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Who said fragmentation was forever?

The news today says that design automation leader and Nucleus RTOS provider Mentor Graphics is buying embedded Linux tools provider and professional services contractor Embedded Alley for an undisclosed amount.

The most notable aspect of this is that it comes on the heels of Intel’s acquisition of Wind River Systems. Fire sales and mergers are not unusual during flagging economic times, but this is the first time I have been aware of such consolidation happening in the embedded Linux space—not unusual, as that space has only existed for 10 years and this is its first recession.

I would wax poetic on the ramifications of this merger, but Bill Weinberg has already done so. (Hi Bill!)

Home now and exhausted, brain full and digesting. I am glutted on food for thought.

The second day at the Community Leadership Summit was easily as intense as the first. I attended sessions on:

  • Elevator pitches, or how to talk about what you do in 45 seconds
  • Community by Committee, which I led
  • Rewriting (and rethinking) documentation
  • Engaging Education
  • Educating your community

Aside from the actual sessions, I had intense conversations with many people whom I never would have had the chance to meet otherwise. I feel that I have been accepted into a larger community of Really Cool People, which is the exact goal of any Unconference, particularly one specifically about building and leading communities.

In particular, I was very, very pleased to note the presence of several groups that are normally shut out of technical conferences by a number of barriers. In fact, I think there could have been more of them, as CLS was not in fact a technical conference, except that CLS was tied to OSCON and thus there was an impression that it had something to do directly with open-source software. In fact, there was a link to open-source software, but it was my strong impression that a vital dimension was added to the Summit by the inclusion of people from other backgrounds. Women were well represented, though still well below 50%. While there were not enough people of color, those who were there were heartily welcomed. There were also a few contingents from developing nations, though only a few—perhaps one goal of fundraising for the next CLS could be the recruiting and inclusion of groups from Africa, China, southeast Asia, south America, and anywhere else that is normally under-represented in the technical world.

What I really loved was the attendee who showed up on Saturday, a day early for a different conference and looking for something to do, who not only stayed through Sunday but also ran a very interesting session off the top of his head. Now that’s a testimonial!

Notes for all of the sessions at the conference are being posted to the wiki at:

When I first became a community admin for Meld, a community specifically for embedded Linux developers, I had no idea what I was getting into. Now, four months later, I thought I had some idea—I have been co-managing a burgeoning community, blogging for several months, giving talks at conferences, and even learning to tweet. But after a day at the Community Leadership Summit I realize I am only an egg.

I learned about this conference at a previous one. In April, at the Linux Collaboration Summit in San Francisco, I listened to a fantastic talk by Jono Bacon, Ubuntu community manager, in which he discussed “belonging”, that feeling one gets when one is a part of a larger community. (Jono should know, his book on community just came out). Another friend and community manager, Karsten Wade, made sure that I knew about the upcoming Community Leadership Summit, and I jumped at the chance to join a few other like-minded people to swap community management stories and give me some insight into how to manage Meld more effectively.

CLS is way, way beyond whatever expectation I had at the time. Set aside the fact that this Summit is packed with experts on social media, the leaders of several many prominent and successfucommunityl online communities, and luminaries from many disparate worlds, including open-source software, publishing, and marketing. This is a level playing field—the topic of the day is community and we are all equals. We are all experts, as humans are social creatures and we thrive on community, yet we are all beginners in terms of organizing that primal sense of belonging into something tangible and coherent and useful. Community is a slippery concept, and the goal of this summit is to gain some traction on it.

I attended sessions on:

  • Free software marketing
  • Community “crossovers”, where the circles of influence intersect
  • Architecting communities
  • Using video to enhance conversations
  • Letting go of leadership, dynamically sharing the organizational load

In every single one of these—and in the conversations in the hall, and in Jono’s plenary sessions, and at lunch and dinner and socializing in the bar—I learned something I hadn’t thought of before about community and its governance. The informal, egalitarian unconference style made me feel truly like a participant in each session rather than a student. It was the difference between seeing a musician in concert vs. trading the guitar with them around a campfire. The dichotomy between wizard and neophyte is simply gone, and we are all humans learning together.

In fact, that was the magic of the event, not that I hung out with luminaries, and not that I learned a ton of stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise. The magic was in the new community that formed before my eyes. It isn’t just me against the world any more. Now I know over 100 really smart people who are in the same boat. They want to learn the same stuff I want to learn, and they are willing to share what they do know and to listen to what I know. I may not know them all by face or name nor could I possibly keep up with all of them in the future (although with social media, I might!), but for this Summit, we’re all in it together.

And this was just the first day.

I read an interesting, well-written, well-researched article this morning by IDG news analyst Owen Fletcher. Posted on ComputerWorld’s site, the article describes the difficulties open-source software has in reaching the Chinese market, principally because (pirated) proprietary software there is cheap enough to be considered free, thus erasing one of the major benefits—cost—that open source brings to enterprises. Fletcher quotes several folks, and has obviously done his job well.

He almost had me believing it.

I am sad to report that, as an open-source “insider”, I don’t agree with two of his conclusions.

The first is that open-source has failed to make serious tracks in China because of the cost issue. Mr. Fletcher describes that The main reason for this is that there are places in the Western sphere where it has also failed to gain traction, including the desktop, and the reason is definitely not cost. Despite some of the great advantages Linux has on the desktop, for example, it has never taken off, despite the fact that you can get it for free and Windows is a large (to my mind) percentage of the cost of a new computer. So for user-oriented systems, cost isn’t the primary issue. If it were, it would be here as well, and it isn’t. Windows has cultural traction, business traction, and excellent marketing, while open-source advocates tend to be their own worst enemies in that regard.

The second issue I have is that Mr. Fletcher seems to equate “success” with (a) a percentage of total installations, and (b) on servers and on the desktop, understandable given that he works for IDG and it is their business to follow those trends. I would suspect both of those definitions. China has certainly embraced open-source software in the embedded space, where market share for embedded Linux in particular is growing astronomically, and in terms of numbers, the potential for embedded systems far outshines what is available for desktops and servers. The Chinese businessman with two Linux-based cell phones, a Linux-based netbook, and a desktop machine running pirated Windows already is using open source software at a ratio of 3:1, and that’s not counting the Linux that runs his coffee maker, the train system he rides to work in the morning, the NordicTrac he uses to work out with in the afternoon, or the digital TV he watches in the evening. The modern world—and the developing world, too—surrounds people with automated systems, and a large number of those systems run open-source software in one form or another.

I am very glad to see that China and other (quickly) developing countries are embracing open-source software as much as they are. For China in particular, I see open source as a key that will enable them to get beyond what seems to be a cultural acceptance of intellectual property piracy. Embracing open-source software will enable them to save face in the marketplace, but it won’t happen overnight for them nor for us. In capitalist countries especially, I think the western mind is suspicious of anything that is available for free because we equate cost with value, and the developing-society minds are taking cues from the West as they “grow up” technologically. This is true for Africa as well.

I would go so far as to say that the “post-developed” world could provide benefit both to ourselves and our friends in developing countries by continuing our trend of adapting open-source solutions, not just for saving face but for the opportunity to help them join in the global communities that form naturally around open-source projects. The true value in open-source solutions is in the development of real community, where you help your friend make a buck because he’s your friend, not because you plan to get something else out of it. We can move beyond the false dichotomies of capitalism and socialism and into a future of—dare I say it—communitocracy.

Disagree with me? I hope so, as that is how we learn. Please feel free to tell me so in the comments.