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What a Layperson Can Gain From an Enterprise Open Source Conference

Here at FOSS Force we’re very proud to be an official media partner for the Great Wide Open conference that’ll be held in Atlanta next week. Because this is an enterprise conference, I don’t think I need to explain to those who work in IT the benefits of attending such an event. However, those of you who are primarily home users may think there’s nothing for you at a conference focused on professionals.

This isn’t true.

Any open source user, whether a professional or not, will benefit from attending an enterprise conference. Remember, the user is considered just as important to any open source project as those who develop and distribute the product. In other words, an enterprise conference is just as much about the user as the developer — even if the user is never likely to call Red Hat on the phone to order service contracts for the RHEL stack on a hundred servers.

Here are just a few reasons for a living room Linux user to attend an enterprise conference such as Great Wide Open:

Learn about “the next big thing”

Because an enterprise conference targets people who’s careers depend on staying ahead of the curve, you’re sure to find some speakers talking on the latest developments in open source. Never mind that these “next big things” are already known to many at the conference. As I said, it’s their job to stay ahead of the curve.

For example, at last years All Things Open conference in Raleigh I caught a presentation given by hosting company Media Temple’s Josh Barratt on containers in general and the open source application Docker in particular. The fact that a good number of people attended this workshop meant that people who work in IT were already at least somewhat familiar with this technology, but it was my first exposure. It didn’t matter that much of the talk focused on technical issues that were somewhat over my head, I still walked away from the workshop with a decent layperson’s knowledge of containers and some of the ways they’ll change computing, especially in the cloud.

Since then, Docker’s technology has been getting extensive coverage in the media and Docker has gone from being the next big thing to being an essential tool.

Get a clearer picture of how open source business works

If you’re a home user of open source software, this might be a bigger eye opener for you than you might think — and you’ll find good news and bad.

First the bad news. Not every open source company is all about sharing and making the world a better place. Indeed, there are some very bad players in the open source business community, mainly companies that use the “open core” model to lock clients into their proprietary addons. The good news? You’ll quickly learn that these “bad guys” are pretty much known by the “good guys” and that the good guys outnumber the bad guys by something like a ten to one ratio.

The thing to remember if you should find yourself at a workshop hosted by a person who’s “open source” company really wants to be Microsoft or Oracle is that the open source community, especially at the enterprise level, is a microcosm of the greater community from which it sprung. Don’t be disheartened by a presenter whose message is that “it’s all about the money” and that open source is nothing but another way of doing business. I promise you that two or three workshops down the road you’ll realize that person represents the minority — and that’ll make you feel very good.

Get an up close and personal look at the people behind your software

For me, this may be the best part of attending an enterprise open source event. Except for the already mentioned open-source-bad-eggs, you’ll find that the great majority of folks at the conference really do understand and appreciate open source. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that some of the presenters will even be subtly warning any newbies away from from the bad players.

Learn tricks that will improve your open source skills

It’s true that most of the technical workshops will be designed for people who work with software 24/7 and will mostly be over the layperson’s head. Don’t let this stop you; attend a few anyway. You might be surprised at how much you already know from putzing around with PHP, Drupal or databases in your basement. You’ll absorb more from these presentations than might think.

You’ll also have the opportunity to engage with people from many open source projects outside the workshops, say on vendors’ row where various open source organizations will have booths. They’re there to talk to you. Don’t be afraid to pick their brains; they won’t mind. Remember, they love open source and they want you to love it too. They’ll figure that the more you know the more you’ll love it.

Have fun

Many of us who use Linux and other open source software at home are surrounded by nothing but Windows users. Unless we’re connected with a LUG or other local open source group, we may not know anyone at all who uses any open source software other than Libre/OpenOffice. Just think how nice it would be to spend a couple of days surrounded by people who’s careers are build around developing, selling and managing your open source projects.

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If you’re going to be in the Atlanta area next week and would like to attend the Great Wide Open conference, you can get a 50% discount just because you’re reading these words on FOSS Force. When you go to the registration page on the conference’s website, use the promotional code “fossforce” (without the quotes) and you’ll get your tickets for half off. This means you can enjoy both days of Great Wide Open for only $100 or a single day for $75 — what a deal! The Great Wide Open conference will be held at the 200 Peachtree Special Events & Conference Center in Atlanta next Wednesday and Thursday, April 2 and 3.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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