What a long strange trip it's been

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Thoughts on beaming an open source evangelist …

Thoughts on beaming an open source evangelist
Keynote at the OSGIS 2012 conference in Nottingham

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  • Weaving a personal journey into my view of the development of the Open Source Geo business models and their changing competitive position vis a vis proprietary software

    Many of you here will be academics or technical people, I am neither (although I am an Ext Lecturer at Nottingham Uni) my perspectives are those of a business person and perhaps of an activist and idealist.
  • Back to 1968
    Economics student at Kings
    In the late 60’s I wanted to change the world

    Somehow I ended up working for Pilkington making mirrors and then got into GI and finished up selling a GI business to Mapinfo and then running their UK business
    It’s that experience that I want to reflect on in talking about open source
  • My heroes were Radical and Disruptive or at least I thought so
    Click
    See how many you can recognise, prizes later
  • 20 years Building materials – learnt manufacturing economics and business models= to make more cost more materials and labour
    Environmental Technology Click
    GDC = re-learnt software economics = once you’ve made it it costs nothing to ship more of it, for a while I thought this was the gift that kept on giving butthen I learnt that you have to keep remaking it
    MD MapInfo UK Click
    OSM Contributor, Open Source Advocate, Geohippy
    Enough about me for the moment, let’s look at how I got to where I find myself today
  • 3 perspectives that I want to explore with you that may have influenced the growth of Open Source Geospatial and Open Source in general. I want to share some of the business thinking around OSS particularly from outside of the community and what helped to change my views.

    Apologies if some of this sounds like standard evangelism for OSGeo but hopefully along the way I will be able to illustrate how the positioning of OSS business models has changed and I will reflect on how some of the counter arguments that my staff at MapInfo for example would have used a few years ago no longer stand up to scrutiny.

    3 perspectives

    What influences customer choice
    Ethics
    Business response
  • Quite general stuff – applies to most software bought by businesses
    I want to go through this check list and give a view of how OSGeo stacks up against the proprietary alternatives.
    Proprietary not commercial because I believe that OSS must be seen as a commercial business model – it just isn’t the same business model as proprietary licensing models
    Check list = Functionality, Robustness & Support, Feature enhancement, Scalability and of course cost
  • Functionality = 1st consideration of a potential customer
    You need enough and a little bit more – most software vendors with mature products have reached feature bloat stage, they are moving from 80/20 to 90/10

    If I put on my ex software vendor’s hat there is little that our software could do that customers needed that cannot be achieved using OSS. This is particularly true of the web and the database where prebuilt glitzy interfaces are not needed. In the past OSS was not noted for it’s elegant or intuitive interface designs but recent releases of QGIS are challenging that perception on the desktop where interface is perhaps most important.

    In the areas of support for OGC standards which are growing in importance particularly as we step up implementation of INSPIRE in Europe OSGeo probably exceeds the compliance and interoperability of much proprietary software

    IMO as software product specs mature there is less radical or dramatic innovation in features and the space starts to attract development focussed on better implementations rather than on new features. Enter OSS

    For the vast majority of applications OSGeo ticks the box on functionality

    Remember that in most geospatial implementations the software is not used raw out of the box it is part of a solution and the bigger question for a buyer is whether the solutions provider has understood and can deliver their requirements not the functionality of the underlying components which will be selected by the solution provider
  • Does it keep working?

    So the software does what you need it to do, but will it keep on doing it? And if it doesn’t will there be someone there to fix it or support you?

    Everyone will say that there software is robust and just keeps running and it probably does, there is little basis to suggest that proprietary software is more reliable and robust than OSS, if we consider operating systems or web servers the majority of the internet runs on OSS and appears to be pretty robust.

