Mar. 24, 2008 SDF Global Open Source

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On March 24, 2008 at Swissnex in San Francisco, SDForum hosted the Global Open Source Conference. It brought together investors, entrepreneurs and government experts to discuss the effects of open source software around the world. Text stolen from DJCline.com.

Governments are demanding open source as a way to increase transparency and reduce costs. Companies using open source can expect encouragement from governments and the private sector. Both want it deployed throughout their organizations.

The keynote speaker was Marten Mickos, formerly CEO of MySql for six years and now oversees the database group within Sun Microsystem’s Software division.

Marten attributes the early success of MySql to the fact that Sybase and Oracle were slow to develop database products for the Web. Using MySql was like flying economy class. It was good enough to get you there. It had ninety percent of the features for ten percent of the cost. The money is made selling customized complex solutions for that last bit of the market.

He thinks open source software is a smarter way to produce and distribute goods online. Both he and Sun believe patents on software are harmful to a heterogeneous marketplace. The IT world is now independent of platforms, operating systems and applications that can be mixed and matched across layers.

This movement toward open source software running on commodity hardware continues as a new generation of IT professionals enters the field. Every day there are more open source developers than closed source. They are volunteers who download the product and create solutions that may be useful to others. They may not be smarter but there are more of them and eventually they will find a solution by sheer numbers. This puts pressure on full-time paid developers to come up with something better. When they do they charge for it.

When working in an open source development he thinks it is important not to be defensive. Every developer community is composed of individuals with different motivations. It is a sign of success that people will disagree with you. One sign of success is that people are downloading it. He sees little opportunities to develop software for handsets.

The first panel discussion was on “Global Open Source Trends and Public Initiatives”. Dirk Riehle of SAP moderated a panel with Arnaud Le Hors of IBM, Mark Radcliffe of DLA Piper, Sander Ruiter of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, and Tony Wasserman of Carnegie Mellon University.

Open government needs open source software. It reduces cost and isolation while increasing transparency and community involvement. The Internet frees software from being distributed on traditional packaging and all the bureaucratic costs that go with it. Governments can save sixty percent of the cost using open source software for ordinary desktop applications. Open standards mean more open bidding for finding solutions from IT developers.

One problem is establishing international standards for what open source really means. Right now many people around the world are not adopting open source software because they are using pirated software. Historically respecting intellectual property is a matter of timing. In the nineteenth century the biggest infringer of patent law was the United States. It seems that when a country starts creating something of its own that is worth protecting; it starts to respect international patent laws. That framework needs to evolve to respect and encourage development.

Another problem is support for specialized market. Of course buying from a proprietary source is no guarantee they will be around five years from now. Open source means there may be a community of developers larger than any one company can hire that will be available to solve their problems. Subscription models exist but creating different versions for paid and free software also creates logistical headaches, which increase complexity and cost.

The second panel discussion was on “Learning Lessons from Around the World”
Andrew Aitken of Olliance Group moderated a panel with Don Brown of Atlassian, Daniel Chalef of KnowledgeTree, Ismael Ghalimi of Intalio and Chander Kant of Zmanda.

Commercial open source is possible. You are global the minute you go online. The product has to have a low barrier to entry, easy to download and use. A sales staff is expensive. It has to be so good it sells itself to anyone online with a credit card. Seek allies in customers, government and academia. Drive standards development in professional organizations. Students learning your software create an army of users. Being the experts in a particular kind of open source software will put you in demand when a client has a specific need.

The third panel discussion was on “Venture Panel: Where is the money?” Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier of Novell moderated a panel with Vineet Buch of Blue Run Ventures, Kevin Efrusy of Accel, John Occhipinti of Woodside Fund, Philippe Cases of Partech.

Open source is not just an investment category it is the standard way software will be distributed. A smart company finds a volunteer who is writing very good code and hires him. Word of mouth from customers is the best sales force. Your company has the advantage of a QA process that individual developers won’t have. Credibility counts. You want to be the first place people look to for solutions in a category. Give them solutions and not a checklist of features. Own the trademark and brand not the copyright. Control what you put into your product or a competitor may give it away for free. Ultimately your company will be bought for its name and presence in the open source software community. It is unlikely future companies will become the large corporations like Microsoft or Google because your development and customer base will be already be global … just horizontal.

In a downturn customers are looking for more bang for their buck and open source fits that bill.
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