Organizational Interfaces

August 8th, 2005

Some time ago I wrote about being the “odd one out” at O’Reilly open source gatherings. Reading this makes me think of the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s obvious what’s changed. Mozilla Firefox has accomplished what no one thought was possible, and is the browser of choice for tens of millions of people worldwide. Mozilla Thunderbird provides an award-winning cross platform email client. I personally am known by a bunch of people in the Open Source world, and have been around longer than many (though certainly not all). The value of non-coding contributions is much more generally acknowledged, and I no longer wonder if people wonder if I’m making a contribution.

What hasn’t changed is a feeling of being on the fringes of the actual content of OSCON. This was a bit surprising, as OSCON now typically has “business” or “other” tracks besides the purely technical. So I was surprised to realize that few of them address the big topics on my mind. (I was however fascinated by the talks that Nat finds that are outside the core of open source — the Howtoons talk, the Origami talk, the BioBricks talk. These are all exciting and I’m grateful that the O’Reilly folks work to find them and introduce us to these new ideas. )

It’s not surprising that the programming part of the program isn’t my focus since I’m not doing any programming. But the open source gatherings now include an array of people who aren’t programmers and are thinking about other aspects of open source. A lot of this relates to open source adoption in the enterprise, a lot to commercial entities building on top of open source. Some relates to open source business models. Some always relates to licensing and IP issues; some addresses community building. This time I realized that none of these discussions address the core of what I’m thinking about. So that lead me to wonder: how would I describe the substantive discussions that would be fo most interest to me?

I’d like a series of discussions on the interface between open source projects and commercial organizations. There are many aspects to this interface. These include:

  • Scope of people paid by the project: Apache small to zero; Mozilla significant
  • Distribution of open source offerings by commercial entities: Positive effects; side effects.
  • Companies paying people to contribute: Work directed by employer; by employee
  • Working with commercial project and product management
  • Generating funds: Necessary to support employees; risk that funds compromise decision-making or otherwise alienate the community
  • Enterprise focused offerings build on / with open source: SpikeSource and SourceLabs
  • Enterprise adoption: what it means from the project point of view
  • Consumer adoption: what it means from the project point of view
  • Inclusion of non-open source elements in a project distribution: always bad, or sometimes justifiable? (Mozilla has shipped the talkback module for many years)
  • Commercial interests and multi-project interaction: OSDL, SpikeSource, SourceLabs, OSI license proliferation efforts
  • Trademark considerations

These strike me as new discussion areas. We’re getting an increasing amount of information from enterprises about what’s involved in adopting open source software, and various compendiums of best practices are being developed. This is important information to understand.

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