Open Source – What really drives it? is the desire to change and create something new? is it a firm belief in the idea that knowledge wants to be free and that software should roam the world? or when you boil down – is it just plain Ego?

I’ve been an Open Source advocate and evangelist for the better part of the last 20 years. I’ve started my days with Slackware Linux, moved to RedHat, then to Mandrake, then over to CentOS – which is now my choice of OS for the desktop and server. During these 20 years, I’ve seen various project come and go, companies rise and fall, technologies adopted and abandoned. A recent post on facebook from Dovid Bender got me thinking about this issue again:

Now, let’s put aside the grand discussion on the way the OpenSIPS project came about, their domain hijacking tactics, their overall confusion in the initial stages in regards to the difference between OpenSIP and OpenSER/Kamailio – let’s just put these apart for a second. Honestly, I can’t really tell the two apart, they use the same general configuration syntax and in most cases (over 95%), you can use the same configuration on both and it would work exactly the same. So, what does it boils down to? it boils down to Ego. Do I want to be considered traditional and stable and work with Kamailio, or would I like to be perceived as cutting-edge and work with OpenSIPS (although that isn’t true at all).

The same issue can be attributed to the ever growing battle between Asterisk and FreeSWITCH. Now, each one was built for a totally different class of operation (although, Asterisk 12 does introduce new functionality that makes it shine much harder than FreeSWITCH). People repeat the old “You’re melting our switches” FreeSWITCH urban myth, but again, I still hadn’t seen one installation that truly did everything with FreeSWITCH and is truly focused on using FreeSWITCH to leverage something else. So, if FreeSWITCH is only used as a media/application server, then I see no difference between it and Asterisk in that regard. More than that, if the added value of using FreeSWITCH is just a mere 5-10% increase in performance, it just isn’t worth my time to do so. Now, I’ve used FreeSWITCH in the past, don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful tool in that respect, and for Class-4 switching it is a massive tool. But when it comes to Class-5 and high-level services, sorry to say, Asterisk will always be my choice – not because it is better, not because it’s support and community is far more experienced, not because it out-performs FreeSWITCH – it will always be due to one simple reason – it is the one I know will require the less amount of ongoing support and maintenance and will bring me to my target much faster than FreeSWITCH.

A few weeks ago, I put the following status on facebook:

Now, the two have direct correlation – When a CTO/VP R&D isn’t a telecom’s guy – and he takes decisions for development of the platform – simply based upon the writings of others on the net – which is purely influenced by a religious war – he is incapable of making the right decision. Take Jajah for example, when Roman and Daniel started Jajah, they only tool they used back then with Asterisk@Home – because that’s what they had. When the company grew, they could have easily moved to new grounds – FreeSWITCH was already around. Why didn’t they? Why did Jajah remain with Asterisk – adding OpenSER/Kamailio into the mix later on? Why didn’t they move to a new platform? was it because they have loads of code developed? companies throw away code like dirty socks every other day – they had the resources. Fact remains, the service was alive for a long time, the company was bought out by Telefonica Digital at a price of $215 Million.

On the other hand, let’s take a company like Truphone (and pardon me James, I know you’re gonna kick my ass next time we meet). Truphone had changed technologies over the course of times many times. Each time, abandoning the previous tech and going for a new one. So did companies like Rebtel, Spikko, Skuku and others. Amazingly enough, none of them could be considered a massive success. Word on the market currently says that Truphone is looking for additional investors, as their existing ones aren’t willing to put in more cash. Spikko’s original model is totally gone and the company literally caved-in on itself – and same applies to many others.

So, what does it boil down to? is Asterisk better? is OpenSIPS better? – these are the wrong questions. The questions should be:

  1. Is your R&D lead actually knows the arena he’s treading in?
  2. Are your decisions based on actual investigation or just by whim?
  3. Are you completely aware of the various obstacles and challenges you’ll meet?
  4. Are you building your development and product on rapidly changing technology?
  5. Who is backing your choice? a proper business entity? or a mere group of people with an idea?

When it comes to choosing between Asterisk and FreeSWITCH, here are my reasons for choosing Asterisk over FreeSwtich any day:

  1. The ability to rapidly prototype any application is 5 times faster and 2 times more economical than FreeSWITCH
  2. The installation path for FreeSWITCH is much more complex and convoluted than Asterisk, making future maintenance a nightmare
  3. Digium is indeed a young company, but it sticks by its products and makes all efforts to make it the best it can – I always have someone to talk to
  4. Barracuda Networks is a well established company in the Storage/Security market – if you go to their website, their support for FreeSWITCH (CudaTel) isn’t there at all – does that mean something?
  5. Asterisk is a very reliable, dependable, predictable piece of code – it is something I can put my money on and know exactly what I’ll get, FreeSWITCH still isn’t

Tux, the Linux mascot

Image via Wikipedia

When I started using Open Source software, it seemed like all Open Source projects are driven by philanthropic agendas. We were all focused on “sticking it to the man” – showing all these would be software vendors that community driven projects can do just as well – if not better.

"When I was a child I spoke as a child I 
understood as a child I thought as a child; 
but when I became a man I put away childish 
things." - I Cor. xiii. 11.

Well, I’m not claiming that Open Source is childish – absolutely not, however, when you are a student you tend to look at things in one way, when you have a family to care for – you start looking at things differently. You remember these days in life when your dad said: “When you’ll have children you will understand” – well, now I do.

So, what am I rambling about exactly? I’ll tell you. The day before Passover I attended several meetings, which when I came back home had pissed me off immensely. I feel an urge to write all about these meetings, including who I met exactly, however – I won’t do that. However, I will give a rough idea of these.

Meeting 1 : A world recognized Mobile application player

I came into the meeting with this company, where the CTO of the company explained to me that they are looking to create an Asterisk based solution for their application’s users. My initial question was: how many users? what is your concurrency level? – The answer that I got was: “Oh, we don’t need something major, just a few lines of configurations in Asterisk config files in order to make this work”.

I left the meeting slightly pissed off, thinking to myself: “You bloody inconsiderate prick! You bring me to a meeting, spend my time – and then telling me that this is just a few lines of configuration. If it is that simple, why don’t you do it yourself? you have 20 developers in there, 4 IT people and god knows how many outsourced workers off-shore – if it was that simple, you would have done it already – so probably it isn’t – right?”

Meeting 2 : A well established IVR services vendor

The second meeting was with a well established IVR content vendor, this company runs around 16M minutes of inbound IVR traffic every month. They invited me in order to talk about expanding into new countries, wishing to get premium based access numbers in various countries. So, we started talking, and the guy indicates that he wants a certain kick-back payout, which I know is impossible – at least without charging the user more. Actually, the guy indicated that out of the interconnect fee, he wants to get almost 90% as a kick back.

Meeting 3 : A start up rendering IVR content

The third meeting was the most amazing one – these guys wanted to build an Asterisk system to server around 4000 concurrent channels – outsource the entire development to my company – and pay as a revenue share. When I asked for their business model, marketing plan, investors, profiles – I got a response of – we don’t yet have all of these, we only have an idea at this point that we want to implement.

Garage based companies are built by people who can do the work themselves, not the other way around.

Photograph of Mark Shuttleworth by Martin Schm...
Image via Wikipedia

At this point, you are probably asking yourself: “What does this have to do with the title?” – Well, all of these meetings had one thing in common. The people I met were under the impression that Open Source is some form of philanthropy. Or to be more exact, people who deal with the Open Source market are philanthropists. My question is this: “Why are we perceived as philanthropists? don’t we have families to care for? don’t we need to pay mortgages and bills just like everybody else?”. I guess when people read about the various Open Source entrepreneurs, such as Mark Shuttleworth – the immediately associate Open Source with Big Exists – this is not the case.

At some level, this is purely our fault – we educated people that Open Source is a highly economical methodology of solving technical challenges. No where along the way, had we educated the public that behind the model there are people, people who need to make a living.

