Posts Tagged ‘OSSWatch’

Microsoft opens up for the next ten years

January 5, 2010

For many Microsoft watchers 2009 was the year of Windows 7 – the latest version of their market-dominating operating system – and Bing, the company’s latest salvo in the continued battle with Google over Web search. But in the background, and little noticed by the media, the company has also been re-thinking how it makes software and these changes are likely to have a more long-term impact on the computer world over the next decade.

Bill Gates has moved on. Ray Ozzie is the new Software Architect and he has brought new ideas about cloud computing, software as a service and, whisper it quietly, open source software. It is the latter that has caused most surprise and in the process has split the free and open source development community. A number of moves made by the company in the last six months have left some in that community talking about a ‘sea change’ and others accusing it of simply using small forays into open source as another form of PR. With this in mind, Oxford University’s OSSWatch service commissioned me to research and write an in-depth article and this has just been published on their website. If you’ve got half an hour to spare before things get too hectic again why not have a look.

Bacon for lunch

November 9, 2009

Last week I interviewed Jono Bacon about his new O’Reilly book, The Art of Community. Jono is the open source community manager for Ubuntu, a popular version of GNU/Linux. As such he has a wealth of experience in setting up and running a virtual software development community. His key argument is that community is essential to the development and sustainability of open source software projects and to achieve that you need to foster a sense of belonging.  His book outlines the practical reality of going about doing that. You can read the interview on the OSSWatch website.

The Open Source revolution has only just begun

June 22, 2009

A few months ago I interviewed Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, for a piece for Oxford University’s OSS Watch service. Gianugo is an engaging fellow and clearly passionate about open source software (OSS). For him we are in the midst of a revolution, and, as he told a workshop just before I interviewed him: “revolution is hard stuff. Heads get chopped off. There is violence. There is turmoil. But in the end you get to a new order of stability in which some new things are taken for granted.”

For him OSS is much more than a debate about who owns the code and what kind of licence it has. It is a revolutionary new way of working that is about the development of an open and collaborative community centred around that code. He sees this as the profound change that OSS has brought and argues that this way of working is widening rapidly beyond code to cover other information products (such as scientific research). The term Open Development Method has been coined for this and you can read more in the article “Avoiding abandon-ware: getting to grips with the open development method”

Open source development

January 6, 2009

One of the live issues in the software world at the moment is whether or not open source code can have long-term sustainability. That is, if there is no clear proprietary ownership can a user be sure that the code will be maintained and developed over a long period? Back in October I was commissioned to write up a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s OSS Watch service that looked at some of these issues. The article, “From a trickle to a flood”, has now been published.

One of the big issues is the methods, or models, that are used to create the code. There are a number of models that are being explored by different open source groups but the Oxford event focused on just one: the open (sometimes called the ‘community-led’) development model.

In this model a diverse community of developers and users work together for the longer-term benefit of the product. The argument is that sustainability can be achieved through the development of a wide and diverse community, a kind of eco-system, which nurtures and supports the code over the long term. The model works with what Harvard Internet lawyer Yochai Benkler has theorised as commons-based peer-production, a process by which everyone who contributes also gets something back that furthers their interests. One of the keynote speakers, Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, described it this way: “It is a bunch of folks, working together, with diverse motivations, and who are not bound by any strong tie – we don’t for example work for the same company…” He goes on to say that: “it is not just grabbing software, attaching an open source licence to it and dumping it somewhere. It is more about understanding and working with others. For me, it is the natural way to express oneself in a connected world”.

For people who are not used to working in this way I think these are quite hard concepts to grasp. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that Gianugo was talking from the heart. He really believes what he says and lives the open development method as a kind of credo, which is what makes it so fascinating.

Open Source CRM

November 6, 2008

Many people equate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software with the hard-nosed world of sales and marketing. However, setting up and maintaining an on-going relationship between people within an organisation and externally is something that we all need to do, whether we’re public or private sector.

I was recently commissioned by Oxford University’s open source advisory service (OSS Watch) to produce a piece about their experience of introducing a CRM package into their daily work. They are a non-profit service working in the education sector and the word ‘sales’ is pretty much anathema to them. So their experience of using CRM was not straightforward and they were not afraid to say so. The piece has lots of lessons learned for those considering a similar undertaking in the public sector.

Open Source Oxford

October 23, 2008

I’ve just spent an enjoyable couple of days in Oxford at the Community and Open Source development workshop. A diverse mixture of researchers, software developers and open source experts gathered to debate how to build the all-important community of users and developers that drive successful open source projects. Many people think that open source is just about developing some code, sticking an open source licence on it and posting the lot to your website. Unfortunately, successful projects – those with long-term sustainability – need far more nurturing than this. The workshop explored what that nurturing actually entails and how to go about it.

My role was to act as the technical reporter and there will be a full report on the workshop in due course. In the meantime, you can view some of the slides at Ross Gardler’s slideshare space.

My other mission was to interview Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of Sourcesense, a leading European open source services company. His company made headlines a few months ago when they agreed to partner with Microsoft on an open source file reader for the controversial OOXML office document format. It was an extremely interesting interview and the results will be featuring in a couple of pieces I’ve been commissioned to produce in the near future. In the meantime though, I can reveal that Gianugo was trained as a lawyer and his mother was somewhat dismayed when he told her that he was abandoning a highly lucrative legal career to, as she understood it, “give software away for free”.

A level playing field for open source?

May 28, 2008

A few weeks ago I mentioned a conference on the issues surrounding the procurement of open source software which was being hosted at the University of Oxford’s OSSWatch service. I was there to write a report on the main events of the day so I thought you might be interested to know that it’s just been published.

For those of you who just want the edited highlights, the key question was whether or not open source software solutions get a fair shout when procurement managers (particularly in the public sector) start to think about bringing in new systems or upgrading existing systems (they don’t!).

For me, the most thought provoking comment came from Boris Devouge, from RedHat, who argued that the most important question anyone should be asking about a new system is whether it supports open standards or not.

Boris said: ‘”One of the very first questions when using public money should be: ‘Are you using open standards? Is my data safe?’ You need to know that [with] the solution you are advocating now, [that] in ten years’ time it’s not going to cost forty times as much to migrate the data somewhere”.

By this means he means that if you’re bringing in new systems you need to make sure that you will be able to take your data out and ‘migrate’ it to a new system (if you so wish) easily and with minimal cost. This is not necessarily about open source software per se. You can have closed source software that adheres to open standards for data exchange and you can have standards that describe themselves as open when they’re not really very open at all. If it sounds confusing, don’t worry. The important thing is to focus on the data and how easily you can transfer it to other systems. I think this is going to be one of the big issues over the next few years, as ordinary people start to feel the effects of being ‘locked in’ to things like the everyday Web services they use.