All Things Open 2018: 20 years on, open source is ready to tackle harder issues.

All Things Open 2018 was both a celebration of how far (and how mainstream) open source technology has come over the past two decades, as well as a pointer to the movement's future.

All Things Open 2018: 20 years on, open source is ready to tackle harder issues.

On Twitter, I said I'd "soon" post my write-up of All Things Open 2018 (henceforth ATO2018, like the hashtag).

Alas, life, travel and sinus infections all conspired to delay this post.  Finally, I'm back.

In a fit of courage, I submitted two potential breakout sessions when ATO2018 opened its Call for Speakers.  While my talks weren't selected, I was pleasantly surprised by the generous offer of free admission to all days of the conference due to the overwhelming volume and quality of submissions. Unfortunately, I was unprepared for the vast expansion of the conference's tracks and quality speakers, which led me to make hard choices between certain keynotes and breakout sessions.  The knowledge that many sessions were recorded is a great feature that I plan to make use of as soon as the videos are posted online.

ATO2018 was both a celebration of how far (and how mainstream) open source technology has come over the past two decades, as well as a pointer to the movement's future. Yes, technology continues to be the main focus of the conference, with plenty of workshops, coding sessions and case studies during the breakout sessions, but also featured were serious conversations on inclusion and diversity in open source tech and inner source - the use of open source principles on company culture.

Keynote speakers focused on the nigh-tsunami of new open source developers and contributors emerging from developing countries, underprivileged backgrounds and all walks of life outside of the "Silicon Valley" norm.  It's hard to deny that many of the stalwarts shown in "The Faces of Open Source" exhibit are male, white and/or more senior; something that will be changing very quickly with open source tech finally making significant headway outside of North America.  Focus was given on welcoming community management such that these new users and developers interact with and contribute to projects, rather than just freeloading on solutions.  Additionally, the Linux 101 track continued its robust education efforts to groom newbies into open source pros.

The word "collaboration" proved to be the meat of many conversations in the conference hall; not in an ambiguous, amorphous manner, but backed by booths such as the Fintech Open Source Foundation, the Linux Foundation, the Open Source Initiative and the Software Freedom Conservancy. Presentations from speakers representing non-traditional tech companies such as MetLife appropriately showed that "Even An Old Elephant Can Learn To Dance" through the use of open source tech and, eventually, inner sourcing.  No longer were projects to be ruled with an iron fist and guarded even more fiercely by grizzled, veteran sole developers; other views were encouraged. Documentation was no longer to be an arcane rite of passage akin to decoding an alchemist's cookbook and crafting user interfaces was exalted as highly as programming language choices.

While the use and adoption of open source technology has certainly exploded, it hasn't done so purely through altruism. Speakers such as long-time open source advocate, Vicky Brasseur  and blockchain evangelist, Andreas M. Antonopoulos still encourage wariness regarding companies and even more nefarious actors trying to undermine open source solutions, hedge against transparency and eliminate privacy. Talks on open source and copyleft licensing continue unabated in the face of companies trying to wrangle the technology for their own good, while withholding major gains from the broader community. Many in the new wave of developers and contributors are looking for VC funding and paychecks with the least costly inputs, not standards and transparency. A lot of development is now taking place on cloud platforms, where open source implementations are subtly tweaked in ways that run afoul of the spirit of the movement (and making containers mandatory for any cross-platform application).

Furthermore, I found that the conference failed to adequately cover major national and international policy concerns, despite at least one presentation by Jamie Williams of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I am leery that some open source projects and apps built on cloud solutions are going to get stern notices from the European Union about violations of that bloc's General Data Protection Regulation, especially AI implementations. In addition, smaller US open source tech companies are missing a grand opportunity to solve the data protection issues of businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean - that entire market is almost forced to go to Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS and even Facebook for its needs, even when cloud solutions have already been proven to be inadequate defence. For a world that is more interconnected than ever despite some countries' efforts, such ignorance will be dangerous. I am hopeful, however, that such matters will be talking points for next year; maybe featured in some "Policy" sessions?

Overall, ATO2018 admirably toed the line between the celebration of open source technology as a mainstream, business-approved manner of developing software and hardware, while informing and opening the way for many more developers, maintainers and volunteers to come. With some increased examination of the effect of global policies, regulations and trade agreements on open source development, I expect All Things Open 2019 to be even bigger and better.