Elon University

Panel Session: The Future of Open Source and the Internet

Sharing collective intelligence at the service of all humankind

Brief description: Many of the greatest innovations of the 21st century have been made possible by the movement toward broad-based participation and collaboration. Wikipedia, the Human Genome Project and Facebook are just a few examples of harnessing participation and transparency of process to deliver a successful outcome. As a vehicle for economic and social change, the power of open source is immeasurable in changing how people learn, how developers create and how companies do business. This panel will explore the future of open source and how society can unlock the value of information by sharing it. The panel was asked to isolate the key challenges and opportunities in the looming future for open source online and work to identify some specific action steps that can be taken today to work for a better tomorrow. Session organizer was Tom Rabon, executive vice president for corporate affairs for Red Hat, previously with Lucent and AT&T. Panelists included Paul Jones, founder and director of ibiblio and a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Chris DiBona, open source and public sector programs manager for Google, he oversees license compliance and supports the open source developer community through programs such as the Google Summer of Code, and he is formerly an editor at Slashdot and founder of Damage Studios; Brian Bouterse, research associate at NC State University specializing in cloud services, networking and distributed computing.

Details of the session

With Linux creator Red Hat just down the street from the Raleigh Convention Center, open source has been a huge part of the Web’s development, and the Future of Open Source Panel reiterated that fact.

Chaired by Red Hat Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs Tom Rabon, the panel included three men with from diverse business and technology backgrounds:

Brian Bouterse – Research Associate, Secure Open Systems Initiative with NC State University and Networking and Systems Specialist, The Friday Institute
Chris DiBona – Open Source and Public Programs Manager, Google
Paul Jones – Director, ibilio.org
To show how far they’ve come, the panelists spoke about their first experiences with the Internet. Bouterse, the youngest of the panelists, first used the Internet as a 10-year-old and became fascinated by the “button with the little world” that took him outside of the AOL realm. DiBona first experienced the Internet through a Compuserve game and remembers arguing with a sevice provider for a faster connection.

Jones has a unique story in which he had Tim Berners-Lee demonstrate his protocol from his rejected paper when he visited Jones at the University of North Carolina.

“Had a couple of beers and then we installed it and it almost worked,” he said. “Then we had a couple of more beers and it did work.”

The panelists also spoke about the start of their involvement in open source. DiBona said he became involved with Linux in college and that “it’s really nice being able to control your own destiny.” Similarly, Bouterse said the availability of the Red Hat Linux tools gave him the access and ability to become interested.

On the other hand, Jones said he was given Unix by AT&T years ago, and then it was taken away. AT&T then issued a statement restricting any programmer who had seen Unix from working on other operating systems because they had been “mentally contaminated.” This restriction, of course, did not last very long.

The panelists then evaluated the state of open source in its growth and development. DiBona said he’d put it “at the knee,” and Bouterse said it was somewhere in between a toddler and a teenager. Jones said the base ideas were good, but not enough projects “fork” and take a creative turn.

Jones said strong intellectual property laws will continue to help the growth of open source because it will encourage people to create their own code rather than stealing from someone else. He compared open source to American literature in the country’s early days; publishers preferred to print British literature because it was not copyrighted or the copyright was not enforceable.

The panelists had differing views about the government’s role in open source. Bouterse said open source is the correct mechanism for transparency, while Jones emphasized the roles of procurement, bondable stock and availability, and drawing on subsidized intellectual endeavors.

When asked how the public could help sustain and grow open source, Bouterse advised people to get involved in any way they can. If they cannot create content, they can become users. If they do not become users, Bouterse advises them to “take a moment and recognize when you are benefiting from open source.”

Jones takes it one step futher, asking the public to honor content creators by attributing their work to encourage them to keep contributing.

“I wouldn’t want to live in a world without open source,” Bouterse said.

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