Protect choice and freedom in technology by choosing open source solutions | Opensource.com

Protect choice and freedom in technology by choosing open source solutions

Posted 21 Dec 2012 by 

Jason Hibbets (Red Hat)
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I remember first meeting Jeffrey A. "Jam" McGuire in person at DrupalCon Denver. We talked about communities, music, and shared ways to show why open source is a better way. Even before meeting him, I could tell from my first interaction with him that he was passionate about Drupal and open source. He's becoming an in-demand Keynote speaker and presenter at Drupal and other business and software events around the world. He's already a staple for the Intro to DrupalCon session and always seems to incorporate music and singing as part of the performance.

It is imperative that we choose open source because we cede freedom of choice and control when we take the proprietary path. —Jam, the Manager of Community Affairs at Acquia

When your world revolves around open source, it's easy to forget how radical some of the concepts of open source such as transparency, sharing, collaboration, and rapid prototyping may appear to folks outside of the broader open source community. That's what Jam discovered during his journey while learning Drupal and evangelizing for open source.

His experience with Drupal and the lessons he's learned from being involved in one of the most vibrant open source communities are valuable to both newbies and seasoned veterans. Because it's how we innovate that impacts the rate at which innovation can occur, and it's a safe bet that innovating openly, using the open source philosophy, can achieve faster, more reliable results.

Jam has a lot of open source stories to share and I caught up with him to capture a few of them.

The Basics

  • Name: Jeffrey A. "Jam" McGuire
  • Opensource.com username: jam
  • Location: Cologne, Germany
  • Occupation/Employer/Position: Drupal and open source evangelist at Acquia, Manager of Community Affairs
  • Open source connection: I started out using Drupal on a dual-boot Ubuntu laptop... the good old days!
  • Favorite open source tool or application: Drupal, obviously :-)
  • Favorite opensource.com channel: Government and Business

Community spotlight

Open up to us.

Following my path as a musician, I moved to Cologne, Germany in 1995 to study at the conservatory. Around 2005, a chamber music group I was in needed a website. Since I couldn't afford a "web designer," Robert Douglass, who lived in Bonn at the time, helped me get started learning HTML, CSS, and eventually Drupal.

I went to my first DrupalCon in 2006 in Brussels. There were around 200 of us at that conference, the size of an average regional DrupalCamp these days. I handed the Drupal Project Lead, Dries Buytaert‚ $20 at the door and his wife gave me a t-shirt. In comparison, there were around 1800 people at DrupalCon Munich last August and more than 3000 at DrupalCon Denver in March 2012.

In any case, following Brussels I was hooked on Drupal and on the people in its amazing community. I continued to study Drupal in my spare time and eventually landed in the trenches as a Drupal site-builder/developer. From there, I got the job as Acquia's in-house documentation writer in 2008 and became "Manager of Community Affairs" there in 2011. My job now lets me work with and support the amazing Drupal community I love, and promote it and the open source philosophy around the world.

What open tools and data help you get things done, and how do they help you?

I use Drupal and the LAMP stack technologies for most of what I do on the web. Audacity as part of my production chain for the Acquia podcast, some flavor of Open Office regularly, VLC for video, plus all of the open source stuff that comes with my daily driver-OS, Mac OS X. I have an Ubuntu netbook at home and have often installed it on older computers to help friends and neighbors out of a bind. It is such an eye-opener for people to learn there's an affordable, legal, and safer way to meet their computer needs. GNU/Linux in the form of Ubuntu lets them keep using older PCs longer and a simple way to "clean up" the mess caused by infected Windows installations!

What do you wish were more open?

The last 5+ years of my life have often been intense on a personal level. I feel I've been forced to grow up in many ways: lost friends and relatives, seen a lot of folks in upheavals of one kind or another. That "growing up" has been influenced and shaped by my parallel journey into open source. Openness, collaboration, sustainability, and wanting to make a positive difference are now a visceral part of me.

I wish people's minds were more open to discussing, learning, and sharing. So many people still work in secret, hold things back, make a quick buck at the expense of tomorrow to get ahead ... I dream of getting them to a Drupal event in person. Seeing how Drupalists give their time and share their knowledge to strengthen Drupal for everyone is inspiring.

In the Drupal community, we hotly debate, passionately argue, and even fight about things (technical and otherwise), but the goal is always coming to the best solution to the problem at hand. People can learn a lot from how the Drupal community deals with tough questions and conflict and comes out stronger and better for it.

A debate within the Drupal community is free of the win-at-all-costs, damn-the-consequences partisanship and the resulting disrespect that typify many of today's public debates. The quest for technical excellence in Drupal is devoid of victimization and vilification. Open source, as practiced with the Drupal Community, is not a competition. It is collaboration.

If public debate about important issues of our time were to be treated as an honest effort to find the best solution, instead of all-out war—rhetorical or otherwise—we'd get more positive things done. Open source governance mechanisms offer us the chance to make a difference.

What are the biggest challenges to openness that you encounter, either at work or in your life?

Convenience is the most significant factor when we're talking about software and technology. Closed platforms, such as Apple's iOS, offer polished functionality and app ecosystems. Those attributes make them an attractive choice. Along the way, though, we lose choice, and with it we lose control over our data, privacy, and flexibility.

On a personal level, I run into interesting situations when I speak about business ideas or other kinds of projects with non-open source folk. My baseline approach is that transparency, sharing ideas, collaboration, and iterative improvement are by far the best way of getting things done. I forget how radical these ideas sound out in the trenches among musicians, businesses, and elsewhere. It makes for some interesting and awkward dinner-party-moments... It also creates great opportunities for open source evangelism!

Why choose the open source way?

It is imperative that we choose open source because we cede freedom of choice and control when we take the proprietary path. We also risk being subjected to de facto legislation-by-code. Through the open source philosophy we can more fully exercise personal choice. Open source gives us the best path to innovation and rapid development. Working with a vendor such as Acquia while relying on open source software like Drupal gives me the freedom to migrate away from Drupal easily if I choose to. I own my data and it's stored in open, standard formats. Try doing that with Apple or Microsoft.

An added benefit of this approach, by the way, is quality. Because you're not locked into a vendor, open source service providers must provide the best service and value... something I see at Acquia and many other Drupal shops. Having choice when it comes to determining the best technologies for our needs and the commercial relationships we enter into is a freedom that we should protect by choosing an open source solution.

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Jason Hibbets is a project manager in Corporate Marketing at Red Hat where he is the lead administrator, content curator, and community manager for Opensource.com. He has been with Red Hat since 2003 and is the author of, The foundation for an open source city. Prior roles include senior marketing specialist, Red Hat Knowledgebase maintainer, and support engineer. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets

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