28 July 2012

OSCON 2012

Last week I attended OSCON in Portland Oregon, to sip from the open source software firehose, as I have for the past 5 years.  If you are not familiar with OSCON, it stands for "Open Source CONference" and it is the premier open source software conference attended by about 3000 people each year.  It's hosted by O'Reilly.  You can find out more about it here.

The Clothesline Paradox
Tim O'Reilly, the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, talked about what he called the "clothesline paradox".  The clothesline paradox points at the fact that if you dry your clothes in an electric dryer, the energy used is measured and accounted for, but if you hang them on the clothesline to be dried by the sun, the energy saved disappears from our accounting!  

He related this to open source software and crowd sourced content.  The enormous amounts of value created by open source software developers and people using that software to contribute interesting content on sites like Wikipedia, Blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ goes completely unaccounted for.  We have done a great job of creating value, but we haven't yet told the story.  When we do think about how open source software is doing economically, we think of the few companies that have monetized open source directly, like Red Hat, MySQL or WordPress as the size of the open source economy.  What most don't realize is that it basically powers everything on the internet and many of the devices used to access it.

Talking about the value of open source in terms of licenses sold is like talking about the value of solar energy in terms of sales of solar panels without taking into account that it actually grows our food, provides warmth, is the source of many other energy sources used on the planet including oil and generally just supports all life on the planet.

DevOps on the Fly
Mark Shuttleworth, the CEO of Canonical (the company that produces Ubuntu) delivered a keynote address where he demonstrated their new juju DevOps suite.  Juju is designed to deploy and maintain cloud systems.  It dynamically creates VMs, installs and configures software on those VMs, and even sets up the relationships between the VMs so they automatically start talking to each other.  It's magical.  While some have a hard enough time showing off pre-installed operating systems without unexpected "blues", Mark on the other hand created, configured and deployed a private cloud on his laptop in front of 3000+ attendees.  That takes something.   Five percent of all new computers that ship next year will ship with Ubuntu.

Simple Inventions that Change the World
I also attended a talk by Ward Cunningham the inventor of the Wiki.  Ward invented the Wiki in 1994 and made it freely available to the world shortly thereafter.  By 2001 Wikipedia was created based on the Ward's Wiki concept and it now contains 22 million articles.   Ward also is one of the founders of agile software development and co-author of the agile manifesto.  One of my favourite quotes by Ward is "Do the simplest thing that could possibly work".  It's hard to exaggerate the influence Ward has had on technology.

Ward demonstrated one of his current projects, a collaborative writing tool called the smallest federated wiki.  Although it's very much a work-in-progress it was simply amazing in many ways, so much so that it's hard for me to describe in a few words other than to say it's sort of like a mashup between wikis, GitHub and Diaspora.  I don't know of a working demo of the software at this point but will keep my eyes open for it and in the meantime I will be checking out the source to see if I can put up an instance.

OSCON is my favourite conference of the year.  Not only is it highly professional, inspiring and visionary, it's only a few hours away from us here in BC.  I highly recommend to developers and anyone else interested in where IT is going to attend this conference next year.  If you would like to learn more about OSCON or open source software and how it can be used in your organization, please feel free to get in touch.  I hope to see you there next year!