    But inevitably stuff does goes wrong – it may not be the software per se it may be the environment or integration issues that are causing a problem, or it could be that you want to make some changes to a system and aren’t quite sure how. In those cases you will need support and even possibly a bug fix. This is often cited as the weakness of OSS whereas actually it is at the heart of the OSS business model OSS businesses make their livings from providing services and support, there is every reason to expect that if you have chosen carefully you will get as good or better support from an OSS vendor.
  • Now bugs are another matter. Have you ever reported a bug to your proprietary vendor? Typically there are 2 responses
    “We don’t recognise that as a bug, it’s a feature that works differently to your expectation”” or “no one else has reported that” or “we can’t you replicate that” – these are all variants of the stall for time technique
    “We already have that logged as a known issue and it is scheduled for fixing in the next release due (fill in some date about a year away)” or “Yes that does appear to be a bug, I will log it with our development team and hopefully we can get a fix included in the next release”

    I apologise for stereotyping and to be fair to the support staff they are usually battling with the dev team to get any idea of when fixes will be released. One of the strengths of the OS community is that there are often more people committing code to a project than are tasked with maintaining the proprietary equivalent. So when a user or their support provider reaches out to the community for a work round or a fix there are potentially more people to pitch in and help.

    Of course as a last resort, if no one steps up to help fix your problem, because the source code is open you could even hire someone to fix a problem and then contribute the fix back to the project for the benefit of other users.

    And that is also often how a user gets to prioritise a new feature that they need for a project or application, they can sponsor its development for the benefit of all users

    Collaboration seems to work
  • There are 2 aspects to scalability - technical and commercial

    Enterprise sales forces will focus on technical scalability - How do you deal with more usage? – users, hits, processing, larger data sets etc.

    I want to let the less technical of you into a secret, the smarter bit of software code will make a modest difference to performance, however most of it is down to increasing processing power, more CPU’s means mean more users, more outputs or faster queries. Of course it needs some smart stuff to ensure that lots of servers are all doing the right bits at the right time but largely people have worked out how to coordinate all of this – think mid tier or grid. No doubt some deep techs will want to dispute some of this with me.

    So if scaling comes down to servers and racks or VM’s in the cloud there isn’t a problem? Even though there is no marginal cost for the software code you need to deploy across a larger infrastructure the licensing model means you will have to pay. Mike Saunt and I coined the phrase the “Software Tax” to describe this model - that’s the price you pay for software licenses as your application grows in usage or success.

    As one user said to me “the thing about the internet is that it makes demand and planning so unpredictable, that’s why we need to use open source software”
  • So let’s talk pricing for a moment and this free stuff

    There’s
    CLICK
  • Costs nothing but there’s no such thing as a free lunch or free software, there’s always a catch

    And there’s
    CLICK
  • Free as in speech or in the open source context
    CLICK
    Use how you want, adapt, deploy, scale without constraint
  • I wish we could get rid of the Free bit in CLICK FOSS4G Click
    OSS is not free (well at least not for the enterprise) – it’s a different model
    Proprietary = License fee (big upfront) + implementation services + maintenance for new features which you may or may not want + support
    OSS = Zero license fee + implementation services + perhaps a cost to fund new features which you do want + support
    No software tax for scaling
    The advantage that OSS brings is that it creates a level playing field for service providers to compete on quality and price of the service package

    Why is this important? Large buyers of geo solutions (particularly Public Sector) find themselves locked into a very small number of solutions, some have recognised this and are keen to see a competitive alternative
  • I said that as a young man I was an idealist and you may think that ethics have little to do with the running of a software business but I would contend that they do, particularly in the geospace where a large portion of our income comes from the public purse and where many of us who “get” digital geography or whatever we call it are such strong advocates of the power of GI or geography to make a difference to some of the environmental and social challenges the world is facing.

    So this is a little rant from me:

    Public sector funded software development that is paid for again and again
    Canadians showed how to do it differently
    More recently the UK and French govts have funded extensions to OSGeo products as components of an OS INSPIRE solution that will benefit all users
    Pay once use many times rather than write once and sell many times

    World bank and other NGO funded projects that push over-specified proprietary software solutions to the developing world rather than seeking to encourage the use of appropriate levels of functionality based on OSS
    Cadastral systems in developing world
    Emergency response systems
    Acknowledge that some vendors are donating software but question their motivation

    If Proudhon had still been alive today I wonder what he would have had to say about intellectual property CLICK
  • Principal players in geospatial market = vendors and SI’s
    Software companies move into services
    SI’s adopting OSS

  • Everyone wants to get an Open badge
    They are even going Open Source CLICK
  • We’ve been talking about the vision of spatial going mainstream.

