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OSCon 2007

(for some reason, I forgot to post this when I landed a month ago... oops!)

Well, OSCon is all wrapped up and I'm on a plane to Ottawa. Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for him? ;-) this was Nat Torkington's last time organizing an O'Reilly conference - he's done a great job! It was great to meet so many interesting & intelligent people... it's both daunting and inspiring at the same time!

I always find it interesting to go to conferences and see all the new innovations. In IT, it's not really that surprising to see the boundaries continually being pushed - as Simon Wardley describes commoditization: "yesterday's hot stuff becomes today's boredom". Take operating systems and databases: only a few decades ago they were university's research projects, or government / big-company trade secrets, but today everybody needs them and they provide little real competitive advantage for the majority of organizations. While I don't believe Oracle, Sybase & Windows are going away any time soon, I think this - commoditization - is largely the driving force behind the success of Open Source projects like Postgres, MySQL & Linux. The fact that profitable businesses have be built around them is a testament to my belief that the true value of Open Source has always been in sharing the common costs of doing business over many organizations.

Extending this idea to hardware seems a natural progression.

That's why the theme of Open Source Hardware at OSCon really interested me, even though it still seems to be in its infancy. I caught the tail end of Bunie, Christy & Limor Fried's Radar session on Open Source Hardware, and was impressed by some of the potential applications like reducing the cost of production of medical equipment for developing nations. A few of the highlights for me:


During the Radar sessions, I spoke to Christy Canida who's responsible for Community & Marketing at Instructables. She quickly impressed me with the idea - the site hosts step-by-step instructions for, well, pretty much anything! From DIY taxidermy to hardware howto's to cooking recipes to guides to building your own sailboat. They're building up a network of people interested in contributing and have come a long way... Go have a look!


After seeing the Radar session, I decided to go to Bunie's talk on Chumby, a device that is always connected to the internet & displays 'useful' info. I was impressed to hear he'd been working on an Open Source Hardware License for Chumby, and found it interesting to learn about the various barriers to entry for hacking on the device even with the plans. I almost burst out laughing during his talk when I found "SETEC ASTRONOMY" printed on the middle of the Chumby circuit board he'd handed around;-).

What impressed me most was Bunie's business strategy behind 'Open Sourcing' the hardware product - if anyone can produce his product cheaper, he's not worried about competition because it effectively lowers his cost of production - he can either source his products from the new provider, or presumably re-use their designs (given the terms of the Chumby license) to lower his own costs.

I also really enjoyed some of the keynotes, particularly James', Simon's, and Nat's.