Enterprise Unix Roundup: OSBC Open Source Hot Spots

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Feb 17, 2006

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What rocked and what flopped? What made our head turn and what kept us walking? We report back from OSBC. NASLite is an inexpensive and easy way to turn your old PC into a basic storage server.

Brian Proffitt
Amy Newman

We (or, at least, half of we) attended the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco this week. So, while one of us was slammed under several feet of snow, the other was basking in 70-degree weather.

Needless to say, one of us is a happier camper than the other.

The forecast inside the Argent Hotel, where this year's West Coast conference was held, was positive with any chance for buzz. How buzz-filled, you ask? During one conversation, we actually caught ourselves using the word synergy in a sentence. That's not good for us cynical pundit types.

But it was hard not to get caught up in the energy this show exuded, as vendors from all sorts of open source companies got together and met to discuss where open source as a viable business model is and where that model is going.

There was some redundancy during many the sessions and impromptu meetings that filled the two-day conference. Attendees said they'd seen some of the tracks before, particularly at OSBC East in Boston last fall.

And several of the visitors to the conference quietly let us know that there weren't a lot of customer contacts getting made here; mostly it was partnership talks with peers. These latter comments weren't exactly complaints, but there was a wistfulness in the air that there could be more customers. As it was, one vendor in the show told us that about 40 percent of its foot traffic was customers, so it wasn't too sparse.

Numbers for the conference were lighter than expected. Show organizers were shooting for 750 visitors, but the actual number was closer to 625, according to a source close to the show.

If we seem down on the show, trust us, we're not. This type of show, even if it seems self-perpetuating, is something that the open source community needs, if only to get some behind the scenes deals made. If you think this show is a mini-LinuxWorld, though, think again.

The overall theme of the conference content was community. Specifically, how to get it and how to sustain it for any open source play. A lot of it was common sense stuff that was summed up quite well in a conversation we had with Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems.

Sun's approach to building community has been to first provide actually useful software, making project governance models stable and transparent, and most importantly, setting the project completely free. Without releasing code from your direct oversight, the sense of community around a project will never be strong, Bray said.

This made sense to us. And while we have sometimes had our concerns about Sun, you can't take away from the fact that it started OpenOffice.org and now OpenSolaris as pretty strong communities.

There were, of course, the inevitable announcements about products from the conference, not the least of which was Sun's announcement that it is ready to open the code for the UltraSPARC T1 chip. This move, announced by Jonathan Schwartz in his Tuesday keynote, is part of Sun's strategy to make the SPARC chip a more welcome home for other operating systems, such as BSD and Linux. Make no mistake, however, at the end of the day Sun still wants people to ultimately migrate to Solaris, because that's where its sweet spot is.

A curious statement in Schwartz's keynote was the mention of why Sun didn't initially license OpenSolaris under GPL (v2). This was an aside to sort of explain why it GPLed the SPARC chip. What struck us as weird was Schwartz's statement that it didn't license OpenSolaris under the GPL because Sun does not own all of the intellectual property in the Solaris code.

So far so good; we understand that.

So how come Schwartz himself blogged recently that Sun might dual-license OpenSolaris under CDDL and GPLv3? We checked with a Sun representative, and the company still doesn't own 100 percent of that pesky IP. The same rep emphasized that there were other reasons why Sun opted not to go with GPLv2, such as the lack of a patent clause. Again, that makes sense. But if Sun doesn't own the IP for Solaris, will it now put the effort into getting permission to release all of the Solaris code under GPLv3? Or will it have closed binaries in the code if Solaris is GPLed? Because no matter how the draft of the GPLv3 works out, the IP issue will have to be resolved.

We're going to follow up on this one, to be sure.

Another odd statement from our favorite pony-tailed president was the one about there were more downloads of OpenSolaris in the first couple of months than there were of HP-UX licenses ... ever. Actually, that was not the odd statement, it was when he then indicated it would be nice if HP-UX and Solaris were to merge their development road maps. The end of HP-UX? Sun seems to have some big plans under way.

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