Clear Thoughts on Cloudy Subjects
Musings about the Xen Project, Clouds, virtualization, Open Source, and everything else that piques my technical interest.
SCALE 12X: Celebrating the Heart of Open Source
An Open Source Conference Remembers the Origins of the Movement
Later this week, I will be in Los Angeles to speak at the Southern California Linux Expo, better known as SCALE. While my speaking at a conference is nothing unusual (I did it more than a dozen times last year), the conference itself is remarkable in its adherence to the spirit of Open Source.
I still have vivid memories of some of the Open Source conferences I attended 15+ years ago. Geeks gathered together on a weekend to talk about Linux and the great software they were creating. It is important to remember that back then, Open Source coders had no corporate backing, so coding and conferences had to be done on personal time.
I remember the conversations which took place at the evening get-togethers. I can still see the fire in the eyes of attendees as they eagerly described the cool stuff they were doing writing or using Linux-based software. I can still hear the excited voices extolling the qualities of their newest project. You could feel the enthusiasm in the air. You could almost taste it.
It wasn't the process of creating Free Software that excited people. And it wasn't the jobs which drove them to create the software; Open Source jobs were the elusive "brass ring" many hoped for, but few had. No, the excitement was from a sense of empowerment.
If you were in the IT industry prior to 1995, you probably recall the role of the geek. Software geeks were power tools wielded by the hands of others. Geeks rarely decided things for themselves. If they had a good idea, they were likely to see it shot down by some manager up the food chain with the words, "That's not in the project plan." Or, "That's great, but we can't afford to waste time on that."
But the arrival of Linux created a tectonic shift in the power structure of IT. For the first time, large numbers of geeks were writing the software they wanted to write. In Open Source, no one could say, "No, don't do that!" Coders were free to live and die by the quality of their work. No one -- not even the mighty Linus Torvalds -- could dictate what you could or could not do in your software development.
That precipitated a huge change in the mindset of geekdom. Geeks developed a voice of their own, and a will to speak up and be heard. For the first time in the short history of the computer industry, a large number of geeks experienced a terrific sense of empowerment. They were no longer simply following orders; they were deciding for themselves.
Fast forward over a decade and much has changed. Open Source has been embraced by big business and many have achieved the long-hoped-for goal of having a job writing Open Source. However, some people in these Open Source jobs have forgotten about the empowerment experienced in earlier years, and have begun to simply take orders once again. For these people, the IT power tool is crawling back to its place on the shelf.
But it doesn't need to be that way. Anywhere where geeks gather and remember what was achieved can be the nexus for more geek empowerment. That's why conferences like SCALE are so desperately important.
They do more than talk about Linux. They do more than discuss the Open Source development methodologies. They remember the heart of Open Source is in its people.
Conferences like SCALE remind geeks why we came together all those years ago: to change the world... and to change ourselves.
If you make it to SCALE 12X, make sure you stop by the Xen Project booth. I look forward to chatting with you about the heart of Open Source.