or hinder a group's growth. The study was still a work in progress, however, the amount of research and the correlations that resulted from the in-depth interviews he conducted were fascinating to me. The purpose of the study was to analyze the practices of open source communities and to see how the different types of practices affect the functioning of the community. Mekki mapped the various routines that occurred in multiple open source communities (given to him via interviews with members of various involvement) to four categories. Practices were considered an enabling practice if the action was considered a positive interaction and motivating for the person and a disabling practice if it had the opposite effect (these two categories were from the research by Mantere). As well, if the practice was codified it was considered to be a recursive practice; whereas the opposite would be classified as an adaptive practice. After categorizing the practices, Mekki found that things weren't as simple as "recursive practices are disabling" and "adaptive practices are enabling." The results showed that recursive practices had instances that were considered enabling, and adaptive practices that were considered disabling. Further analysis showed that the stage of the open source community (well established or fairly new) had an effect on whether or not a recursive practice was seen as enabling or disabling. The same applied for adaptive. I found this fascinating, because the projects that were offered to us had communities that ranged from recent (paladin/gladius) to fairly mature (processing.js).
Based on the presentation by Mekki, I was left with the impression that he was deeply involved with open source. He portrayed open source as opportunity, one where everyone can take part in and benefit from. From his study, it was clear that he would like the information to help aid the sustained growth and involvement of new contributors to the open source community. I think it's a great goal to aim for, being able to help ensure that both new and old open source communities stay strong is very important for both end users and for driving innovation in the software industry.
A Slice of Raspberry Pi - Eben Upton
I attended this presentation partially because of a recommendation of a friend and partially because compared to many of the other talks, the focus for the presentation wasn't on open source. It focused more on what the product was and what the purpose of Raspberry Pi was. While Eben did talk about what contributions the open source community has given his project, for which he was thankful for, it was not the major focus. This was what made the talk so different and so memorable for me. Well, that and the presenter had a British accent, which was also very different from the majority of speakers I listened to during the event.
The speaker, Eben Upton, is an ASIC architect (he designs chips) working for Broadcom. He is also the founder and a trustee for the Raspberry Pi Foundation where he is responsible for the software and hardware architecture of Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi is an ultra-low-cost computer aimed at helping children get into computer programming. There are already boards similar to Raspberry Pi both in terms of specifications and function in existence already, such as the BeagleBoard, PandaBoard, and the OLPC. However the main difference is the attempted price point Raspberry Pi is aiming to ship at. Upon retail Raspberry Pi units will sell for $25 to $35 depending on the configuration of the board. Raspberry Pi was spurred on by the experience Eben had when he was on the board of admissions to Cambridge's computer science department. He explained that when he applied to the program, it was a given that the applicants new several languages and had the ability to program some assembly. Now, he laments how far the bar has fallen. He talks about how now "having built a webpage" was considered good enough for consideration. This is a trend I can definitely identify with. The aim for the Raspberry was to provide younger generations the opportunity to learn how to code and program well before it was time to apply for post-secondary education.
The link between Raspberry Pi and open source was with regards to the software packages that will be available for it. Due to the limited size of the people involved with Raspberry Pi (I believe it was 6) and their intention of shipping it within next year, there really isn't enough time or man power to create a lot of content for Raspberry Pi. However, because of the willingness of numerous open source communities like CDOT, Raspberry Pi will be shipping with several pieces of software, with more packages to come. The hope is that the open source community, as well as the individuals who purchase a Raspberry Pi would contribute to the software library that would be available for it. Eben expressed his surprise and optimism at what the open source community has been able to do with the limited time they have had with the Raspberry Pi. His view on open source was more of a person looking in. Eben acknowledged the importance of the open source community in the development and future growth of Raspberry Pi, but the majority of the talk wasn't related to open source technologies, for good reason. It was unique compared to many of the speakers because he's not as involved with the open source community as many of the other speakers were and the presentation was of a device where instead of the open source community being the primary reason of its existence, much of it was due to non-open source technologies and opportunities. It was nice to get a perspective from those outside the community.
