If day one of the Open Source Business Conference was summarized by great optimism, then, at least for me, day two was punctuated by reason for concern. My concern stems from our willingness to believe that open source cannot be stopped. That may be true, but there are certainly some circumstances that might significantly slow the momentum we now see.
To start day two, both IBM and Oracle were scheduled to kick things off. Although Matt Asay started out the conference on Tuesday claiming that none of the keynote speeches had been “bought”, it is difficult to understand the why and who of some of the keynotes. Wednesday morning started with several speeches which I felt did not add a great deal to the conversation occurring at the conference. I do have to admit that I skipped the Oracle keynote, so maybe I missed something. However, a friend of mine sat through the speech and told me that it was definitely the worst of the conference. I can believe it. I did attend Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger’s presentation on “Innovation in an On Demand World: The Future of IT.” Dr. Wladawsky-Berger is Vice President of Strategy and Innovation for IBM. For me this presentation did nothing more than repeat what we all already live and breathe on a daily basis. It was, however, interesting to see Dr. Wladawsky-Berger contrast Kim Polese’s use of the builder metaphor with an engineering metaphor for the future of innovation. Two things to consider from Dr. Wladawsky-Berger’s presentation was his emphasis on innovation in the business processes (think management as well) of our enterprises. In addition, he mentioned that IBM was doing research on self-managing systems. I found this an extremely interesting concept. With all we hear of the enterprise challenge of managing the installed infrastructure, these iisues could be very helpful in the future of the enterprise.
Even though enterprise strategy was only one track, it seemed to be consistently present throughout the conference. Most of the keynotes were focused on the impact of open source on the enterprise as well as most of the companies in the emerging technology and start-up showcase. Some say this focus stems from the dissatisfaction most CIOs have with the lack of return on their enterprise level investment in information technology. At the SpikeSource Town Hall meeting, I heard first hand how upset they are. Therefore, many people see open source as the solution to this concern. We must remember one fact, however. Open source technology will not replace enterprise legacy investments. Very few organization are going to rip out existing solutions to replace it with an open source equivalent. I see a bigger need in applying open source technology to improve the efficiency, improve the operational stability, and reduce the cost of over-all maintenance.
As I mentioned above, the second day balanced the first day’s optimism with a dose of concern. The source of my concern came from two subsequent sessions. First I participated in Matt Thompson’s session on “The Role of Open Source and Community Development in Emerging IT Markets”. Matt is Director of Technology Outreach for Sun Microsystems, Inc. I went to this session to learn more about the dynamics of building communities, but came away with something completely different. One of Matt’s main premises was that “Many 2nd and 3rd world countries are leveraging Open Source for accelerating the sophistication of their IT industries.” Matt proceeded to present his evaluations of China, Malaysia, and Phillipines and how they view open source and open source licenses. First he said, they recognize the opportunity within open source to complete their infrastructure with out paying for the development of the intellectual propoerty (IP) necessary. Open source grants them the IP and they are freely adopting anything they can to accelerate that process. Second, they are not too concerned about the open source definition and the legal implications it carries. For these countries, they do not feel any obligation to donate any code changes back to the community. Many in the audience were both offended and surprised at this statement. Later in the day, the risk of this situation would come into clearer focus.
To essentially finish the conference, Professor Lawrence Lessig presented a call to arms in the battle for the right to innovate. In the final keynote speech, Professor Lessig discussed the battle currently under way by reviewing the cases for Betamax, Elder, Napster, and INDUCE. With these cases as a precedent, he theorized that Microsoft could assume an offensive strategy. This strategy would include collecting as many software patents as possible, hiring as many patent attorneys as possible and then use them to protect their monopoly. Even though only a theory, most of us are already aware that the first two premises are true. In the end, Professor Lessig admonished the audience to consider their actions more carefully and answer the following question: “What happens if we lose this battle?” If you are uncomfortable with the answer, then ask yourself: “What are you doing to support companies that are actively fighting this battle?”
To sum up the conference, I’ll borrow one of the key tags from a comic book and movie we are all familiar. Open Source represents great opportunity, but with that great opportunity comes great responsibility. If we want to preserve this great opportunity, then we must actively defend our freedom to pursue that opportunity. We can do this by ensuring that we comply with the implicit obligations of the software licenses we accept and support those organizations that protect our freedom to choose that software in the first place.
Do you believe that Microsoft can stop open source?