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Golden's Rules: Oracle, VCs put froth on OSBC's latte

Bernard Golden

The conference proceedings took a back seat, as attendees were riveted by the rumors that Oracle was going on an open source shopping spree, starting with the sealed deal on Sleepycat Software. Next, people said Zend (the PHP folks) and JBoss (J2EE application server) were all supposed to disappear into the gullet of the ever-voracious Oracle. Those two acquisitions remained merely rumors.

Bob Bickel of JBoss, just returned from vacation, spent both days of the conference fending off people asking if he had just been issued a new nametag showing Oracle as his employer.

On Wednesday at OSBC, the day after the Sleepycat announcement, things settled down a bit. On that day, I ran into Michael Olsen, CEO of Sleepycat, and asked him how he felt. "The white hot spotlight of attention has moved on to someone else, and I'm happy about that," he replied.

So, what were the takeaways from the conference, beyond the obvious fact that people are fascinated when other people are on the verge of making a ton of money?

Is open Source the wave of the future yet?

It may seem obvious that the theme of an open source conference is that open source is important. What was striking to me, however, wasn't that there was enthusiasm for open source, but how deeply the conviction ran that the old proprietary software model has worn out its welcome. It's done and ready to put a fork in.

I think this dismissal overlooks the sheer inertia of proprietary software in the IT

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infrastructures of the world. There are plenty of companies out there that are still pondering how soon they'll move to the last release of PeopleSoft. For them, open source is way beyond their day-to-day concerns.

Of course, eventually open source will impact even the most heads-down, day-to-day focused IT organization. But, from the vantage point of this conference, you'd think that everyone is ejecting proprietary software out of the data center right now. That leads me to the next takeaway ...

Would you like some froth on that latte?

A number of people remarked to me that many of the attendees seemed to be "breathing one another's fumes." Certainly there seemed to be a number of overly eager people saying things like "we should be working together" to one another in fevered tones. The VCs also worked the room like old-time conventioneers, checkbook at the ready.

It's inevitable, really. Mix ambitious entrepreneurs with VCs, and you'll get an atmosphere like the bar scene from Star Wars.

Cynicism aside, VCs and entrepreneurs have recognized that the end of the proprietary model signals new opportunities to deliver better and cheaper solutions to customers. At OSBC, imaginative people talked about new offerings to help make others' jobs easier.

I met some of these imaginative people in the small OSBC exhibit space.

The folks at Pentaho, are delivering open source business intelligence. As readers of Golden's Rules may perhaps remember, I've written about open source tools that help companies to learn more about how their business is running. Business intelligence has traditionally been a hard sell for IT, due to its low priority and high cost. Open source is a good solution for that challenge.

Zmanda's representatives described how that company is commercializing the open source Amanda project. I've written about Amanda in this column, explaining how this sophisticated backup product utilizes staging to centralized hard drives, which can then be dumped to tape. Here are some smart people working on another important, but often neglected, IT area.

Groundwork's developer are commercializing the very useful open source Nagios systems management product. By providing a simpler interface to a not-very-intuitive tool, they're making systems management more accessible.

So, despite all the froth, OSBC was a showcase for some useful open source solutions for difficult real world challenges. Which leads to the final takeaway...

Changing the world is hard work

Many OSBC speakers discussed the challenges they face in delivering open source solutions. They're trying to convince harried IT organizations that open source software works, figuring out how to move their value delivery beyond "download it and do-it-yourself," and avoiding the "build it, and they will come" attitude endemic to frothy environments.

I participated in many conversations focused on integrating a new value chain of product offering, partner delivery and end user implementation. In other words, the commercial open source community is moving on blocking and tackling everyday IT.

Previous OSBCs had an air of the brave-new-world attitude about them. This conference had a much more pragmatic thread running through it, with a recognition that no revolution happens without a lot of heavy lifting.

Golden's Rule: Some things never change

The conference was a lot of fun, but what was up with scheduling it on Valentine's Day? It may have been a business conference, but it stayed true to its hacker roots by overlooking the social niceties.


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