LinuxCon Day 3: Now Get Out There and Do Something!

by David Lane

At the end of a conference, most people have two feelings. The first is a feeling of wanting to get out there and do something. After last year's LinuxCon, especially after listening to Noah Broadwater of Sesame Workshop, I wanted to go back to my office, take a chainsaw to my IIS installations, and tear out my Sharepoint system. But I am pretty sure that feeling is felt by many of us on a daily basis without attending LinuxCon.

What was so exciting about Sesame Workshop's presentation was, with a very small staff and even less money, they managed to create a web experience that not only reduced cost but had an average eyeball time of 27 minutes. There are sites that would give everything for 27 seconds, and here is a children-focused site with 27 minutes, primarily on Open Source software.

But, as exciting as that is, imagine you are the CIO of a new airline and are responsible for not only the web presence that includes ticketing and check-in for flights, but also in-flight entertainment. Oh, and you have a staff of 28. That was the mission of Ravi Simhambhatia of Virgin America and as you can imagine it was not an easy mission, especially when there was already an entrenched structure in place. But he took a different tack from what most would expect and rather than focus on the cost savings related to the operating system, he sold management on the reliability aspects of Open Source as well as the ability to rapidly develop solutions and improve the customer experience. And as we learned on Day 2, the bulk of the costs of any software is in the management, not the operating system. His focus was on low maintenance costs and low overhead and the ability to build fire and forget solutions that just worked. And that is exciting, especially when it is the CIO that is telling you this.

Perhaps running efficient ticketing and in-flight entertainment systems are not what gets you excited. Maybe Stormy Peters' —Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation— call to arms will. Most of us are familiar with Richard Stallman's rally cry of Free as in Freedom, not Free Beer, but how many of us pay attention to the various web services we use? In this case, I am not talking about SOAP or XML, but those services we use everyday like Gmail, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. As Stormy points out, many of these services may be free as in free beer, but not so much so when it comes to freedom and in fact, most are as proprietary as any software we complain about coming out of Redmond or other companies in the Axis of Evil (to borrow a phrase).

In her keynote, she highlighted issues like what would you do if you lose access to your data on these systems? Or who can use your photos? Do they even need your permission? One popular social site has default settings that allow them to scoop up your information and resell it without so much as a by your leave. When it comes to these services, many of us do not pay any attention because of the convenience and because of the cost and that needs to change because right now they are giving us the free beer, and we are drinking deeply, while ignoring the hidden costs.

At the end of LinuxCon 2010, most of us left with two feelings. First, the feeling of wanting to get out there and do something. And the second? In the immortal words of Gary Larson, Teacher, can I be excused, my brain is full.

See you next year!

Sailing in Boston Harbour
Sailing in Boston Harbour

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