Monday, August 20, 2007

Kicking Around Open Source

"Blogs allow more expansive discussions," noted Michael Goulde, senior analyst with Forrester Research, adding that the give and take of a blog and its associated comment area can make for the sophisticated collaboration necessary among open source developers. However, "they also allow more ego to show through," he said.

Sure, you can walk into any big-box bookstore and see several shelves full of volumes about open source software -- about why you should use it, how to use it, and what to do when you stumble on problems. Likewise, the Web sites of Linux-related companies and organizations are chock-full of white papers and articles analyzing one or another's position on open source hot topics.

However, the real action for discussion of Linux and the hundreds of other open source software packages out there occurs in real time among ordinary people unconstrained by the limits of print publishers or Web site approval processes. Blogs and podcasts are the preferred communication channels for open source enthusiasts, and that comes as no big surprise.

"The very nature of open source development is driven by collaboration," Michael Goulde, senior analyst with Forrester Research, told LinuxInsider. "What really is needed is a vehicle for 24/7/365 communication."

Ego and the Blog

One thing's for sure: Open source advocates long have been labeled as renegades, whether that's an apt generalization or not. It's just a short hop from rebel to other personality traits that bloggers in general often share.

"Blogs allow more expansive discussions," Goulde noted, adding that the give and take of a blog and its associated comment area can make for the sophisticated collaboration necessary among open source developers. However, "they also allow more ego to show through," he said.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth, for example, uses his blog to express views about goings on in the open source community and other news. One recent entry was his vehicle for expressing strong opinions about Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Latest News about Microsoft efforts to make agreements with open source software providers regarding alleged intellectual property violations.

Keeping the Secret

To be sure, many blogs are simply the public relations mouthpieces of the companies or individuals that publish them. Not surprisingly, those in the open source community are particularly wary of these and tend to avoid them. They've had too much of that from the "closed source" world. For example, a range of Microsoft blogs do not allow comments from readers, and some only recently have begun accepting feedback.

"Proprietary products are tied to a company, and around the company is wrapped secrecy," Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider. Makers of proprietary software don't want competitors to know what they're doing, he noted. "Given enough time, you can get around any patent or copyright, so a proprietary company lives on secrets," said Enderle.

This is not to say that developers of proprietary software ignore new technology for distributing information through blogs and forums.

"Enterprise developers may have internal blogs, but not so much on the Web," said Goulde. "Companies have policies about how much their employees talk about internal activities in public."

By contrast, he explained, "developers participating in open source projects -- which may include a small number of corporate developers -- have much more motivation to share their thinking about development in general, express their views about their work and the work of others in a project, and want to educate other developers about their work."

"What works in the open source world is not to contain information, but to share it -- all the things that a proprietary software company typically would be very nervous about," noted Enderle. Thus, companies operating in the open source world must balance the needs of developers for open communication with their own commercial interests.

Corporate Balance

Linux distributor Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) Latest News about Red Hat has a whole section of its corporate Web site dedicated to the blogs of various Linux users, and users of Red Hat distributions in particular. Fedora World aggregates a large collection of blogs published through other sources, such as social networking site Live Journal.

Other aggregate blogs are sponsored by non-profits or organizations dedicated to particular open source tools or applications. Planet Apache gathers blog entries from a wide range of writers focusing on Apache news and opinion. Planet Gnome follows in its footsteps, as does Planet Debian.

Public Service and the Donate Button

Not all blogs serve as the personal soapbox of a particular company executive or the offering of a formal organization, though. Some, like the Linux App Finder, offer a tool first and a blog or forum section as a secondary consideration. The Linux App Finder database allows users to locate applications to run on a Linux-based system Manage remotely with one interface -- the HP ProLiant DL360 G5 server. in a wide range of categories, such as graphics and engineering. It also has an associated blog where site administrator "chadm" writes posts on topics such as "Ripping DVDs to MPEG4 with K9Copy." Another area of the site offers forums for discussion of topics such as multimedia and Linux.

Rather than relying on a corporate parent, sites such as these depend on user donations and paid advertisements. The Linux App Finder has a "Donate" button prominently displayed on many pages. It also sports an ad for the Linux World conference at the top. Many independent blogs have Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Latest News about Google ad sections to generate revenue.

