How to Embrace Open Source: If I were a hacker

The Osmosoft Crew

The Osmosoft Crew

Right, in order for y’all to get not only a good view of what it’s like to work inside BT via my Twitter feed I will also be showing you some of the insides of BT from my own astraged persepctive. The first is one that I hold dear to my heart, Open Source.

I’ve been involved in Open Source projects throughout my studies at University, at Undergraduate I studied the use of Eclipse for software development, the use of Apache for hosting and the use of Ant for scripting deployment. In my Masters degree I studied Internet Software Systems where I studied the use of web development using the Hibernate, JSP, Spring, Wicket and ACEGI.

While I’ve officially lost the will to code, having been a coder since the age of 8 (Sinclair Spectrum and Your Sinclair magazine anyone?) I’m whole-heartedly into the concept of community driven development and the wider subject of FOSS (Free and Open Source) liscencing, particularly the (relatively) modern Creative Commons. This interest was sparked upon first joining BT and running across Mr. Jon Lister of Osmosoft.

Enough of the pre-amble, ‘what do Osmosoft do’ I hear you cry… well… Osmosoft was purchased by BT as I joined back in 2007, at the time Osmosoft was a one man band by the name of Jeremy Ruston with a single-celled, free, open source wiki called TiddlyWiki. This greatly annoyed finance as Osmosoft had no revenue, no customers and no intellectual property… so why did they bother?

As you probably know, large scale ‘enterprises’ have been blabbing about use of Open Source for a while now, be it positively or begrudgingly, however very few of these companies are saying the right thing… por ejemplo:

  • The quality of software is poor
  • We should use it because it’s free
  • etc etc

JP Rangaswami wrote a decent ‘nail on the head’ post about the reasons for not adopting Open Source and why they’re irrelevant over here so I won’t blab on and get on with it. The reason BT aquired Osmosoft was becasue TiddlyWiki had an open, extensible framework which had gathered a community of around 25,000 people.The reason BT want this is because

BT wants to better understand the innovation which occurs at the edges of a community

it wants to be able to make use of this innovation as much as it wants to feed it’s own development time back into the wider community.

I beleive the benefits of this approach are pretty obvious but just to spell it out, yes you may get some free development time, but more importantly it helps you understand what your customer wants and where the world is going. The classic homage paid to Open Source project ‘leaders’ are that although 90% of commits to a project are abysmal it proves that someon cares about a feature or a bug enough to try and fix it. Think about it like a amrketing survey: Survey 100 people on whether they’d buy a new brand of soft drink, assume 50% said yes they’d buy it. Now offer tham a can for sale… think 50% would still buy it?

So what have Osmosoft been doing since their inception and aquisistion. Here’s a quick hose-down

  • Developed a couple of products from TiddlyWiki namely RippleRap and TeamTasks which are free and openly available.
  • Lead the creation of BT’s Open Source adoption message at http://bt.com/opensource
  • Lead the move of BT into contribution at FOSSBazaar http://fossbazaar.com
  • Presented at a million and one events inc.
  • Created some crazy-cool visual psychobabble on Open Source and the web courtesy of Paul Downey

All in all a pretty successfull year, beleive me… If I still had that hackers instinct I’d be battering down their door for a job.

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