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A Personal Report on the 4th Open Source Conference

July 19-20, 2000  Monterey, CA

Reported by Katsuhiko Momoi
Date: 7/24/2000

I attended the 2-day Open Source Conference in Monterey primarily to check out Mozilla track sessions but also to gauge how the Open Source movement itself is going. The following represents my **personal** takes on some of the things I observed at the conference.

Overall Impressions

The 4th Open Source Conference attracted nearly 2000 people. The biggest draw seemed to be the Perl/Python crowd. Their session rooms were much bigger than those allocated for other meetings. A bunch of people attended from Netscape/ In addition to presenters, Mitchell Baker, Brendan Eich (Michael Ang, formerly at NS), Paul Everitt (Zope), Rob Ginda, Scott Collins, Alec Flett, Frank Hecker, and Ben Goodger, I recognized Dawn Endico, Gagan Saksena, Eric Pollman, Chris Hoffman, and a few others.

The browser of the choice among the presenters -- not just in the Mozilla track but also in the Key Note speeches -- was overwhelmingly Mozilla. Our share at the conference was probably in the above 95% range. People and exhibitors were mostly running Linux and that was probably the reason. But there was also a consensus emerging that Mozilla is critically important to the Open Source Community and a lot of people in this crowd are using Mozilla. In the network room, I saw several people trying to download nightly builds on a not so fast connection. About the only people I noticed who were using IE were sales clerks at O'Reilly booths browsing their book titles.

Mozilla sessions went very well. The first day's sessions -- six in all -- were very well-attended. The state of Mozilla and the general architecture sessions were packed and people sat on the floor to listen. Other sessions also attracted the room full of attendees. There were 2 sessions on Mozilla on the 2nd day and the crowd was somewhat smaller but overall well-attended.

Many key people were stressing the importance of Mozilla in the Open Source movement at this juncture in time. (See below summaries of Key Note speeches by AndyHertzfeld, intro to StarOffice announcement, and Tim O'Reilly.)

Key Note speech by Andy Hertzfeld (7/19/2000): Bringing it All Back Home: Open Source & the PC Revolution

  • After tracing the history of personal computer revolution in the last 30 years and Apple's role in it and noting that these early pioneers like Steve Wozniak had much in common with today's Open Sourcers, he worked in the following points among others:
    • Programmers need to pay attention to real users and design software that helps people.  Need for non programmer UI people and programmers to work together.
    • Net-based services rather than desktop computing will be what will define the near-term future
    • He did his presentation using Mozilla and said that Mozilla is critically important to the Open Source Movement at this juncture. He urged people to get involved.
    • His company's EAZEL Linux desktop interface is built on GNOME.
Sun StarOffice announcement (7/19/2000)
  • Right after Andy Hertzfeld talk, The MC  introduced the next speaker by saying that
    • Even though Sun gets a bum rap sometimes, Sun has 40-50 engineers working on Mozilla currently. He asked rhetorically how many companies can claim that level of support for Mozilla other than Netscape.
    • Marco Boerries, vice president and general manager of webtop and application software at Sun then made an announcement that StarOffice 6.0 -- greatly re-written from the 5.x code base and CJK-enabled will become open source on Friday, 10/13/2000. They gave away StarOffice 5.2 CD at the conference. Sun had a big promotion booth giving away CDs and T-shirts for this occasion. This announcement was met with great applause. The open source software will be managed by
Key Note Speech by Tim O'Reilly: "Open Source Challenges" (7/20/2000)
  • Tim O'Reilly noted that there is currently healthy support among the Open Source community for Linux, Perl, and Apache and the like. Stressing that networked-services rather than desktop computing will be the key for the future, he noted that Mozilla presents a concern for him because
    • Support among the Open Source community for Mozilla has not been as great due to an impression that Netscape engineers spend the majority of their time optimizing Windows code and not so much on Unix/Linux code. Right or wrong this is the common perception. He said that the evidence is mounting, however, that Mozilla will be a crucial part of the Open Source future.
    • He cited some companies like Intel using Mozilla in devices. He said that Zope, Application Server environment, is developing Zope Mozilla for its web-based content management. Zope is attracting a lot of attention these days.
    • He urged people to recognize how important it is to have a great open source browser and that Mozilla should get much more support from the Open Source community.
  • He then talked about not only sharing desktop top application source codes but possibly sharing web-based application sources. For example, would it not be a good idea to share "Map It" software in the open source?
  • He mentioned that one of the new emerging paradigms is "chat". For example, Napster is a form of chat in which the chat centers around the question of  "do you have this piece of music"?
Special un-announced presentation by Eric Raymond: "Great Brain Race" (something like this title)  (7/20/2000).
  • Raymond introduced the notion of  "in-corporated"  vs " ex-corporated" workplace of the future. In an older economic model we are used to, we created an organization like a company to create a walled-community in which you can exchange goods, services and ideas inexpensively. In the network-connected world we live in today and tomorrow, this economic calculation will no longer be true. In fact, the Open Source movement has proven that "ex-corporated" people -- those who are associated with a project out of personal interests rather than financial interests -- can be as efficiently involved (low cost) in a project as the "in-corporated" people.
  • His main point was that techno-society of today and tomorrow promises to provide good earnings to technologically "skilled" people.
  • Thus "skilled" people can earn enough to support themselves and will get involved in things that interest them personally. This is what we have found out in various Open Source projects. That is, "skilled" people are not motivated by money alone any more.
  • The great puzzle is how we can keep such an "ex-corporated" segment interested in a project for a long haul.
  • Raymond suggests that the key is to offer something "ex-corporated" people can be passionate about. It is not the monetary reward but the passion that will drive "skilled" people. Corporations which do not realize this and can offer only financial rewards will be at a great disadvantage in the 21st century.
  • Raymond mentioned that there are 2 ways to answer the question, "Should you not be afraid of people plagiarizing your open software code and become your competitor?"
    • A timid answer:
      • Yes, this is possible but the benefits of sharing knowledge and gaining "ex-corporated" contributions outweigh that risk.
    • A daring answer:
      • Plagiarizing is a costly proposition because any software worth stealing requires great amount of learning time to catch up to the present. While the plagiarizer is trying to bring out the software which is based on old technology, your open source engineers have already moved on to the next future putting further distance between yourselves and the plagiarizer. Plagiarizers are never able to catch up with the open source movers.
      • Thus, from a business point of view, plagiarizing is a losing proposition.
Mozilla sessions: (Brief impressions.)