If you are an Open Source consultant, developer, evangelist or just someone who may have an opinion on this, I’d love to read what you say.

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Last night I met with a friend of mine, Mr. Doron Ofek. For those of you not familiar with the Open Source market in Israel, Doron is the one person most affiliated with RedHat in Israel, as Doron championed the adaptation of RedHat Linux servers in various enterprises and government offices in Israel. Doron is currently heavily involved in the OpenMoko project and its adaptation and promotion in Israel.

We spent a great deal of time last night, talking about the various aspects of Open Source training in Israel – as both us provide various training services to this market sector. While I’m mostly focused on Asterisk Training, Doron is focused on Linux and XEN training. Both of us have some our training routes knee deep in Israel’s computer/IT training companies, namely Matrix, Hi-Tech College and John Bryce. We both talked about our discontent with their inability to promote and market Open Source training courses, simply because they have no idea what these are.

For example, while Hi-Tech college were incapable of signing up a single person for an Asterisk Bootcamp course, I had signed up 10 people to a my first bootcamp – without any marketing or sales budget, simply by putting out the word in the right places. Now, Hi-Tech college has a list of over 5000 people who studied Linux and other Open Source and networking subjects in their college – should have they been able to gather up at least 10 people as well (less then 0.5% of their entire customer base)? the answer is a definite yes, why were they unable to do so? simply because they have no idea what Asterisk is, how it can be marketed, how it can sold and how the customer should be approached.

Doron had indicated a similar issue with both John Bryce and Matrix – however, due to other reasons. However, Doron had managed to sell quite a few training courses for Linux on his own – without any help from the big boys – how did that happen? how is it possible that Doron and I succeeded where the other colleges had failed? how can that be? – then we both realized why eventually, proprietary software will die and the Open Source movement, over the course of time, will simply negate the presence of proprietary software – simply because Open Source people provide for better marketing strategies and methodologies.

Did we learn how to do marketing on school? are we marketing people by nature? the answer is NO – we learned how to market our belief in the Open Source initiative over the course of time. We championed Open Source in various enterprises, events, public speakings and other places. We were the “soap box” speaker at Hide Park’s Speakers Corner, we were that crazy man on the street screaming: “The world is coming to an end, repent!” (well, you know what I mean) – but all in all, as time progressed we learned how to market the Open Source initiative and our belief – the large enterprises are stuck in their own belief and stagnant marketing strategies and plans. As time progressed, the various “champions” left the large enterprises, simply because they got fed up with the wrongful methodology of these and followed their own path – and doing so with moderate success.

In my belief, as time will progress, the large enterprises will surely migrate to the Open Source, and I won’t be surprised if within a period of 5-6 years Microsoft will be shipping out a version of Windows that is based on the Linux Kernel – or another Open Source distibution methodology. Call me crazy, call me chaotic, call me a dreamer – but mark my words – this will happen.

As you probably already learned from a previous post, I’ve switched to Mandriva from my previous FedoraCore distro, running on my home PC and my old ThinkPad T42 notebook.

Recently, I’ve signed up with Cellcom, an Israeli cellular provider for data connection only. I’ve received a Sierra AirCard 880E, which installs easily on Windows and on MacOSX, however, Linux was a little tricky. While reading several sources around the internet, dealing mainly with some shell based scripts – Mandriva is different – simply requires a bit to know the Mandriva framework in order to get it working right.

Step 1: Know where your AirCard is

As the AirCard is inserted to the computer, Mandriva will automatically load the respected kernel module and will automatically assign the /dev/ttyUSB0 device to it.

Step 2: Mandriva Control Center

In the Mandriva control center, launch the network configuartion tool for creating a new connection. Here’s the trick, you need to create a “POTS” connection, not a 3G/EDGE connection. The reason is that the EDGE/3G functionality is maintained by the AirCard itself, Linux has nothing to do it.

Step 3: Configure your connection

I named my connection as Cellcom and setup the following as my dial-in number: *99# – this is very important. Select PAP/CHAP as your login type and set both the username and password to be “cellcom”.

