On Becoming an Open Source Person

by William Grosso

Related link: http://news.com.com/2100-1012-993226.html?tag=lh

About a year ago, Scott McNealy said something that struck me as subtly wrong. I didn't think much about it at the time, but as I've been helping SDForum put together this year's Distinguished Speaker Series, I've been thinking about it more and more.

Here's what he said:

The world is down to two developer camps: One is .Net, the other is Sun ONE Java.

Ignoring the "Sun ONE" part as pure propaganda, it struck me as an interesting assertion. Where I live, there are two big camps and then a lot of little tents (it's hard to say
PHP doesn't matter. But it's also hard to say it's very important for most developers. It's a tent, not in either of the big camps).

Part of me immediately wondered "Hmmm. Am I part of the Java camp?" Most of me responded
immediately. "Well, duh. See those lines of code on the screen? They're in Java. So of
course I am."

But, still, part of me found the description a little disquieting.

Then there was Tim Bray's href="http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2004/01/15/OpenSourcePerson">description
of his recent job search
. In which he wrote:

So I'm sitting there talking to this real smart guy who's got a strategic job way up in
a Silly Valley titan and maybe we can do a deal, we're winding up and I said "Anything
else by way of questions about me?" and he said "Nah, I got you pretty well
triangulated, you're an Open Source Person."

Which, I guess, more and more of us are.

And that resonated with me a little bit as well. It didn't strike home, not totally, because I don't often contribute to open source projects. The
companies I work for are mostly closed source, and the few times I've contributed to an
open source project, it's more been out of I've got this bug fix sitting here and
it'd be nice if it was included in the next release
than it was out of any sort of
spirit of camaraderie.

But still. In another sense, in the Scott McNealy sense, I am an open-source person. While I work on closed source applications, there's another question: in terms of mindshare, who sets the agenda in the technological part of my brain ?

By and large, it's the open source community. When I think of myself as a developer, I think of myself as someone who writes to an open source stack, using a large set of frameworks and libraries that were developed in the open. That's where my technological agenda is set. My code is, technically speaking, written in Java. But I pay far more attention to Apache than to Sun.

Scott McNealy was probably right in saying there are two large developer camps left. And he was probably very wrong when he identified one of them as "Sun ONE Java."

And all of which leads me to think that the debate about open-sourcing Java is a non-issue (what it means, and whether or not it happens, just doesn't matter). And that I need to understand open source, and how it impacts software development, a heck of a lot better than I do now.

Which leads to something I'm very excited to have helped put together. href="http://www.sdforum.org/dss">SDForum's
Distinguished Speaker series for the 2004-2005 season
is coming together around the idea of the "Software Commons." The goal is to have 9 distinguished speakers talk about the common ground that's being built in the open source community and to reflect on what it means and how it's changed the way we all think of our craft. The series
starts with Larry Lessig on September 23 and continues on through a list of incredible speakers including
Jason Hunter, Steve Weber, Craig Newmark, Guido van Rossum,
and Howard Rheingold.

Sandy Rockowitz and Bebo White, the chairs of this series, have done a fantastic job in putting it together.

Are you an open source person?


2004-09-11 11:45:00
it's an open source world
i agree with you that there are two developer camps. But i define the camps a little differently. The first side is the propriety world (which includes Microsoft and their .Net, as well as Sun ONE Java). The other side is the open source world. The world of the proprietary aims to design and build and control the system from the top down. They have a firm belief that this makes software better. The open source developer camp aims to do just the opposite. To design and build and not at all control the whole system, because we equally have a firm belief that our development environment is the best way to go. That an environment which is open will likely produce more interesting things than any closed environment ever would.

i am a php programmer, but like you i spend more time thinking about apache or xml, then php. i have discovered that the way i approach systems now is to not find the perfect developing environment, but to step further back from the code and see the larger system we are developing. So for me, .Net and Java miss the point, or perhaps just people like Scott McNealy do. The best developing environment is the web itself. Maybe I’m referring to the semantic web or to some far more subtle system, like the strong web communities out there, which seem to build themselves. But the strange system we are constructing, which is changing constantly, transcends any of these development environments are being sold as software packages. As I see it, there is no reason for any developer to chose any camp other than the open source one. It is the strongest model and it will make sure you are never replaced by new technologies replacing the ones you have invested so much time and energy into. And afterall, isn’t that what defines the religious wars of programming languages? We all just want to make sure we’re spending our time well, as we continue to learn, which consumes so much of our time as developers.

2004-09-12 01:29:19
it's an open source world
I agree. The choice is between open source and proprietary. Except for one thing. The only proprietary initiatives out there worth choosing between belong to Microsoft. So its an open source vs Microsoft world.

No that i'm ready to write off corporate participants in this titanic battle. It's just that the anti trust settlement pretty much eliminated any hope of corporate vendors competing against Microsoft on the Windows platform. It's now carved into the hard stone of our legal system, Microsoft owns any and all opportunities having to do with the Windows platform. Only a fool would venture forth with the risk of success being so impossibly high.

Yes, corporate vendors can try to establish alternative platforms. Good luck with that. Microsoft has forever poisoned the waters. It will be a cold day in hell when any corporate vendor is ever trusted again. And Sun should know. They get hammered for the mere appearance of skirting open standards or otherwise exerting their influence. Even when it involves their own intellectual property.

The truth is that open source can compete. It's an alternative to Microsoft by virtue of reason that only open source initiatives can survive the volumes of reprehensible business practices Redmond has in store for anyone who dares challenge their hegemony. Open source efforts can thrive on open alternative platforms. And they can thrive in the midst of Microsoft's iron grip on the great herd of win32 api users. Or even the midst of that swelling herd of users being migrated to the integrated XP stack.

What's interesting is the case of corporate vendors like Sun, IBM, and Oracle, riding behind the rising wave of open source communities as they assault the barriers to collaborative Internet computing. This works. And the methodology has a killer of an added bonus. Microsoft will never be able to leverage open source in the same way. Strangely, the monopolist is increasingly at a competitive disadvantage. They have to invent new reprehensible tactics. Abusing the patent system and destroying whatever integrity or trust remaining in the tech media are the latest innovations wrought by the emperor.

At the end of the day there is one resounding truth. The Internet has won. The Open Standards formula of open interfaces, open communications and messaging protocols, and open XML technologies is a contagion that seems to go with the web. The media is the message. Open standards work. They usher in unheard of extremes of interoperability and integration. Embrace the Internet in any way, and the open standards mime is ever present. Doesn't matter who you are, that tune just won't stop playing in your head.


2004-09-12 19:07:39
"Versus" is a trap
A lot of people seem to assume that if there are two camps left, then there is a competition between the camps, and they must engage in a titanic struggle (and the fate of the world is somehow wrapped up in this battle).

If you're a CEO engaged in strategic decision making, maybe you need to think in those terms (though I wonder). And maybe you need to publicly state things in a way that leads people to think in those ways (though I wonder about that as well).

But if you're not, why would you? Thinking in terms of pitched battles is a trap.

2004-09-13 00:28:23
"Versus" is a trap
I agree. This reminds me the Coke vs Pepsi wars of yesteryear. People were told that when it came to soft-drinks they had a choice between two. If, for some reason or the other, you did not like Coke you were automatically a Pepsi person. And vice versa. No other options were offered. I for one drink Water.