The Linux Foundation recently announced that they’d be holding a new get-together, LinuxCon and a few days later IDG announced that they were transforming LinuxWorld into OpenSource World. My question: Will you be going to either one? Or, to any of the other major open-source shows like OSCon?
Before saying more, let me say that I’m friends with everyone at the Linux Foundation and I’m on the LinuxWorld, now OpenSource World, Program Committee. I’m also a technology journalist who specializes in Linux, so I’ll be at many of the Linux and open-source shows.
The two moves were not, to the best of my knowledge connected. LinuxCon isn’t a trade show. It’s meant to be more of a technical conference. OpenSource World has been transforming into a business trade show for years now. This name change was no surprise. Businesses’ interest in open source has expanded well beyond Linux so the new name makes perfect sense.
I’m not at all sure though I’ll see many of you at these shows. While I hate, and I mean hate, travel, I travel to shows anyway because nothing can replace face-to-face meetings. Social networks, e-mail, IM, they’re all great. They all help us share ideas and work together, but they can’t replace the decisive decision making that can happen at real meetings.
I’m not talking about the talk-talk meetings that so many of us and Dilbert’s characters waste hours on. I’m talking about meeting like the Portland meeting that lead to KDE and GNOME developers realizing that they could get more done working in common than against each other. Now, not all meetings are like that, but it seems to me that in open-source circles, perhaps because open-source and Linux developers and users use Internet communications so much, our face-to-face meetings do tend to be more effective than most.
So why am I pessimistic about these get-togethers? Because, it’s bloody expensive.
Even before our recent economic crash, flying has become increasingly more costly. So have hotels, the price of gas, on and on it goes. Can you afford to go to a show? Can your company afford to send you to a show? The answer for most of us and our businesses is increasingly ‘no.’ Now, can you afford to go to multiple shows? It’s hard for me to see how many of us will be able to justify the expense.
At the same time, business travel has become increasingly annoying. I honestly can’t recall the last time I went on a business trip without at least one flight segment being delayed. As for the flights themselves, well not everyone has my incredible bad luck with cockpit fires and the like, but even without that kind of fun and excitement, flying has become a pure misery.
Are there benefits from paying the cash and putting up with travel? Yes. Is it worth it though?
I think, I’m sorry to say to my friends both at the Linux Foundation and IDG, that Linux and open-source trade shows won’t see great turnouts in the next 18-months. While I think there are particularly strong reasons for people to go to these kinds of shows, I suspect most people won’t be able to justify it in the kind of concrete benefits that CFOs and CEOs want to hear.
This isn’t a problem unique to Linux and open-source shows. It’s a problem for all such shows. The pity is that Linux and open-source developers and users have the most to lose by not going to such gatherings.