From this point onwards, you should be just fine and up on the network in no time 🙂

While Open Source projects around the world gather up the troops and become recognized for what they are: highly polished, highly effective, extremely economical products – the situation in Israel is fairly different. We’ve all heard about companies like Zimbra (recently acquired by Yahoo), MySQL (recently acquired by SUN) and others, which had struck BIG TIME. However, the situation in Israel differs immensely.

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel at the Garage Geeks, to discuss the various aspects of Open Source sustainability. I’ve made it my business to build a business completely surrounded by Open Source, devoted to the promotion and adaptation of Open Source – and when possible, the promotion of Open Source licensing models and the understanding of what they mean.

In one of my previous posts, I’ve indicated that Open Source projects are highly exploited in an illegal manner in Israel, thus, making Open Source business in Israel a high target for Open Crooks. The question immediately arises, how can an Open Source project become successful? In addition to that, what are the factors that make a good Open Source project a grand Open Source project.

Step 1: Features

For an Open Source project to become popular and frequently used, it should have an extensive range of features, which is constantly being upgraded and enhanced. Taking from my own personal favorite, let’s take a look at Asterisk – the Open Source PBX. Over the course of the past 5 years, Asterisk had evolved to include hundreds of features. Each new feature in an Open Source product expose it to a new market. With Asterisk, the introduction of an Answering machine detection tool had introduced it to the automatic dialer and contact center market. The introduction of LumenVox speech recognition had introduced it to the ASR market, and so on.

While features are important, it is also very important to make sure the features included are features that the community and users require. While it is really cool to have a mod_kitchensink for the Apache web server, no one really uses it.

Step 2: Community

In order for an Open Source product to become successful, it MUST have a vibrant and active community – better yet, more than one. While an active developer community is important for the advancement of the project, a set of auxiliary communities is required. A users community is a must, rendering support and usage ideas to its members. No less important is a business oriented community, one that speaks to the manager level people, those making the decisions in organizations. Tap into that level, and the Open Source project is now gaining followers from other side of the border.

Managers tend to be highly traditional in thinking, not inclined to utilize Open Source at first try. A vibrant business community of the Open Source project can do wonders to the project, especially with its promotion and adaptation into existing and new business structures.

Step 3: Funding and Sustainability

Funding an Open Source project doesn’t entirely mean – MONEY! Well, eventually it does mean money, but not in the normal way we think or work with money. Open Source developers don’t work primarily for the money, the driving force behind Open Source developers is different. Question be: “If Open Source developers aren’t motivated by money, why would you need funding?” – the reason is simple, the surroundings of an Open Source project require funding.

The surroundings of an Open Source project mainly include the following: public events, developer meetings, servers, hosting, travel fares, participating in trade shows and others. All of the above are generally associated with Marketing, however, marketing an Open Source project is sometimes as important as the project itself. If we are to examine the growth of the Linux community and user base in the world, we are mainly thankful to RedHat in its early days (1996-2001), closely followed by Debian with its recent off spring Ubuntu (2006-2008). Imagine, you can now go into an IBM dealer and ask to buy your notebook with Linux, how cool is that? how did that happen? did the world suddenly realise Linux is better than Windows? – the answer is NO! The marketing efforts of these companies had proven worth while, as the concept of using Linux as a desktop became common in recent years.

Step 4: Training and Certification

If your Open Source project is UberGeek targeted only, than you have a very slim chance of making it big. Lowering the bar on the requirements for the adaptation of an Open Source project is highly important and can be mostly achieved by training and certification. The training makes it possible for people to learn more about an Open Source project, while the certification makes the project seem more desirable and exclusive.

Why do people seek M$ and Ci$co certifications? simple, because they know these certifications mean something to manager level people and decision makers. The certification is a written (actually printed) proof that you know what you are talking about and that you are truly a professional working in the field of that Open Source project.

Conclusion:

If all of the above are met, you are surely on your way to create the next big Open Source project – and you are on your way to world fame and rock-star feeling.