Open source geeks in a world of silos

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Bryan Lunduke is well known in free software circles. He's a writer of books and Network World articles. He co-founded the Linux Action Show and is a co-host of the Bad Voltage podcast. In between hobbies, he has a day job doing marketing for SUSE and serving on the openSUSE board. Perhaps his longest-lasting contribution, though, is the Linux distro building simulator game Linux Tycoon.

At LinuxFest Northwest, Bryan will be debating James Mason on the subject of Open source geeks in a world of silos. We asked him some questions and turned him loose.

You pretty famously kicked Google out of your life for a while, but let parts of it back in. Which side of the silo argument are you taking?

Oh, heavens. This is something I struggle with every damned day. In a nutshell: Having locked silos is a very, very bad thing. But it's hard as hell to avoid. For example: I'm a pretty die-hard Linux user, but I'm also an avid gamer. That means I tend to either have the Google Play Store (to install Android games) or Steam (for desktop Linux games) running on most of my systems. But I feel really, really dirty about it.

What arguments do you expect from your opponent, and why are they terrible?

Honestly, I have no clue what my opponent is going to say! This particular session has me and my co-presenter going mano a mano on the topic, which I expect to be rather challenging as he is an incredibly smart guy. Right now, I'm just hoping I can hold my own on why silos are so dangerous. Personal data access, personal data ownership, personal data security, longevity of software and so many other reasons are on my side, so here's hoping!

Can open source software ever hope to win against the convenience of shiny proprietary silos?

Yes. Maybe? Gosh. I hope so. Wait. What does "win" mean?

"Win" means gain mass adoption and the adulation of millennials and grandfathers alike.

Oh, lord. Millennials and Grandfathers, eh? Honestly I think mass adoption of (free and) open source alternatives to the closed, locked down application (and content) store silos will happen when the open options are, quite simply, better than their closed cousins in most ways that matter to people.

Approachability, easy of use, selection of software, promotion by the software publishers people trust... When a FOSS alternative to, say, the Google Play Store can manage to check all of those checkboxes, I have no doubt that mass adoption will follow.

The real question is, who will do it? Canonical tried with the Ubuntu Software Center—which, speaking as someone who sold software through it, was never quite ready for prime time. There have been a few other noteworthy attempts (such as Click'N'Run), but none ever worked well enough to capture significant market share.

In my opinion, the current best bet would be GNOME Software. It's not all the way there yet, but it shows promise.

I think an even bigger problem than "app store" and content silos is the prevalence of data silos—closed, online systems that store huge quantities of your data. Email. Documents. Pictures. Passwords. If all of these things are online and in closed silos, you really don't have any control over your own data.

And that scares the crap out of me.

You've been involved in open source communities for a long time, but you were recently elected to the openSUSE Board. What have you learned in the last month that surprised you?

The biggest surprise, to me, is what mean, terrible jerks my fellow openSUSE board members are. They all got together and conspired against me—they scheduled our regular board meetings for five-freaking-a.m. in the morning. Five in the morning! They gave me lame excuses like how they "live in Europe" and it was "the only time that worked for everyone." Pssht.

I am confident they are forcing me to wake up at this ungodly hour simply because they have hearts of pure ice. (Other than that, they're nice guys.)

No other big surprises yet. The openSUSE project runs itself in such an open way. I've been able to observe how it works from the outside for years. Now I'm just... less on the outside.

You gave a talk at SCALE 14x called Linux sucks, but you've published a book called Linux is Badass. Why are you flip-flopping?

Ha! Linux Sucks is, itself, the ultimate flip-flop. The first half is why it sucks. The second half is why it absolutely, without the slightest doubt, does not. I like to play devil's advocate with myself. Also, it makes for a fun event. My book Linux is Badass, on the other hand, is sort of a love poem to Linux in the form of essays. And actual poems. And a choose your own adventure story. With swear words. (It's a really weird book.)

I typically give a yearly Linux sucks at LinuxFest Northwest. (Except for last year, when I gave the Windows is awesome presentation to a packed audience at a Linux conference. That still boggles my mind.) But this year, I decided to do something a bit more... goofy. I'm calling it simply Linux is weird. It's basically a ridiculous journey through all the weirdest and most insane things about Linux. It's going to be nuts.

What LinuxFest Northwest talks are you most interested in?

It's hard for me to typically get a chance to see more than one or two presentations at an event like this. At LinuxFest Northwest I think I'm presenting three this year (Linux is weird, the one about silos that we talked about, and a third that is a Q&A with me and the openSUSE board director). When I'm not doing those, I'll probably be spending time at the openSUSE lounge (We don't have a traditional "booth" this year. We went for a full-on lounge.) giving out chameleon plushies and chatting with folks.

If I get a chance, I'd love to make it to John Sullivan's (director of the FSF) session comparing Free Software to veganism. That sounds like fun. And there's one on openQA (an automated testing platform) that is being co-presented by people from both SUSE and Red Hat. I love it when the big Linux companies come together in peace and harmony—plus, both of the presenters are friends. So if I miss that one, I'll probably never hear the end of it. And there's at least three sessions in the legal and licensing track that sound damned interesting. We'll see if I manage to make it to more than one of these.

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Ben Cotton is a meteorologist by training, but weather makes a great hobby. Ben works as the Fedora Program Manager at Red Hat. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Find him on Twitter (@FunnelFiasco) or at

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