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 Interview with Con Zymaris of Open Source Victoria

OrangeCrate is pleased to present an interview with Con Zymaris of Open Source Victoria from Australia. I thought it might be nice to get a perspective from outside of the United States, and Mr. Zymaris was kind enough to agree to an interview. What follows is an email interview conducted over the last few days.

 (Submitted by Chuck Talk Mon Apr 19, 2004 )

  OC Editor: Where do you see Open Source Victoria playing a role in business?

Con Zymaris: There is, at present, not enough exposure within the Australian (an possibly international) business community to the idea that FOSS is not only good, but also commercially supported, and not just by the big (i.e. – expensive) solution providers. We aim to breach this awareness gap.

There are also numerous pieces of the procurement pie which are missing from the FOSS solution space. Such things as risk assessment guidelines, procurement best practice guidelines, migration guidelines for small to medium enterprises and catalogs of FOSS solutions available for SME markets as well. OSV will take part in helping to fill in those gaps.

OC Editor: What is the prime value that pen Source Victoria delivers for Australia and the Pacific Southwest (of course, I realize that is nothing more than my perspective of your location)? ;)

Con Zymaris: OSV is focused notionally on our local state. OSIA is perhaps a better vehicle for me to answer that question. At present, we have exemplary representation of the technical and community aspects of FOSS through such organisations as Linux Australia, AUUG and the state-based LUGs.

What has been lacking is a cohesive coalescence of ideas and actions centered on the industry, industry development and business aspects of the space. This is the need that OSIA fills.

OSIA is here to deliver the FOSS message, with a business slant. It is here to provide a credible voice and perspective to aid government and industry perception in this area. OSIA also assists in the ‘business development’ of its constituent members, many of which are small-to-medium sized firms often run by technically smart practitioners who have minimal experience in dealing with larger clients and big government. We can help bridge that gap.

OC Editor: Where do you see GNU/Linux and/or Free and Open Source Software finding a role in your constituency?

Con Zymaris: There is a growing interest and focus with the federal and some state governments. The corporate market is growing rapidly but, excepting specific niche realms, really belongs to larger vendors which are offering increasing amounts of FOSS solutions.

The SME market is really starting to open up. Recent solutions we’ve seen come through from members deliver equivalent or better functionality into this space, at perhaps one-0third (1/3rd) or one-quarter (1/4th) of the cost from proprietary vendors.

OC Editor: So you are seeing an increase in interest from customers to learn more about FOSS?

Con Zymaris: Absolutely, particularly since Microsoft’s introduction of Software Assurance and Licensing 6.0.

OC Editor: We here in the United States have been dealing with the threats from the SCO Group for some time, but I understand they have recently begun making claims about their SCO Source Licensing programs in Australia and New Zealand as well. I know that Open Source Victoria filed a complaint with the ACCC there, can you tell us more about that (to the extent that it does not jeopardize your complaint)?

Con Zymaris: The local community has essentially been tracking and responding to these same threats, since day one. The double-edged sword that is instant global communications and the Internet is that we have to ensure that our constituents, media and clients, are briefed with our analyses of the situations re: SCO vs. IBM, SCO vs. Novell and Red Hat vs. SCO, just like anyone else is.

The original complaint we filed with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) relates to trade law in Australia. The Australian Trade Practices Act (1974) makes it illegal for someone to misrepresent a need; you cannot claim that users of Linux need to buy a licence from SCOsource to allow them to legally use Linux.

We have also filed a second complaint with the ACCC, specifically alluding to the fact that SCO, up until fairly recently, was making their product (Caldera Linux) available for download with a specific licence (the GPL). Now, several months later, they are stipulating that their clients and anyone else bound by that previous licence, has to acquire an additional licence. There were therefore misrepresenting the licencing situation earlier on, or are doing so now. Such an activity is frowned upon in local legal circles. For a full report on this issue, see:

the Open Source Victoria Complaint

OC Editor: In the United States, there appear to be few laws to stop frivolous lawsuits (they are unfortunately, part of our legal system), what are the laws like in Australia to deal with such causes (understanding that you are not a lawyer, and that your answer is not considered legal advice)?