While I attended many presentations, I felt that many of the presentations had very similar opinions as to what open source is and what it meant to be part of the open source movement. I chose Mekki's presentation because it was different in terms of scope of the presentation material and the similarity between what he viewed as free software and open source compared to many of the other speakers I attended. The general view was that open source is an opportunity that provides the world with necessary products and competition that drives innovation and makes the world a better place. In many ways the view of open source is one of great admiration of the great things that can and will come from the many open source communities. The communities themselves may not function in the way we've normally done things, but the things they work on, the possibilities that can occur despite the differences in membership, race, age, etc. is unimaginable. The opportunities that occur from open source varies from being a viable business to making the impossible possible. That was the overall feel of open source I got when I listened to them. Their optimism regarding open source is one I share. Since taking the course, I've learned so much and many of the presentations offered in FSOSS served as a concrete example of the things I learned being made into reality. During the conference, I knew though, that this would be a slightly narrow perspective. After all, every one of the presenters were deep in open source development. They've all been through much of what is ugly and beautiful in open source communities.
The feeling I got from Bren Upton's presentation regarding Raspberry Pi wasn't radically different from the others, however there were definitely several differences in attitude. I would like to point out that Bren's view and approach to open source, seems to me, like the proper way a business should view open source. For instance taking a look at Microsoft (who incidentally does actually provide code to open source projects) and the recent charge against them regarding UEFI locking the ability to load linux operating systems. If it were true (I don't really think that is an issue, I have an UEFI enabled motherboard and I can still install a linux distro just fine) this would definitely be the wrong way. Based on the explanations Bren has given throughout the presentation it was clear that he, like all the other presenters I attended, saw the opportunity that lay within the open source communities. The difference between the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Microsoft was that he fully embraced the community. He knew how to take hold of the opportunity and get it to help make his ambitions come true. I recall, and I have to paraphrase because I don't have his presentation on hand, that he mentioned how it would not have been possible to ship Raspberry Pi with as much software support, interest, and hype were it not for the enthusiasm and contributions from the numerous open source communities that were able to get an early board for testing.
Just before FSOSS, my view on open source was like my experience with linux early on in my life. A lot of people will say great things about it, but when you really get down to it, it's so hard to get started that it makes you want to give up. Of course, if you keep trying, you'll get to a position where the work you do becomes really rewarding and that feeling drives you to continue. However, this view is actually very narrow-minded. There's more to open source than just this, and the presentations at FSOSS showed me that.
Open source is an opportunity. Just like other opportunities in real life, it's easy to ignore them and not reap its benefits. Unlike other opportunities though, it will never leave you behind. To the would-be contributor you are given the opportunity to expand your knowledge and create something that can help millions of people across the world. Of course there's also the added benefit of creating production quality code to wow your potential employers. To the public, open source serves as competition and alternatives to businesses and help drive innovation which can lead to newer and cooler technologies and applications. To the business official, open source provides the opportunity to advertise, gain good will, and help grow and mature the functionality of your products. There are opportunities for everyone in open source. All it takes is an individual, an idea, and the initiative.
Three months ago, I was one of the ignorant masses. I thought open source was cool, free software don't have to pay a dime. However, I didn't think it was possible to be really profitable with open source technology. I didn't really understand what open source really was and what it offered. Today, my view has been flipped almost 180 degrees. I feel that you can't start a technology related business and afford to ignore or even antagonize the open source movement. Not because open source is free and thus a potential competitor for customers, but the fact that ignoring it will most assuredly make you irrelevant. Before FSOSS I learned how to take part in open source development, I learned about a few of the new and exciting technologies that are being opened using open source technology. During FSOSS I learned how a business can operate using open source as a business model, how a business can get along with the open source community to drive and enhance a product, and most of all, I gained a little more understanding about what makes open source so great.
After FSOSS, we had a report due for a course that required us to create a business plan for a company that uses open source software. I remember hearing the bewilderment of a classmate who said "How did you get those figures? We're doing open source software, it's free. You can't make money!" It was then I smiled to myself, knowing full well that three months ago, I was like him. I can't express how much FSOSS and this course expanded my understanding of the computer industry. The technology and opportunities that are available through open source... unbelievable.