An article by Sam Varghese appeared on ITwire today, entitled linux.conf.au: What is Novell doing here?:
A GNU/Linux system does not normally load modules that are not released under an approved licence. So why should Australia’s national Linux conference take on board a sponsor who engages in practices that are at odds with the community?
What am I talking about? A company which should not be in the picture has poked its nose in as a sponsor. Novell, which indicated the level of its commitment to FOSS by signing a deal with Microsoft in November 2006, will be one of the supporting sponsors for the conference.
Novell was also a minor sponsor of the 2007 conference, and Sam wrote an article in January expressing similar thoughts, which included this quote from Bruce Perens:
“I’d rather they hadn’t accepted a Novell sponsorship. It wasn’t very clueful of them, given Novell’s recent collaboration with Microsoft in spreading fear and doubt about Linux and software patents,” Perens said.
Ultimately, I think that’s a mistaken view. Linux.conf.au is what it is thanks to the contributions of four groups:
- the organisers
- who create the conference, get a venue, organise a schedule of events, help the speakers and attendees to get there, and generally make it easy for everyone to just get immersed in cool Linux stuff
- the speakers
- who provide the core of the schedule, the reason for attendees to go, and a core depth of awesome technical knowledge and ideas
- the attendees
- who fill in the organisational/content gaps that the organisers and speakers miss, who make for fascinating corridor and dinner conversations, who make side events like the miniconfs, the hackfest or open day interesting, and who pay the rego fees that lets the conference happen
- the sponsors
- who provide a chunk of money to fill out the conference budget letting us commit to venues and events earlier (when we might otherwise have to wait to see how many people come), and let us do extra things that registration fees alone wouldn’t cover
Obviously sometimes you have to exclude people from participating, but that’s mostly only if they’re actually causing trouble for the event. For sponsors, that pretty much means trying to interfere in the conference itself, or not paying on time. Otherwise, if you’re contributing to the conference, and not causing problems, you certainly should be recognised for that, as far as I can see.
For me, the same thing would apply if Microsoft was offering to sponsor the conference — if they’re willing to contribute, and not cause problems, I’m all for it. If they happen to not be doing anything constructive in Linux-space anywhere else, well, it seems perfectly fine to me to start contributing by helping make linux.conf.au awesome.
In Microsoft’s case that would be hard, because all the people going “oh my gosh, Microsoft, Linux! Wolves, sheeps! Hell, snow!” along with possible mixed messages from Microsoft and our long-term major sponsors HP and IBM about the future of Linux and whatnot could really distract us from all the cool technical stuff the conference is fundamentally about. I don’t think there’s anything Microsoft could offer to justify that much disruption, but having more of the world’s software companies involved in free software would probably be worth a bit of hassle, if the disruption could be minimised.
Ultimately, I guess my disagreement comes down to these couple of comments from Sam’s article:
Asked whether it was right that Novell should be allowed to be a sponsor for a conference such as this – which, in my view, is a privilege – [...]
[...] Novell, obviously, is hoping that, as public memory is woefully short, it will be able to wriggle its way back into the community. Providing such leeway is, in my opinion, a big mistake.
In my opinion, the ability to contribute to open source isn’t a privelege, it’s something that should be open to everyone, including people who’ve made mistakes in the past: and that’s precisely what the “free” in free software is all about.
OTOH, if you want to see who’s been participating most in the Linux world lately, you’re much better off looking at the list of speakers than sponsors. Novell (or at least SuSE) folks giving talks in the main conference this year seem to include John Johansen and Nick Piggin. Interestingly, the count of HP folks seems a bit low this year, with only two that I can see, which leaves them not only merely equalling Novell/SuSE, but beaten by both Intel and Catalyst. Tsk! I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that changes when we can see the list of attendees’ companies in the booklet this year…