Rational Technology for Sept. 20, 2005. A little dumbed down, but it's written for a general audience.
September 16, 2005, Makati City--It's the third and last day of what is turning out to be the biggest open source conference in the Philippines in recent memory. The event has drawn people from all over the country and from different industries, showing that open source -- and in particular, Linux -- is no longer just a fringe phenomenon among hackers and hobbyists.
What exactly is open source and how is it different from proprietary software? As the name suggests, open source is software whose code is freely available: anyone can use it, anyone can distribute it, anyone can study it, anyone can modify it. Contrast this with proprietary software like Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office whose inner workings are a closely guarded secret.
A fine illustration of this dichotomy popped up in one of the conferences, using a cupcake analogy. With open source, you can get the cupcake and the recipe for the cupcake. Not only that, you can make changes to the recipe to the cupcake as well. This leads to a number of different cupcake flavors. Proprietary software, on the other hand, keeps the recipe of the cupcake a secret in the hopes of selling more cupcakes.
While the economics of open source may be counterintuitive at first glance, its widespread use over the past 20 years has shown that it is a development model that works. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Linux, which has been adopted by heavyweight IT companies like IBM, HP, and Oracle. It has also spawned a new industry of rising stars like Red Hat and given new lease on life to companies like Novell.
But to a large extent, community is what open source and Linux is all about, and that is what's brought me to the conference. I came here to give two presentations, one on the value of open source, and the other on the use of the Ubuntu distribution as a strong alternative for Microsoft Windows. Over the past two days, though, it's been one big reunion with friends I've made in the open source community. Some have come from Cebu, some from Davao, and surprisingly some from as far as unlikely places as Daet. And surprise, surprise! I also run into Foundation University's Joel Balajadia at the conference.
LinuxWorld 2005 isn't nearly as large as the other trade shows I've been to during their heyday in the late 1990s, but it's certainly turning out to be one of the best I've attended locally. Whereas other trade shows have focused almost exclusively on vendor products, LinuxWorld has somehow avoided that trap with its refreshing mix of vendor-independent topics and speakers. To be sure, there are still vendor-sponsored topics, but this is thankfully a small minority.
The conference is divided into four tracks: an introductory track, an systems administration track, an experts track, and a policy/advocacy track. Surprisingly, the policy/advocacy track, organized by the UP School of Law's Internet and Society Program, and featuring speakers from NGOs like the Foundation for Media Alternatives and the EU-sponsored POSITIVE, is turning out to be one of the more popular tracks. Topics included open source licensing, intellectual property rights, security, computing for health organizations, and IT for NGOs.
When a technology starts intersecting with law and policy development frameworks, that, I think, is an indication of its maturity.
As has happened in recent years in several other LinuxWorld events worldwide, Microsoft is a major sponsor in this event. That strikes many people as odd because Microsoft is usually at loggerheads with open source groups, primarily because their philosophies are antithetical. Perhaps it's really just the old adage at work: "Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer."
Shifting back to Dumaguete: I find it strangely apt that, as I write this column, I am receiving reports of NBI raids taking place in the city. Having written about the impending Great Raid last week, I can only say:
I TOLD YOU SO.
But we are one community, after all, so we shouldn't leave it at that. This situation is everyone's concern. We can fix it. I mentioned four options last week: 1) License your Windows and Office; 2) Move to Linux; 3) Hide; and 4) Scoff.
Option 4 is obviously no longer an option. It can happen in a small town like Dumaguete. Our bluff has been called. Option 3 is untenable in the long term.
So that leaves Option 1 and Option 2. Option 1, if you can afford it. If you're open to listening to Option 2, email me for details or stay tuned for an announcement on a small seminar to be run jointly by Foundation University and The TVB Group.