Adina wrote an assessment of Open Source, innovation, and current tech economy.
Here’s my reaction… (in the spirit of free marketplace of ideas, please provide input and ideas; contributions will be properly credited in any formal manifestation of this).
EFF-Austin is organizing a series of events around Open Source and Austin Open Source, in particular.
My opinion is that there are a series of a cultural obstacles that are preventing widespread adoption of OS…(This list is not exhaustive)
- Open source developers do not come together in person frequently enough.
At the risk of stereotyping, open source people do not socialize. That’s why virtual communities like slashdot and sourceforge seem like such vibrant exchanges; the people contact is kept at a minimum.
Unfortunately, to have a truly sustainable development cycle, you have to have face-to-face conversation (because our technology alternatives are not anywhere near unobtrusive, yet). To enable rapid development, you have to remove bottlenecks in communication (take one of the successes of Extreme Programming, for example, where development happens with two people looking at the same code on the same monitor… they work together with almost zero inhibitors to their conversation).
One of the goals of EFFA in bringing OS people together in the real world is to foster a live community where we can increase awareness of local OS momentum. My belief is that there is a huge current of activity going on in Austin that is mostly underground. Austin has a wealth of creativity, culture-fit, and tech history that could drive our region towards becomming a worldwide hub for open source (not to mention we have a population of technologists that are twiddling their thumbs, looking for projects). Austin also has a particularly interesting edge in the arts (especially film and digital video and the emerging arts).
Networking, handshaking, and socializing are where real action happens. It is essential, then, that we build an awareness among OS people of what’s going on around them in meatspace.
- The culture of the developers, themselves, is not conducive to the spirit of open source.
I don’t think anyone can disagree that there is a machismo attitude among the ubergeeks that work in open source. The geek oneupmanship extends from the the hardware they own to the complexity of their code to how many different projects they’ve touched.
That has to stop.
I’m all for healthy competition- in fact, proper OS DEMANDS competition and debate of ideas. Chest-thumping in the name of egos is not indicitive of a healthy process, however. Excluding an emerging programmer because she does not yet have the experience to use your tools is also damaging.
Worse, the culture of the OS community excludes other, vital segments of the high tech community (good examples are UI developers or even women programmers).
- The development tools are not conducive to widespread adoption of OS.
I don’t believe that the tools and resources available for OS are accessible by most developers. For instance, I have heard more than one geek say that they hate the interfaces to community tools like SourceForge (projects are difficult to find, it presupposes complicated setups in source control, projects come and go so frequently that you don’t really know what is a true, evolutionary “release” and what’s just a minor change.)
You cannot on one hand say that you support open and free exchange of development cycles while on the other create unnecessary barriers to entry on projects by making the tools too difficult for new users to adopt quickly (or rather, not spending effort on making them easy).
Many developers would say that this barrier to entry is necessary to weed out programmers that are not “good enough” to work on the projects. I would disagree that this is even necessary; I would argue that it severely limits the quality of product because it does not truly embrace a 100% free-and-open marketplace of ideas… Hence, you have projects being developed only by the geeks who climb up the learning curve fast enough which excludes anyone who hasn’t worked with cvs before, graphic designers, businesspeople, etc, etc.
I’ll grant that’s a bit of a stretch, so let me ground it a bit:
Businesses will not invest time and resources for their employees to ramp up on unnecessarily complicated toolsets when they already have invested heavily in their current development environments that they percieve as more “stable.”
(On a side note, there is no effective centralized registry of projects that are ongoing. It is a monumental task to keep track of what’s going on… if you don’t check the “what’s new” or “latest releases” of what people are currently using to organize OS projects at least a few times daily, there is no hope of keeping abreast of what’s happening out there.)
- Nobody has REALLY figured out how to use OS effectively as the development process for their company.
I need to be careful here because this is the least thought out of my points. (and yes, I am well aware of the Red Hats (who are selling services, not products) and the Lindows’s of the world).
Without industry adoption and funding, then open source development will forever remain in the realm of the hobbyist whose longterm labor of love will be fickle, at best.
There are lots of misconceptions in the business community that EFFA can help address.
First, I don’t think the words “open source as a business model” even make sense. Open source is simply one of many ways to develop a product.
“Open source products are free, therefore there is no way to make money off of them.” Untrue; with appropriate licensing, you can sell the software for profit, you can build extensions and sell those, or offer services for pay.
EFFA can help the business community figure out ways to build OS into their operational plans.
People smarter than I are desperately looking to figure this puzzle out.
We at EFFA are going to initially convene a group of heavy hitters in our local community to discuss these and other challenges that prevent OS adoption. We will take the recommendations of that group and hope to follow up with a series of public events that will focus on a variety of themes in OS (licensing, tools, project show-and-tell, etc).
The goals are manyfold:
- establish Austin as a hub for open source activity.
- convene local players to share information and best practices in realspace
- increase the awareness of local projects to local businesses
- improve the business community’s understanding of OS
- integrate non-techie developers (primarily UI and biz dev people) into the OS process
- establish a clearinghouse for OS research and create a registry of projects
- integrate new developers in the area to the geek community in Austin
- create a community the breaches virtual and meat space simultaneously