OSCon 2003 wrap-up

by Andy Oram

Related link: http://www.oreillynet.com/oscon2003/





The tone at the

2003 O'Reilly Open Source Convention

was one of business-like confidence. I sensed much less of the
demonstrative posturing that I noticed at earlier conferences, where
many people felt that they had to prove themselves as well as their
projects' viability. The free software movement has made it by
now. Just look how the trade and mainstream press has covered the
story of the SCO lawsuit. A few years ago, all the buzz would have
asked what the suit meant for IBM, but now everybody's more concerned
about Linux.




And with this mainstreaming comes responsibility. Developers, system
integrators, and other professionals are acutely conscious of the
millions of people who depend directly on Open Software. The time has
come not for manifestos but for the unflagging work of keeping the
systems at peak operation.




One corollary of this sense, I believe, is a silent acceptance by now
that the world of proprietary software is deeply entwined with Open
Source. This entwinement has been going on from the beginning, whether
one considers the popularity of Cygwin tools or the many free software
bindings for proprietary databases.




Consider SAP, one of the most ensconced providers of heavyweight
software in the industry. Its financial tools are considered
indispensable in large corporations and its consultants get some of
the highest salaries in computing. But SAP realizes its products need to
interact with outside scripts and applications. It further realizes
that free software tools and languages are key to its usability.
Piers Harding has developed Perl, Python, and Ruby bindings to SAP's
binary API, and along with DJ Adams he presented the interface in a
conference session.




So free software has become a key element in the strategies of large
proprietary corporations. I am not referring to the cynical
exploitation of Linux by SCO (see my early weblog on the issue,

Irresponsible SCO
),
but to a deliberate embrace of free software to enhance proprietary
offerings. Oracle supports Linux in order to reduce customers' total
cost of ownership and free it from dependence on proprietary operating
systems. Meanwhile, SAP partners with MySQL to reduce its
customers' total cost of ownership and free it from
dependence on Oracle.




Will SAP's turn come in a decade? And is
Mono
a bid for compatibility or an implementation of a platform that is
inherently superior to non-Microsoft offerings? Miguel de Icaza,
who delivered

one of the last keynotes

today, claims the latter. He puts all his time into Mono because he
believes the .NET approach to components makes software develop faster
and easier, period.




Meanwhile, Open Source opens opportunities. At the

kernel hacker panel

today, attended by six generous Linux developers, it was pointed out
that a student can show potential employers some work done on real
projects that are actually in production, not just toy projects done
for class. Furthermore, the employer can check mail archives and see
whether this student can get along with others while working on a
project.




Some predict that we are in a historic transition to a world of
completely Open Source software (the references to "commoditization of
software" everywhere one turns), but we can't really be sure that the
hybrid, symbiotic situation we are in will ever end. All we know is
that maturity brings responsibility.