Open Source Highlights


Overview

August 21 - 24, 1999

My main reason for attending the Open Source Conference is to observe Open Source developments and to gather business intelligence for Chevron. I learned Python. I also concentrated on understanding the business case for Open Source and understanding and interpreting correctly events in the industry.

Learning Python and Python for Windows.

Armed with my recent experience of ploughing through the most obfuscated Perl code, I chose to learn Python, a well-constructed, object-oriented language. Python was created by Guido von Rossum who named it after his favorite TV show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. Python is easy to read and handles Object Oriented Programming in a natural and easy to learn way. The development time of any project in Python is fast. It also tends to encourage clarity in human communication as its very execution depends on use of white space and indentation. The Python Development Environment (IDLE) also, rather neatly, enables "grep" searches for strings in any Unix or NT files I attended an excellent Windows Python tutorial which emphasized using Python with the array of Windows functions from COM, the register, as a macro language and as a test-harness for other systems...in addition to its "normal" function of data processing and as systems "glue". Much of the tutorial attended to COM processing with Excel and Word examples, databases, systems administration, C++ and DLLs. Python Programming on Win32 will be published in November 1999 - see here. I also asked about Python and LDAP and was able to locate sites at: www.it.uq.edu.au/~leonard/dc-prj/ldapmodule and http://sites.inka.de/ms/python/ldap-client.cgi Python LDAP calls are well constructed and clearer to read than Perl. ...but more research is needed here.

Keynote Speech—"Rules for Revolutionaries"

Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist and previously an evangelist for Apple, gave the keynote "Rules for Revolutionaries". His speech was both funny and inspirational. He suggested ten things to do to succeed, starting with examples of change in food preservation and regaled us with stories drawn from personal experience and the computer industry. Guy gave good advice for anyone attempting change. I have a video copy of this speech should anyone like to see it. See also book references, "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore and "Rules for Revolutionaries" by Guy Kawasaki. The mechanism in a revolution, he reminded us, was not "a rising tide floats all boats"...but..."in a tornado even turkeys can fly". He emphasized, it is our objective as revolutionaries to create the tornado.

People and Information.

I spoke with VA/Linux to clarify their confidence in the small-margin market of selling hardware with pre-loaded Linux. They had been in operation since 1993 and had a lot of Linux turnkey experience particularly service and support. Among their talents is Beowulf installation - I thought they might be of interest to our high-end computing people. Certainly their $899 personal computers are blindingly fast and I consider they have good prospects when they go public. According to John Vrolyk of SGI (Silicon Graphics), VA/Linux has a strong business model. SGI has invested a large amount and is co-developing software. Armed with knowledge of Unilever's success in managing a Sendmail backbone and IMAP connectivity with Outlook desktops, I considered it worth asking about the economics and possibility of running a similar system at Chevron. The Sendmail people were not able to present any base figures and told me their Director of Corporate Accounts would contact me. I said there was only a point in doing that if we could work up some comparative figures with which to work. Point pending. I spoke with Derrick Story of O'Reilly and Bob McMillan of Linux Magazine, both of whom were encouraging in wanting to keep in contact and to consider any articles I might care to write. I have been published before so it's a reasonable stretch. I also met with Andrew Leonard of Salon who wants to include the story of Open Source at Chevron in a new book he's writing on the movement.

"The State of Python" Address

Guido von Rossum gave the keynote address indicating increased interest in Python. During August alone over 8,000 Windows versions have been downloaded and the Python website has had over 63,000 hits. Guido reviewed the recent successes of Python in Web Development Packages (ZOPE), Mailman, JPYTHON, Windows (COM and ASP), XML, Open Classroom, Industrial Light and Magic (Star Wars), Yahoo and Lawrence Livermore Labs. He then referred to CP4E (Computer Programming for Everyone) and outlined why he expected Python will take over from Pascal in education. The next release of Python will be issued in 2000 and Python 2.0 in 2001. DARPA is supporting further development of the IDLE developer environment.

Linux in Wearable Computer Research

Thad Starner from Georgia Tech is a most friendly, intelligent and innovative man. He described the status of wearable research and how he personally uses a wearable for all his computing needs. He described why Linux is an ideal choice for research and alluded to the advantages of Linux:

