Having finally recovered my blog (well, until the next crash, that is), I can finally comment about what happened last week at the Italian Java Conference. Having been a speaker, I probably shouldn’t say so, but for the first time in a few years I actually found the event to be interesting, entertaining and informative.
The Italian Java Conference used to be a sales pitch event, with little to no content. During the past years I went there maybe two or three times, basically because it was a free event, a day off and a way to catch up with some people I know. This year it has been quite different: the theme being Open Source, sales pitch were bearable and reduced to a minimum. A few notable speakers jumped into the stage (among them Dirk-Willem van Gulik, Simon Phipps, Craig Lorman, Craig McLanahan and a few others) and the few sessions I could attend have definitely been interesting.
Unfortunately, I spent most of my time at the demo spot the organization gave us, where we have been presenting our latest and greatest XML Validation Server (guess what, Cocoon based) and giving away quite a few Pro-netics hats (basically we were the only ones distributing gadgets, and I guess that made the difference). Having to man the booth, I had to miss a few interesting presentations. To add insult to injury, my talk was colliding with what was to me the most interesting event (three notable guys talking about OOP and Agile stuff), however I managed to have an almost filled up room and a very interested audience who seemed to like what I’ve been saying (Apache Cocoon stuff, surprise!).
The expo area was filled up with italian companies selling Open Source stuff. I have to confess, though, that the overall situation looked quite depressing: we have a good number of organizations “promoting” Open Source solutions, but no one really seemed to have a clue. Most of them are what I call “cherry pickers”, people browsing the OSS world to grab solutions, wrap them into brochures and sell services around them, the only added value being in most case an Italian localisation.
The few ones actually building OSS still have to get how real Open Source is about communities, itches and scratches: most of them are software houses using an Open Source license to sell their products better, hosting their projects on SourceForge and being done with it. I have been unable to find anyone participating to larger communities, no matter funding one: most of them look like they’re just there to exploit Open Source and try to ride the wave.
I know they are doomed to fail, but my biggest fear is how their failure will impact the very few ones that are trying to have a dialogue with the OSS world instead than just listening or – even worse – shouting to an empty room and enjoying their voice. Time will tell, of course, but my suggestion to the plethora of OSS companies I met in the last few days would be learning to be a part of the bigger picture before planning to be “someone” in the commercial OSS world. If markets are conversations, then clearly no man (and no company) is an island. Is it that hard to understand?