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Editor's Note: Valentine for Open Source

Feb 10, 2006, 23:30 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Last year, I didn't go to the Open Source Business Conference, but the reports coming out of that conference prompted me to write an Editor's Note that cautioned the Linux community to take care in the then-new approach of some proprietary vendors to co-op the benefits of open source for themselves while all the while attempting to put Linux down.

Here we are, a year later, and the West Coast edition of the OSBC is about to kick off again (Feb. 14 & 15, Argent Hotel, San Francisco). Has anything changed?

At that time, Sun Microsystems was touting its new Community Development and Distribution License and Microsoft was showing off how much nicer shared source was compared to open source. And they were using the OSBC as one platform to do so.

OpenSolaris has had about a year to get going under its CDDL license, and from all accounts, it seems to be doing okay. Not a lot of huge deployment announcements from Sun, but then I haven't heard about any huge problems with sales, either. I think Sun decided somewhere in the intervening year that getting militant about proclaiming Solaris over Linux was not working for them. I suspect that this is because even if you give the dime store merchandise away, it still came from a dime store.

Sun has made two recent concessions to try to make us think that they are being conciliatory to the Linux community and technology. The first is the hinting around that they might release OpenSolaris under GPL 3 when that license is finalized next year. The second is the announcement in December that this spring they plan to release the API and other documentation for their UltraSPARC platform as part of project OpenSPARC.

Both moves lend some credibility to the notion that Sun is reaching out to Linux. Don't believe it. Opening SPARC may make that platform more of a commodity player, but at the end of the day, it'll be Solaris that Sun will be pitching for their SPARC hardware, open or otherwise. Tagging a new GPL to Solaris is one more way to try to gain the value of an open source development community, a community that might be more willing to work on Solaris projects if it were truly free software.

Sun's message, since the last OSBC, is really not different. Just subdued.

Microsoft, interestingly, hasn't changed their message a bit. It's still the "Get the Facts" campaign, it's still "shared source is better for you," and customers are still waiting for Vista. Talk about your broken record. Or the sound of one hand clapping.

Both companies are sponsoring OSBC this time around, but then, so is Novell. This should equate to less of an anti-Linux tone than was picked up at past conferences.

But this was just my impression of a past OSBC--what will this one be like? Since I plan on attending the show next week, I decided not to rely on my preconceived notions, and instead spoke with conference organizer Matt Asay. Asay is Vice President of Business Development at Alfresco, one of the stronger open source startups coming out of Silicon Valley in recent days. He indicated that one difference between this year's OSBC and previous years is that instead of a higher-level "here's why open source is good" approach, the conference tracks will all have a much more pragmatic approach.

"We're going to be focusing a lot more on the nuts and bolts," Asay said. Conference attendees would be give real answers to real problems, using a variety of open source technologies.

Asay believes that we are well past the point where businesspeople have to be convinced to try open source. That message has been delivered. Now the challenge has become educating them on just what open source solutions are out there.

"The nature of the IT community is changing," Asay explained. "Now they are asking how does open source work? What will we get if we use it? How will we prosper?"

The conference, like its predecessors, promises to have a small attendance--this isn't LinuxWorld. The number of about 750 has been constant, and Asay feels it should remain one of the smaller, more intimate events. The size gives attendees a chance to really interact with one another and the event's speakers and vendors, Asay emphasized.

OSBC is different from LinuxWorld in not just size. The attendee demographic also lends itself to a very enterprise-oriented environment. According to Asay, 84% of the attendees were director-level or above, with 15-20% of the total attendees coming from enterprise organizations.

The conference tracks are aimed right for this audience: the "What's Now" track will be a CIO-level track, focusing on major trends. The "What's Next" track will showcase new and existing vendors in the open source arena. And the pretty obviously named "What's Legal" track will look at developments with the GPL 3 as well as examine how open source plays in mergers and acquisitions, for example.

In all, Asay is pretty geared up about the synchronicity this conference should generate.

"We hope that people realize that this is the place to see cool new startups," he said. "And it will be useful for them to see just how far the open source business community has become."

Beginning tomorrow, I will be traveling to the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) in Los Angeles and then the OSBC in San Francisco. Linux Today will be in the capable hands of Rob Reilly while I am away.

Look for on the scene reports from me from both conferences as I get a good look at the differences and similarities between the grassroot and the corporate Linux communities.