OOW2K6: Freebie frenzy
My big mission for Tuesday was to scope out the exhibition halls. The main hall is the size of an aircraft hanger and crammed with stands vying for our attention. Several companies are using golfing games as a way of attracting people. Must be some kind of putting meme in circulation. Other stands have draws for a Harley Davidson, a Vespa scooter or a Segway. But most are just giving stuff away: T-shirts, stress balls, wooden puzzles and flashing geegaws. The coolest freebie I got came from Unisys, who have a 256M Flash drive with dimensions of 1*3*0.2 centimetres. In fact it is so small that they have to give you a special wallet to hold it lest you lose it.
Brian Behlendorf on Open Source software
The most interesting presentation I attended yesterday was Brian Behlendorf, ex of Apache and now of Collabnet, talking about what makes open source software so successful and how companies can apply the same techniques to their own internal projects. Brian described open source projects as a laboratory for exploring ways of collaborating. These projects are loosely coupled networks of creativity and sharing, supported by tools and practices to encourage participation. Like Soylent Green, open source is made of people. It has to work with the grain of human psychology because there is no way to coerce coders to work on the software. Good software is just an emergent property of such networks.
Brian listed his three principles of Open Source:
- Complete transparency into
- code authoring and decision making
- scheduling and prioritisation (the roadmap)
- discussions around technical trade off
- code authoring and decision making
- Participation at every level from casual user to core developer
- The right to fork
I was particularly taken with his analysis of e-mail usage. Open Source project members are dispersed around the world and working in their own time so e-mail is the only feasible means to hold discussions on any aspect of the project. Because e-mail is asynchronous people are not pressured into answering immediately. So, although the medium of the discussion is casual, the actual content is considered and researched. Furthermore the emails form an audit trail of every discussion and decision, complete in a way that meeting minutes and formal design documents just aren't. The email archive is a tremendously valuable resource when a new person joins the project and needs to understand a why a particular feature works the way it does. This runs counter to the traditional argument against working at home, which is that we get better communication and better decisions when people are together in the same office. Perhaps we should always communicate by email, even when discussing something with the person at the next desk.
Brian's suggestions for turning internal projects into open source projects are:
- Break silos by implementing transparency, not just to the code but to all the project's collateral.
- Encourage cross-team collaboration with ad hoc projects and special interest groups.
- Tackle monolithic apps and inertia, from the bottom up.
This all requires a different approach to project management, with less focus on Gantt charts and more on managing complex processes (like gardening or air traffic control). So that should be easy then.
A number of us Oracle bloggers congregated at the Thirsty Bear for a few sherbets. Strangely few American bloggers showed and none of the Oracle employees. I met Steve Karam, the Oracle Alchemist, who is ridiculously young to be an OCM, and the amazing Lucas Jellema, who being Dutch pronounces his name like a cough and not the way I've been saying it all this time. The party split at 09:00pm into those who wanted to hear Sir Elton and those who didn't. We in the latter camp rounded off the drinking in the traditional British way, which is with a curry. The first place we tried had, bizarrely, stopped serving food (this was before ten). Fortunately the 24-hour Naan and Curry house opposite the Hilton did us proud. It was almost like being in Tooting.