The Linux Foundation's first End User Collaboration Summit won't be its last. The foundation will make its free, invitation-only conference an annual event. Attracting about 200 participants but closed to the press, the two-day conference focused on numerous Linux platform concerns, including a contentious issue in the community: poor dialogue between Linux developers and users.
Prior to the event, Jon Stumpf, the senior VP and CTO, Americas, of New York City-based American International Group Inc. (AIG) and a participant in a panel on Linux's "end-user problem," voiced a key concern: a lack of formal channel between Linux end users and lead Linux developers. Stumpf is also a founding member of the Linux User Advisory Council at Open Source Development Labs (OSDL). A year ago, OSDL merged with the Free Standards Group to form the Linux Foundation.
Stumpf described the rift between the two communities. "I don't even know if we have a council anymore. We have events instead," he said. "Enterprises are looking for formal channels. The community doesn't feel they are necessary, but they want our input. The issue still isn't resolved."
As a result, Stumpf considers his Linux provider, Novell Inc., as his primary open source channel rather than the community at large.
"Distributors have a greater incentive to listen," said Stumpf, whose company has recently adopted Novell SUSE as one of several "standard" distros. "Perhaps they [the distros] are a more appropriate path for input."
"All the open source development communities like the Apache Foundation all collectively serve us in an indirect way [with their development projects]," Stumpf added.Hope springs eternal
Stumpf said he he hoped the formation -- or re-launch -- of the advisory council would broaden representation to include a wide range of users and industries.
The new council should focus on improving the flow of information from developers to Linux distributions and a wide range of Linux users, he said. Although tasks got accomplished under the previous council, development activities were not formally tracked, which undermined communication, he said.
Stumpf said that the conference made clear that the desire for increased dialogue between Linux users and developers is mutual; the challenge is creating a channel to achieve it.
An area where AIG's enterprise experience may be helpful to open source users at large is open source licensing, whose language is frequently unacceptable to business users, Stumpf said.
Instead of creating a separate license review process for open source, for example, companies should use the licensing review process for proprietary software and simply modify it as needed, he said. Creating a list of approved open source licenses and an established review process is much faster, he said.
Bernard Golden, the CEO of San Carlos, Calif.-based Navica Inc.and a workshop speaker at the event, said that he agreed on the need for more structured communication between the Linux community and Linux users.
"There hasn't been enough interaction," Golden agreed, "but the foundation will rectify this with formation of a regular council."Acclimating to open source
While acknowledging that dialogue is lacking, Golden said the task of involving users in the development process is complicated, in part because Linux users in financial services regard their Linux implementations as a source of competitive advantage and don't want to discuss improvements they've made, he said.
"People might figure out how they [financial institutions] do business," Golden said. "They don't want to share widely, so they go back through their distributor to share their concerns and let the vendor sort it out."
The conference also provided lead kernel developers with feedback on performance issues in large-scale deployments – information that developers can't obtain themselves in laboratory settings, he said.
Google Inc.'s, Chris DiBona, who also spoke on the end-user problem panel, said he experiences no disconnect with the Linux development community. Still, DiBona acknowledged the process of give and take in open source development isn't easy for donors or for users, and sharing code "can be hard" the first time around.
Some companies avoid using open source because of confusion about licensing compliance or requirements to share code improvements. But "at their peril," users ignore the productivity to be gained from billions of lines of available open source code, DiBona said.
Google's open source adoption has certainly been worth the effort. "We've written open source tools and derived incredible productivity gains," DiBona said.