Make Web Not War 2011 - VancouverThis weekend I spoke at the Make Web Not War conference. It was a fun experience, put on by Microsoft -- it tried to build some bridges with the open-source community.

The morning started out strong with a talk on .NET microframeworks, and IE9's implementation of canvas (*cough* finally *cough*) ... after lunch Aaron McGowan presented some of the work on Emitter.ca / Wardrep and the architecture behind it.

I skipped back to the mainstream track (from the developers track) after that and David Hume presented on Open Government / Open Data in BC.

After David's talk, Myself, David Hume, Sarah Schacht and Dan Bonab took questions from Donna Horn and the audience on Open Government / Open Data and the challenges facing a digital citizenry.

After the panel discussion was a democamp session and despite challenges with the networking I presented Mycelium.ca over an iPhone tether... Nanaimo's Jeff Jacob presented their open-data catalog, Aaron McGowan demo'd emitter.ca.. others were good, but we missed Dan Bonab's presentation due to the conference's networking failure. Hopefully we'll get to see his WP7 app demo'ed properly at another conference.

After the demo-camp was a break, and when I returned there was a panel discussion on open source and Microsoft... This panel was embarrassing for both communities, hard-line Stallmanism was on display, but so was an offensive display from MS on funding open-source.  As an open-source community we really need to rise above this type of thinking. The GPL is not about forcing contribution, its about maintaining the freedom to tinker. This seemed completely lost on the panel, with discussions that came off largely as 'what have you done for me lately' towards Microsoft's contributions.... talk of money and percentage that should be spent contributing was as offensive to me as was the pro-Microsoft contention that they should pay the open-source community to build-in support for MS products.

The only good question to come out of the panel was a question "What should Microsoft do to support open source" which was inverted into "What should open source do to support Microsoft"... which is the real question.

Microsoft would do well to understand that they cannot buy a community. It's like buying friends. Yes, you might be able to pay community members to use your products, even present apps built on those products, but at the end of the day they will never evangelize your products because you gave them money, access or speaking opportunity. No, open-source is a social network, its unique, and business is a by-product, not a main function of open-source. Conversely, complaining that Microsoft doesn't contribute to your GPL product is similarly hilarious and counterproductive -- change your license if you want patent-trolling companies to contribute. Numerous big companies contribute to the wonderful Zend Framework (and I do too) ... its BSD licensed with a CLA... No one is afraid of the license, and we all get to benefit from open-source. To be crystal clear, anyone can use Zend Framework without contributing and not only not feel guilty about that, but proud that they are using collaboratively developed software. If you create something cool, push it back to the project -- but don't for a second think you can't use OSS without offering value-add... that misses the entire point of an open-source community that forgoes the concept of personal property, restrictive copyrights and commercialization.

As to Microsoft's motives for the conference, I'm still unclear. The [claimed now former] motto of Embrace, Extend, Extinguish leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as does each negative blog post by the IE team members... the registering of Firefox as a keyword on Google is another dick move... so while there's clearly progressives at Microsoft, there's conversely still people who are very much of the old Microsoft competitive mindset -- especially in the web arena.

That said, recent experience with Nik Garkusha around trying to get access to Mars and Moon data has shown that while there are definite "capture" dangers inherent in Microsoft becoming an open-data partner with government agencies, there is also a significant movement within Microsoft to break down barriers and build bridges with the open source community. Nik, whom unfortunately could not attend MakeWebNotWar has been extremely helpful, and was definitely missed at the conference as his moderate voice and 'just gets it' understanding of open-source was sorely needed on this panel.

In all it was a good conference, and those who boycotted it, or claimed it was 'monopolist-washing', really did miss out. The conference was decidedly not pro-microsoft, and contrary opinions were definitely allowed and even encouraged. In-all it was a positive experience and I look forward to seeing what better collaboration can come out of it.

[P.S. Thanks to Kris Krug for the photo.]