OSCON Wrap-up: Leaving a legacy

By Kevin Shockey
July 26, 2010

Heading up to this year's O'Reilly Open Source Convention, I really didn't know what to expect. You see, it'd been a while (2006) since I last attended OSCON. Not because I didn't want to, but because my life had been turned upside down by Crohn's disease. When I last attended I was Editor in Chief of Tux magazine and my disease was under control. However soon after OSCON06, Tux shut down and my condition became much worse.

I'm now permanently disabled by Crohn's and I'll have to admit that I haven't been able to devote much time to open source. As I adjusted to life as a full time dad, I also become aware of the ever-present reminders of my own mortality. This soon lead to an overwhelming interest in leaving a legacy for my children. Over time I begin to feel a little better and my interest to publish my collective writings intersected with my old appreciation for open source.

It was strange re-entering the world of open source after such an extended break. Participating on this year's organizing committee helped fill in some of the gaps, but I still felt unsure about what might have changed since I last contributed. My general impression was that open source was still growing, but not by much. In the few years of my absence, many of the open source companies which had huge announcements at previous conventions were mostly silent now. Things within the Linux world also seemed relatively quiet, even though Android was a smashing success.

Now that I've made the 7,800 mile round trip journey to OSCON, I think I can summarize my experience while simultaneously drawing some conclusions about open source using my own life as inspiration. When I was with Tux, one of our objectives was to help people find ways to accomplish specific tasks using Linux and open source software. Our favorite type article was how to do x (some task) with y (some open source tool).

During Tim O'Reilly's keynote presentation on Wednesday, I heard a little bit of myself. I heard Tim suggesting that the open source community begin to think of its' own legacy. During the last twenty years open source has proven itself; so for any who had any doubts, open source software was here to stay. However, having achieved acceptance in market after market, as a group, we're beginning to ask what's next?

Just as he has done for the last twenty years, Tim had already anticipated this period and had a response ready, a call to action. Taking Tux's objective even farther, what Tim called for, what I witnessed from the health and government tracks, and what I heard from many of the keynote speakers, was the open source community asking itself, "how can we fix x (any of the world's challenges) with open source?"

No longer is there any sense in proving that open source is a viable solution for specific computing tasks, as a community we've matured to a new point where we now see social, political, medical, or governmental problems as the itches we must scratch. Especially for those, upon whose shoulders we now stand, who successfully made open source what it is today, they too are asking what more can I do to assure my legacy? What can we do now, that will be seen in twenty years as the first steps we took as a society, to deliver the "open source" solutions that finally brought an end to some of the world's toughest problems?

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