Remember back when the primary use for the VCR was recording television shows playing at one time to watch them at a more convenient hour? Time-shifting has long been a technique of gadget lovers, and open source software advocates are no exception.

"Open source participants are spread around the world and need to have a means to communicate," explained Michael Goulde, senior analyst, Forrester Research. "E-mail is good, but e-mail Email Marketing Software - Free Demo list protocol is to keep messages short and to the point."

So, what's a wordy open source expert to do? Part 1 of this series explored how blogging is one way to reach a broader readership. However, those in the audience who might prefer to take their learning on the road appreciate the portability of podcasts.

The "Linux Action Show," for example, has produced more than 50 weekly episodes. Hosts Bryan and Chris offer reviews and comments on happenings in the Linux realm; the July 1 show treated Vista security Webroot AntiSpyware 30-Day Free Trial. Click here. and new Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) Latest News about Dell Linux systems, among many other topics. The show also takes listener questions, much like a broadcast radio talk show.

That particular podcast boasts a sponsor: Internet domain service provider As podcast software becomes ever more sophisticated, such independent podcasts will be able to run streaming advertisements throughout the audio portion of their shows, noted Mike Goodman, director with the consumer research group of Yankee Group.

Advertising revenue will add more fuel to the fire of specialized shows aimed at narrow audiences, he told LinuxInsider. This bodes well for the proliferation of podcasts aimed at the open source community.

Real-Time to Pod-Time

One of the earliest Linux-related podcasts has its roots in real-time Webcast. The "Linux Link Tech Show" saw its first broadcast in 2003 and bills itself as "The Oldest Continually Running Linux Show on the Planet." It was started by the founders of the Lehigh Valley Linux Users Group and counts among its co-hosts several academics.

When podcasting came along, the Tech Show was among the first to adopt the new medium. It's 60- minute to 90-minute weekly show still broadcasts live through a Webcast. However, archives of shows now are available in several formats for those who don't wish to be constrained by its 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesdays airing.

Newbies Listen Up

Not all podcasts are aimed toward developers or even advanced users. A quick search on Podcast Alley yields 154 hits on the key word "Linux." One entry, "Linux Reality," describes its target audience as "the new Linux user." The show posted its first episode in February 2006 and currently is up to nearly 70 broadcasts.

One recent episode of "Linux Reality" featured an interview with an attorney specializing in corporate social and environmental responsibility. The discussion centered on why and how a small business would choose to implement open source software.

Among "Linux Reality's" sponsors is a big name: O'Reilly Media, publisher of a long-standing and popular line of software books. The show and related site is hosted by Chess Griffin, a self-described technology hobbyist who now works in an unrelated field while staying active in the open source community.

Don't Fade Away

The list of podcasts with Linux as their subject is littered with those that have experienced "pod-fade." "Linux Noob" is one example of many programs whose hosts put up one or two episodes and then fade into oblivion. Pod-fade certainly is not unique to the technical world or the open source community. In fact, podcasting is a field that has been built largely on open source software. However, the reality is that podcasting rarely pays the bills for those that spend the enormous time and energy putting shows together, and they often have to quit the project to turn to other priorities.

"Lotta Linux Links" by contrast, is a show with staying power. Independent podcaster Dave Yates is on his 39th episode since December 2005. Like some of the more popular blog sites, "Lotta Linux Links" is first an online tool for finding Linux-related resources. The site sports a banner ad for Linux Laptop Company.

Going Mainstream

Like all cutting edge communication channels, though, podcasting is slowly gaining acceptance in the corporate world. Software maker Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL) Latest News about Novell now has its own series of podcasts called "Novell Open Audio." Each show features an interview with a Novell employee on a particular topic. The June 27 episode, for example, spotlighted Martin Buckley, chief evangelist and director of product management for Novell's ZENworks along with Tim Cranny, chief architect with Senforce, discussing ZENwork's endpoint security management.

The likelihood of the discussion of open source software being co-opted by corporate concerns is slim, though, Laura DiDio, research fellow with Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.

"This market was born in a collegial atmosphere," she stressed, "beginning back with Linus Torvalds when he was a 19-year-old college student."