    Well it is now – the Big boys joining in

    Watch out for the IBM’s and SAP’s who are already big supporters of Eclipse and look like joining the spatial crowd and embedding those capabilities within their enterprise platforms

    Think - IBM, Oracle, Autodesk, Nokia, Google, SAP, Airbus, BMW, Bosch, Continental, Thales, Hitachi, Siemens, RIM, all of whom are allegedly looking at incorporating spatial.
  • Heroes dead or middle aged but still want to be disruptive and to make a difference

    Advocate for OpenStreetMap and OSS
    Initiated OSM-GB project here at Nottingham
    Chairman mentor to Taarifa
    Working with Astun the open source geo people in the uk
    Chairing FOSS4G2013 – more on that in a minute
  • Heroes dead or middle aged but I still want to be disruptive and to make a difference

    Advocate for OpenStreetMap and OSS
    Initiated OSM-GB project here at Nottingham
    Chairman mentor to Taarifa
    Working with Astun the open source geo people in the uk
    Chairing FOSS4G2013 – more on that in a minute

    That’s quite a journey from running a subsidiary of a US software business 5 years ago!

    In the words of the song Lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it’s been”

    CLICK
    I suppose I am the archetypal Gamekeeper turned Poacher

    But open source is only one of the opens of geo CLICK
  • Yup we won the competition to host FOSS4G in the Robin Hood City, the Lace capital of the Britain, right here in Nottingham
  • These are the 4 opens of geo that I was going to talk about before everyone else covered most of my topics
  • Why do I think this stuff is so important?

    Well like Sir TBL tweeted at the Olympic opening ceremony – this is for everyone

    If we believe that geography is a powerful tool for insight and action then it needs to be widely available

    The 4 or maybe 5 Open’s of Geo make geography, analysis and action available to everyone

    Open Source gives us the freedom to process and manipulate spatial data at whatever scale we need without paying a license tax
    Open Standards give us the freedom to find and connect to distributed data sources scattered around the world
    OpenStreetMap gives us the freedom of a royalty free global map that we can add to, reuse and reprocess
    OS OpenData gives us authoritative street data, boundaries and postcodes
    OpenData gives us the freedom to see what government are doing and potentially hold them to account

    And if you want a lot more Open then you should plan to come to CLICK FOSS4G next year in Nottingham running back to back with GeoCommunity

    And if you can’t wait till then then come and talk to me and the guys at Astun who do lots of nice open things
  • Explain link with AGI GeoCommunity
  • Coding
    Hacking
    Partying
    Jousting?

Transcript

  • 1. Lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it’s been Steven Feldman
  • 2. Me
  • 3. Perspectives http://www.flickr.com/photos/ebelbeb/5244753318/
  • 4. How customers chose software http://www.flickr.com/photos/lamentables/1392918774/
  • 5. Does it do the job?
  • 6. Robustness and Support http://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/3318600273
  • 7. Feature requests
  • 8. Scalability http://www.flickr.com/photos/getbutterfly/6317955134/
  • 9. Free http://www.flickr.com/photos/yoghurt/2414338156/
  • 10. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mmoorr/7669098910/
  • 11. http://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/7986654321/ The freedom to …..
  • 12. Cost FOSS4GX
  • 13. Ethics http://www.flickr.com/photos/cin4ski/5059749916/ Intellectual property is …..
  • 14. Business responses http://www.flickr.com/photos/huxhombre/5321871461/
  • 15. http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthileo/4826783509/ Getting an Open badge http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcwathieu/2412755417/
  • 16. Spatial isn’t …
  • 17. Gamekeeper turned poacher http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdrummbks/3812623183/http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremybrooks/2177715225/
  • 18. http://www.flickr.com/photos/balleyne/26688 34386/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/layyourheaddo wn/6715504533/http://www.flickr.com/photos/loop_oh/44938 18473/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/maistora/52858 14043/ OpenStreetMap Open Standards Open Data Open Source
  • 19. 17th – 21st September www.foss4g.org Open is the freedom to …