LWN readers will certainly be aware that your editor spends a fair amount
of time at development-oriented conferences. In some ways all conferences
are alike, but, still, all that experience was insufficient to prepare your
editor for OSBC, which is a different sort of affair. Neckties,
Blackberries, and Windows laptops are ubiquitous. There are booths for law
firms. People wonder about whether customers should buy their "open
source" software licenses on a one-time or subscription basis.
The wireless network actually works, but power outlets are nowhere to be
found. It's all very strange.
Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik started off his talk with an effect-filled video
filled with Gandhi quotes and related material, presumably to the end that
open source is headed toward an inevitable victory. His talk, once he
started talking, was a fairly general presentation on the value of open
source software, standards, interoperability, etc. Lots of talk about how
young the people pushing open source tend to be. He also dwelt for a while
on the "social mission" of open source software, and discussed just how
seriously the open source community takes intellectual property issues.
LWN readers would likely not find much new there; it was more of a
motivational talk for others building businesses in this area.
There was a session, led by Larry Augustin, on "downloads to dollars" - how
to start making money once you have people actually downloading your
software. Much talk on how to extract information from downloaders which
can be used to "open a dialog" with them. When is the proper point to
start requiring registration, with a valid email address, to download a
software tarball? It was suggested that the source download is really the
same thing as the free trial offerings from some proprietary vendors, with
the same end: to lead to the "monetization" phase. It can all sound
cynical and manipulative to ears more accustomed to gatherings of
developers, but this is the sort of thing people building
businesses in the open source mode worry about.
There was a lawyer-led session on reciprocity requirements in the GPL.
Much worry goes into trying to figure out just when it might be permissible
to ship proprietary components with free software. The presenter, Stephen
Gillespie, thinks that GPLv3 might make the mixing of proprietary code
easier in some situations.
Another session purported to explore "the future of open source," but
seemed to be more about the present of open source companies. Much time
was spent conducting polls of the audience by having everybody send their
responses as cellular text messages to a special number. Eventually time
got tight and the moderator came up with the new idea of having people
simply raise their hands instead. Lots of talk about how customers should
"buy" their open source software licenses.
There was also discussion on how to build a
community around software releases, though the main concern seemed to be
keeping the download rates high.
In general, participants here are concerned with download counts. A large
number of downloads is a crucial indicator of a successful open source
release; prospective venture capitalists always want to know what the
download rate is. Some participants seem to have concluded that there is a
lot of useless downloading going on; people just collect software because
it's out there for free. But they still want to know how to improve download
The day ended with a keynote by Eben Moglen. It was a long, wandering
discussion in classic Moglen style, well worth listening to. The core
point, however, was that the way to build prosperity at any level - from
nations to small businesses - is to stand up for freedom. At the business
level, that includes using copyleft licensing for software. BSD-style
licenses, he says, are "a really good license for your competitor to use."
Any business which does not want to provide a free lunch for its
competitors, however, should use a license which requires others to give
back their changes.
In the question period, your editor asked about his statements that
Microsoft would, by virtue of distributing Novell's coupons, eventually
find itself bound by the terms of GPLv3. He answered that there was much
he could not talk about because he signed a non-disclosure agreement to
be able to read the terms of the Microsoft-Novell deal. He had expected that
agreement to be moot by now, but those terms still have not been made
public. Until then, he says, we can look at the terms which have been put
into GPLv3 which require the granting of a patent license to all recipients
of the software. We can also look at Microsoft's behavior, which includes
"throwing coupons out of airplanes" and attacking the GPLv3 patent
provisions, and come to our own conclusions.
Responding to another question (about the lack of terms requiring web
service providers to give back changes they are running but not
distributing to others), Eben had a fairly strong warning for Google. If
the company continues to operate in a secretive way and not contribute back
the bulk of its changes, there will be growing pressure for a remedy based
on licensing terms. It is really up to that one company, he says, to
determine where that aspect of the debate goes in the future.
The second (and final) day at OSBC will include a keynote by Marten Mickos,
a panel on license enforcement actions, and a panel on the good (or not so
good) effects of the Microsoft/Novell deal. Stay tuned for the report.
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