One of the great pleasures I experienced at last week's Open World Forum in Paris was to see Simon Phipps unbound.
After 10 years at Sun, half of them as the company's chief voice on open source, he was one of the first out the door when Oracle's tentacles closed in. This has liberated him to say what he feels, rather than just what he is allowed to say. It has given him the fire of a good Baptist preacher.
“It's easy to forget the thing that got you started. It's easy to forget in open source it started with principles, with liberty, equality and community.” Of course Phipps used the French for these concepts – liberte, egalite, fraternite. This got him a big hand.
“It's no longer going to be acceptable to have a dominant partner in a community. Over the next few years we'll see a rediscovery of a desire to not be dominated.” After an hour of listening to bureaucrats, Phipps was bringing the thunder.
He told his audience about the power of community, using as his example the fight over ODF and OOXML. “Most governments have implemented ODF, most have rejected OOXML.” But the fight is continuous, as those who have faced Microsoft Sharepoint or DocX are quick to point out .
Since Phipps took the corporate blinders off he has noticed a sea change among enterprises. He called these changes the first and second derivatives of liberty. The first he said is innovation, the second profit.
“It turns out that a great deal of software was based on open source without anyone admitting it. All that BSD software was the foundation of Windows, for two decades, before people discovered open source was going on. Legal departments no longer see open source as a bilateral negotiation, but as a multi-lateral opportunity.”
Like any good preacher Phipps was even willing to admit to his own mistakes, like failing to place OpenOffice inside a foundation. “It was an inevitable thing that nearly happened 3 years ago, when it was my responsibility.” That it has happened now does not solve the systemic problem, but those will now be addressed.
Phipps' message was not all happy talk. Just as a preacher gets serious when he nears time to pass the collection plate, Phipps grew serious in talking about patents.
“In Europe the FSF Europe and FFII both do a tremendous job, considering they're not backed by a commercial entity. But it's becoming evident in the free software world that patents are a big problem. There is sufficient uncertainty that a patent holder can blackmail people into not being the test case. We need certainty.
“There are big vested interests who will take the opportunity to make an attempt to create certainty and prove that software patents exist.” The only way to prevent that is to keep fighting. So praise the Lord and pass the collection plate. (Phipps has your ammunition.)
NOTE: My plane fare and hotel costs in Paris were picked up by the Open World Forum upon my return.