One thing that struck me is that  the people who presented their talks really knew what they were talking about. These 8 speakers represented Mozilla projects extremely well. These presentations should become available at

  • State of Mozilla: Mitchell Baker
    • The room was small but oblong and had bad acoustics but the crowd of 100 people or so attentively listened to Mitchell's address. This was a very good intro to where Mozilla is today. One could tell the high level of interest. All of the Wednesday's sessions attracted good crowds but this one and the next architecture overview had people sitting on the floor.
  • Inside the Lizard: Mozilla Architecture Overview: Michael Ang and Brendan Eich
    • I don't know if these dynamic duo ever did this together but their joint talk, Michael and Brendan talking and commenting on each other's talk, was very effective.
    • Together they presented a concise yet very informative overview of Mozilla architecture explaining things like XPCOM, XPIDL, XPCONNECT, NGLayout, etc.
    • This was the session a lot of people were interested in. People raised a number of questions and this session naturally extended into the lunch hour. Nobody seemed to mind.
  • Zope Mozilla Initiative: Paul Everrit
    • Zope is an open source application server. Zope Mozilla is a content-management software built on Mozilla. It lets you manage/revise/update any web-based content as if it is there locally. Such contents are presented in natural tree views with a variety of means to organize the content better in the Zope environment. Contents can be web pages, source codes, etc.
    • Zope Mozilla seemed to be attracting a lot of people who normally attend only scripting language sessions partly because it heavily uses Python. But Zope as Application Server environment seems to be appealing to a lot of attendees as well.  Zope Mozilla promises to be a showpiece application built on Mozilla.
  • Writing a Mozilla application with XUL and JS: ChatZilla. Rob Ginda.
    • Rob presented a concrete tutorial type talk on how to use XUL to build an application on Mozilla.
    • This was a very good example of how XUL is used on a small scale application and he also touched on topics like XUL overlays, chrome registry, chrome url, etc. This would be a good paper to read for anyone wanting to write a JS based application on XUL.
  • How to build a pluggable component: Scott Collins.
    • Standing in for Mike Shaver, Scott explained Mozilla's component architecture and how a developer can build a component which can be used/plugged into by Mozilla. He explained various requirements for building a pluggable component. A good technical talk.
  • An in-depth look at Mozilla Mail/News: Alec Flett & Seth Spitzer
    • Alec gave an excellent (I'm biased toward Mail/News naturally) overview of Mail/News architecture explaining in the process that Mail/News is the largest piece of application built on nearly all of Mozilla's technologies. His explanation of how RDF is used in Mail/News was very informative.
  • Open Source Crypto and Mozilla: Frank Hecker
    • Frank gave an excellent summary of where we are in the Crypto project. He explained what Crypto services/modules are available and how they are architecturally built. He explained how the PSM (Personal Security manager) libraries built on top of NSS (Network Security Services) worked. He also touched on how Mozilla complies with new the US export rules, some of the upcoming projects like S/MIME toolkits, etc. Lots of good info here. People seem to be interested in S/MIME but its implementation is a long-term goal at this point. A lot of work is to be done by iPlanet. Anyone interested in Security issues and want to learn what's currently available and what should be coming in the near future should look at Frank's presentation when it becomes available online.
  • Many Faces of Mozilla: Ben Goodger
    • An excellent intro to skins/themes. Ben covered what one needs to know to write a skin, i.e. CSS and ability to understand different elements available in XUL -- though not necessarily the ability to write in XUL.
    • Ben later privately talked of the need to create a much more hands-on tutorial with examples and actual codes connected to them in such a way as to explain how CSS changes can affect the look and feel of elements.

Some ideas/suggestions:

  • Mozilla had an independent track of 8 sessions in all and a lot of people were interested. I wish we had a booth and/or other promotions to take advantage of high level of interests people have shown in Mozilla. Key noters were solidly behind Mozilla and there were non-Mozilla sessions which touched on or talked about Mozilla. This was a promo opportunity!
  • There probably should have been a freewheeling BOF in the evening to catch the interested crowd.
  • A key note speech by a Mozilla guru -- don't have to be as colorful as Eric Raymond but an engaging personality would help.
  • The acoustics in some of these rooms was pretty bad. There should be a loudspeaker.
  • We should make these presentations available from the web site also. --> Now there is a page by Rob Ginda: