For Day 1 of Open Source Systems, I chose to attend the business networking stream rather than the research-oriented Doctoral Consortium, and got to learn more about a number of different companies and their products.
Gurux is a Finnish company, who use open source software (and hardware) for smart metering. Founded in 1998, they specialise in the software and protocols that do smart metre reading. Their main products are GuruxAMI – which runs on Raspberry Pi hardware (under Arch Linux – I asked). The Raspberry Pi is used as a collector, and can be deployed from 10 metres to over 1 million metres. Looking at the cost of deployment, and the cost of the smart metre that I was charged for in Australia (AUD100+), they are on to something. It was interesting to note that they want to use Raspberry Pi as a home automation platform, akin to AMX and Extron, using RS232 and RS486 over USB. They find it very easy to develop metering for open protocols, but proprietary protocol monitoring can take a lot longer to do.
Didier Durand from Eranea spoke about the services that they offer in taking old proprietary systems written in COBOL and rewriting them using open source technologies such as Java. He opened by explaining that there are over 200 billion lines of COBOL active in the world, with over 30,000 large applications still in active use – every person interacts with a COBOL application at least 12 times a day for purposes such as telephone billion. These systems are doomed to obsolescence and very expensive, and by rewriting them in open source, the company saves money in the long term. Because COBOL and Java are used side by side, the methodology is riskless, and particularly suited to large corporation with poor tolerance for risk, such as banks.
Tomas Gustavsson from PrimeKey Solutions spoke about the open source PKI products that his company works on. Their business model is that the software is free, and that clients pay for support and the development of new features. They generally have large projects, and the sales cycles are quite long. They do work all over the world, and in particular for the telco sector.
They are also involved in the ORIOS project, which is backed by the Knowledge Foundation;
An overarching goal of this project is to improve understanding within organisations of Open Standards, Open Source Reference Implementations, and the ecosystems around them. This will be done by developing a reference model of necessary and desirable features of an Open Standard, and how Open Standards and their implementations can be utilised by small companies in different usage contexts.
Monty Program AB
Monty Widenius presented on MariaDB, the open source fork of MySQL. MariaDB was started in February 2009 after Monty’s exit from MySQL / Sun, and he drove MariaDB development. The purpose of MariaDB is to ensure the continuation of the MySQL database, and the company employs most of the core developers of MySQL. MariaDB is a very technical company, and only does 3rd level support. It uses the Hacking Business Model – the company is owned by the employees.
The hardest issue for MariaDB is getting the word out out it. For companies, Oracle can be hard to work with and expensive. Monty explained that their strategy is “to be seen to be doing something without doing anything” – ie creating an illusion that MySQL is doing good, but they are running the product into the ground – ie they want to keep the market share by getting customers to go to an Oracle product, and in the end kill MySQL, but without you noticing it.
Daniel Izquierdo of Bitergia explained the services they offer in analytics around open source projects, and the specialist support they offer to development forges. Their services are useful when you have different developers working on different parts of the code base. They are a young startup company, and the graphs they demonstrated showed a lot of insight.
IT grapes are a Tunisian software development company, and they were one of the winning Software Freedom Day teams in 2011. I didn’t realise how active Open Source was in Tunisia, but the country has a huge and active open source community.
Open Source Business panel
Tony Wasserman led a panel on open source business models, and explained that some companies want and expect to pay for IT support. This is a solid business model – as everybody has to eat. He went on to explain how open source drives innovation by reducing entry barriers. When you start out, you can use free and open source software. Then when you go commercial and grow, you can buy a commercial license and commercial support. He also showed how leading open source products are at least as good as their proprietary counterparts, but in the open source sector the user community has a stronger voice. Many businesses are now evaluating whether to use proprietary or open source tools and the things they are looking at for overall return on investment include;
- Evaluation issues for adoption of open source software
- businesses are looking for best value for money
- Licensing issues
- Fitness for use
- Comparison with commercial products
- Product quality
- Support and training
- Corporate IT policies concerning use of open source
- Management of updates
- Integration with other software
Keynote #1 – Italo Vignoli on LibreOffice and The Document Foundation
Italo Vignoli outlined in his keynote how LibreOffice is moving from an ‘umbrella’ model of contribution to a ‘mixing bowl’ model of contribution – and the importance this places on diversity of volunteers and contributors. He explained how the Open Office code base was donated in 2000, and that by 2005 build dependencies were very complex. This was the responsibility of the company in charge of the project – Sun – and they weren’t solving the problem. The community’s voice was not being heard.
“Patience is a virtue, but not an inexhaustible resource”
The Document Foundation was born. Their objectives are
- TO promote free software
- To promote SW user freedom
- To promote document freedom
- To promote open standards
- To develop Libre Office
“Membership is by doing”
The reason they didn’t want one major company to sponsor the new foundation was that a big company always leaves their “imprint” – the company’s objectives can be in conflict with the community’s objective. When you have a main sponsor you end up blocking the discussion at a certain level.
They have a great group of developers. When LibreOffice was first forked, there were 20 developers looking at over 10 million lines of code. They had another one within three hours, then over 500 additional developers since. The most trivial hacks were translating the comments in the code from German to English – otherwise there was no hope to starting to do more development. They had a few presentations and hackfests – pasta hacking at hackfests – eating spaghetti, hacking code! They made it fun – it was a gimmick – “we all hack together”. Community is made by balancing fun and work together – working together and laughing together. If the people who are doing easy hacks today are still in the community in two years, they will be able to tackle more complex patches.
- Occasional – easy hacks, small patches – 300 volunteers
- Regular – easy hacks, large patches, small features – 150 volunteers
- Core – 50 paid/volunteers – large features
LibreOffice has experienced incredible growth of new code committers – cumulative commits over time is extraordinary. SuSE and RedHat are important, but volunteer commits account for nearly a quarter of commits. They have achieved a good level of independence from a single corporate sponsor. By sheer numbers, volunteers are 75% of the developers. The Document Foundation charter ensures diversity by stating that no more than 30% of the codebase can come from a single company.
Their future plans are to have OpenOffice on each platform;
- Cloud: LibreOffice OnLine, based on HTML5
- Mobile: LibreOffice OnPads – Android code is currently compiling
They also want to grow the ecosystem by using certification to recognise contributors for the value they add, particularly in migration.