Friday, October 24, 2008

Technology Leaders Summit: Where is Open Source?

I was sure this would be a valuable and interesting use of my time as I filed in to the plush Four Seasons Palo Alto conference room. DLA Piper (a large, well-known global law firm) had invited me to attend their day-long “Technology Leaders Summit” earlier this week and I wanted to arrive early – not only to enjoy the variety of high-end breakfast foods, but to ensure a good seat for the featured speakers and panelists. To summarize, I will simply say there were highs and lows which corresponded with the caliber of those presenting and the ideas they represented (or how well they represented them).

Disappointing to me was the very first session, a moderated Q&A session with Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s current Chief Architect and storied pioneer of much that is software. I’m afraid I found almost no good answers to some pretty good Qs. Surprisingly content-free, relative to my expectations. My primary take-away was that Microsoft has NO interest in continuing to pursue Yahoo, despite its belief that an advertising-focused delivery model will be important to the future of software (umm, errr, did he mean that it already is important, or just that Microsoft isn’t participating particularly well?).
Next, a panel session on the “Latest Developments in Business Models”, included open source in its description (along with all the other likely suspects, such as SaaS, cloud computing and social networking). But, I should have known something was askew when the expert panel included no one with background or insight in open source. Still, I had to listen. After about 50 minutes of interesting dialog on cloud computing and how to enable innovation and disruption within a large, established enterprise, one other member of the audience was suffering from my same curiosity. Before I could act, he rose and asked: “What about open source? Is this category now relegated to the equivalent of generic drugs, destined to provide not innovation but only faster, cheaper alternatives to proprietary technologies? And, if so, is that fundamentally bad?” The panel muddled through some answer which amounted to “faster and cheaper is not inherently bad because it can inspire and enable new solutions where they couldn’t have emerged before because of cost or budget limitations”. The panel then moved on to conclude with comments on cloud computing and disruptive innovation in the enterprise, I think.
So, I was left to ponder, alone for the moment, where in the midst of a conference designed for technology leaders had the vibrant discussion of open source gone. My answer came when Jonathan Schwartz took the stage right after lunch. As the Chief Executive Officer of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan is an outspoken believer in open source. So much so, of course, that his company spent $1 billion to acquire MySQL earlier this year. You can follow Jonathan’s thoughts and ideas through his well-written blog on Sun’s site. Not only did Jonathan restore my faith that the most innovative, high-quality software being created today is all being done using the open source model, he reminded me that the most interesting customers and users of these products are the new faithful. I particularly enjoyed his reference to proprietary software vendors dominating customer environments in categories of basic application functionality, the kind of systems that IT staffs seek to make ever-more efficient (ERP, CRM, Payroll, etc.). In contrast, open source software and vendors are dominating in areas where computing resources need to be maximized and more fully leveraged, especially in web-based application design, development, virtualization, and delivery. Think of the world’s largest media, social networking, and global services firms. The complete software stack driving those environments is open source, nearly from top to bottom. I realized that while open source may not solve all the problems in software, it surely continues to share a seat at the table of disruption because it delivers so many powerful advantages for the customer. In this sense, I was reminded that open innovation, as a primary reason for and advantage of open source software, was indeed alive and well – it had just been temporarily misplaced behind the spinach quiche in the foyer.
As Jonathan explained Sun’s commitment to open source, based on its business and technical merit, my anxiety faded. Then, I focused on my personal commitment in my role at Jaspersoft: to create the simple, powerful business intelligence that will reach more people in the world than any of the aged, proprietary vendors that preceded us. Amen.
Brian Gentile
Chief Executive Officer

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