Open Source Think Tank 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008 by Mistlee

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Open Source Think Tank 2008

By Roberto Galoppini

Olliance Group and DLA Piper last week hosted the third Open Source Think Tank "The Future of Commercial Open Source", bringing together industry leaders to brainstorm potential solutions to the issues that commercial open source is facing today.

The Open Source Think Tank is the greatest networking event in the open source arena, gathering about 130 professionals ranging from CIOs and open source firms' CEOs, to consultants, analysts and VCs.

Andrew Aitken, Olliance Group CEO, kicked off the meeting with some opening remarks, reporting about the lack of resources - as later confirmed by many CIOs demanding for a better vendors' support - and foreseeing an increase in consolidation over the next years, prediction confirmed also by Larry Augustin.

Andrew in his speech mentioned also the fragmentation of open source, an old mantra that miss the value of the Group Forming Networks, also known as Reed's law:

The utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network.

The number of mature open source projects and developers is raising daily, last but not least at the Google Code site, and many of them answer vertical markets' needs. Chris Anderson keynote, on the second day, remarked the importance of the so called "long tail", and introduced us to Chris's last adventure: open source hardware and its still obscure licensing.

Many CIOs during their panel sessions screamed against license proliferation, a term referring to the so called "explosion of choice" in open source licensing. Why that? I think that Larry Rosen was right telling them that it is plenty of proprietary licenses, and I tried to figure out why all this concern for open source licensing. Talking with Colin Bodell, Amazon VP Website Applications Platform, I confirmed the idea that the big guys cook their own meal. Basically they don't need to spend time and effort with any procurement process to acquire (by downloading) open source software, but they have to ask the legal department. I see the problem, though I understand that SMEs are not affected by this, while they experience a much bigger problem with open source software selection.

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Europe and North-America are definitely two different markets: Europe look for solutions, while USA ask for products. John Newton, Alfresco's CTO, once speaking about these differences told me:

This is a phenomenon that I have observed for over 20 years. It may have something to do with the proximity of US companies to the software developers, their earlier development of software, a cultural willingness to experiment with business, or just general risk taking.

After speaking with few North-American CIOs I believe John is right, but that is definitely not the only difference

European public administrations demand for open source, while in North-America customers are mainly medium to large enterprises. It is not by casualty that I didn't meet any representatives of North American Public Administrations at the Open Source Think Tank, I think. On the contrary every Italian open source conference see little participation of Manufacturing or Financial CIOs, but it is packed by people from public institutions.

I really enjoyed brainstorming sessions, and I asked Cristopher Keene, CEO of Wavemaker, formerly known as Activegrid, to summarize our first session, when we were asked to brainstorm on the following question: Does the open source industry need another organization to represent it's increasingly broader commercial interests?

The idea we developed at the open source thin tank was to create a council of CIOs who use open source products within their organizations.

The goal of this council would be to educate the open source community about business issues which make it hard for CIOs to adopt open source, such as licensing complexity and product completeness. The council could also drive an important dialogue around licensing requirements and patent indemnification risks that are holding the industry back now.

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About the Author:
In 2001 started up a small firm specialized in infrastructural solutions based on Open Source software. In 2004 launched the first Italian consortium of Open Source SMEs, becoming its president. Collaborates to academy research on Open Source organizational models and on Open Source meta-districts, keeps rubrics and writes articles on ICT magazines.

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