  • Research needs several tries to do anything good...and since, at the start you don't know what you are doing (that's research), you need to be able to make changes quickly.
  • Market-driven research is a fallacy. Consumers don't know what they want and even though they may express interest, don't know enough to express what is reasonable.
  • It's a real problem when research degenerates into struggling with the interface problem of a proprietary system.
  • Commercial packages create balkanization of projects where one groups find it difficult to talk to one another. Code is "idea" exchange.
  • No black walls round bits of code makes training easier.
  • Complicated machines are possible within small budgets.
  • The usual arguments of Linux giving flexibility, stability, scalability, obsolescence protection, real time, drivers, raid prototyping, remote access and networking at low cost.
  • Need for greater than 640 x 480 displays
Other factors he mentioned were low fixed cost base for embedded devices, great community, easy porting to other platforms. Dr Starner then spoke of how he runs his research administration and announced the Wearable Computer Conference (ISWC) to be held in Oct 18 - 19, 1999 at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. The web site is http://iswc.gatech.com. Other subjects he covered were wearable research to support the deaf or blind...and gambling, particularly the work of Shannon and Thorp who did research with shoe-based computers in Las Vegas running simulations timing ball, rotation of wheel etc., giving them a 44% advantage over the house. Dr Starner gave me names for "blind" research. Collins, who created a camera/tactile blind navigation system, John Goldwaite from Georgia Tech and David Ascher, who taught me Python, at a San Francisco sight research organization - address <mailto:"da@python.net">da@python.net. Getting back to wearables, Thad described the keyboard, twiddler (a combination keyboard and mouse enabling sixty wpm input), the retinal projection system and the now credit card sized processor. Very short-range wireless and IR communication are used for communication. He described the non-intrusive collaboration that is enabled and a nice remembrance agent that works under EMACS...also how he used this to sit for his Ph.D. This technology has much significance for Chevron in supporting the disabled in computing and, more mainstream, in refinery and pipeline "hands-off" computer work. Current research is tracking fingertips, glasses that attach links to physical reality, messaging and a form of active badges, baseball cap mounted sign-language to English translator, circuits sewn in clothing. The future will include wearables. There are 8 billion computers on the planet, two percent only of which are desktops. Cray-like power can be carried and very short-range wireless communications used. Cell phones will run an OS...lots of other stuff...smart dust, etc. References:http://www.gvu.gatech.edu/ccg and http://www.media.mit.edu/wearables. Andy Barrow has a tape recording of this talk should you wish to hear it.

Making the Business Case to Management for Open Source

Barry Caplin, a manager of USWest, gave a presentation on how to make the case for open source to management. The detail slides are at www.users.uswest.net/~bcaplin/talks

Barry spoke of management fears about Open Source, the problems with proprietary systems, and how to make the case. In particular, that deserves a summary here. Making the case consists of:

  • Gather the information
  • Journal the current situation
  • Journal the company's current capabilities and skills
  • Determine company's needs and goals
  • Identify players and allies
  • Identify top-tech minds
  • Get feedback from a sympathetic manager
  • Identify people you have to convince and target the presentation accordingly
  • Publish a White Paper

There was considerable debate during question time about the economic viability of Open Source. Issues were discussed but hardly resolved (see Keynote—"Extreme Business" by John Vrolyk of SGI for a more definitive process).

The White Paper should be a "living document", address itself to the core purpose, vision and corporate culture, should contain some degree of "comfort factor" and must contain:

  • An Executive Summary.
  • Relevant Company History.
  • A Summary Expertise Matrix of People Skills
  • The Criteria for Choice including scalability, security, robustness, risk, cost of conversion, lowered operational cost, stability, training and standardization, advantages of shared code and shared people.
  • A Plan to Integrate other proprietary and commercial products.
  • Summary and Conclusions.
The White Paper must not contain too much opinion or technical depth - details can be discussed later.

Keynote Speech - "Sun and Open Source"

Bill Joy of Sun described the BSD Unix and vi editor developments and the difficulties and successes he had experienced before he joined Sun. He emphasized the strength of copyright in enforcing "good behavior" rather than contract law implying that the GNU Public License created by Richard Stallman in 1981 was a particularly good method of ensuring that Open Source would not fragment.

"Extreme Business" - Is Linux Economically Viable?

This address, given by John Vrolyk, a senior VP of Silicon Graphics, was very impressive. I have an audio tape should anyone wish to listen to it. Mr Vrolyk considered the next phase of Linux development would be the alignment around brands. He had some interesting things to say:

  • The OS is a commodity, no end-user really cares what it is.
  • Microsoft should concentrate on desktop applications.
  • SGI had released their IRIX file journalling system to Open Source.
  • SGI, HP and Intel are guaranteeing smooth transfer of Linux to 64bit chips.

Vrolyk made the example of economic sustainability by using water as an example. Water is free. But Perrier and Pellegrino seem to do very well. Case closed.

Regarding business models, he alluded to those of the VA/Linux (turnkey), Sun (envelop), IBM (just throw money), SGI (hardware and service), O'Reilly (publishing), Stonehenge (training) or Red Hat (GIL-like distribution and service) type and said it was unclear which would succeed well, but SGI were investing in VA/Linux as one with good potential. He also added that the industry in general is turning from having to go cap-in-hand for compliance testing for Redmond's proprietary and often secret standards. This is a revolution. "Stupid ideas" he said "only last for any time in large corporations". I reflected on recent events in Chevron. We have positioned ourselves reasonably well for the Tsunami about to hit.

©Chevron Corporation.
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