Con Zymaris: We haven't really looked at laws which target frivolous lawsuits. We felt that there was enough consumer-protection machinery in existing Australian laws already.

I believe that this is one area where European and Australian consumers may perhaps have more protection than US consumers, at least from the federal level. Some US states seem to have similar laws which may be used to curb SCO's actions.

Con Zymaris: We (Americans) often get very few outside opinions and perspectives through our normal media outlets that it is refreshing to gather a foreign view of matters which affect our business, education and creativity. Is there anything that you would like to say to the American readers, as to how this case affects the global perception of American businesses and our legal system?

Con Zymaris: It's always difficult (and potentially dangerous) to have a foreigner make prognostications or suggestions about another country, but I believe that you may have hit upon an issue in your actual question. I believe that much of the rest of the world sees the US as being perhaps more insular than it could be; there are a lot of very interesting ideas and people beyond the borders which could be beneficial to know about. It is also a safer place globally if all cultures could be less insular and more accommodating of differences.

I guess it's not difficult to see why this American cultural perspective exists. The US is a huge place with a substantial population; it's difficult to keep track of the goings-on within the US, let alone 180 other countries. However, as Linux has shown, there's much that can be gained through keeping abreast of what's happening globally.

How has Linux demonstrated this specifically? It's the only widely used platform which has not originated in the USA, and it will likely be the universal platform over the coming decades, partly because of its global ethos and outlook. One thing the rest of the world is perhaps hoping will emanate more so from the US is the US's traditional respect for individual rights and freedoms spreading further into the digital realm. We expect that US citizenry will be upstanding in defence of their digital rights and freedoms, just as they have often shown the way forward in intellectual rights and freedoms. To that end, the skewed-monopolistic practices engendered through software patents, and the laws such as the DMCA and perhaps the PATRIOT Act, both of which may be used to diminish digital freedoms, need constant scrutiny and vigilence to prevent abuse.

OC Editor: Is there any particular project that you are working on that you feel has a lot of promise for the global open source community?

Con Zymaris: I started coding in 1979, but it's been almost 4 years since I last turned a hand at software constructions. Over the past 7 years in particular, I've become more heavily involved in the 'marketing' aspects of Linux/FOSS. So, many of the projects I'm involved in have to do with bridging the gap between the mainstream/corporate/goverment/business world and the world we inhabit, the open-source/Linux/geek one.

As for software projects, I've been working, with a group of young programmers who are new to the open source realm, on HypatiaDB. From our blurb sheet for HypatiaDB:

HypatiaDB is easiest way to make your personal and business data available via a web browser. The design principle behind HypatiaDB is to make a simple clone of Microsoft's Access database manager. Much like Microsoft Access, HypatiaDB is intended for end-users. You can easily create new databases, new tables and new reports. You can edit the data in tabular format or in per record forms. You can search, filter and group your data. You can import data and export data.

HypatiaDB is installed on a system which can function as a web-server. Normally, this would mean a Linux, Unix or Windows NT system. HypatiaDB also needs the open source, free MySQL database and the open source, free PHP application server.

See: HypatiaDB

We want HypatiaDB to come to the rescue in situations where end-users have simple databases, knocked-up in Excel, Filemaker or Access, which prevent them from moving to a Linux/FOSS desktop. By migrating this data across to HypatiaDB, they continue having access to the data whilst now being able to switch onto a Linux desktop underneath. We had looked at phpMyAdmin as a tool of choice for this scenario, but that application is way too complicated for non-techies to use.

OC Editor: What is the number one initiative for Open Source Victoria in the next six months?

Con Zymaris: The creation of a set of documents which will help bridge the gap between 'management' and the FOSS realm; risk assessment and mitigation guidelines for FOSS, procurement best-practice guidelines for FOSS, Guide to FOSS for Small Business and various quantities of marketing material.

OC Editor: Is there anything you would like to say to the community at large?

Con Zymaris: The real strength of the community is its diversity and lack of monoculture. It's what has resulted, to my mind at least, in an almost complete dearth of 'errors' or mistakes, which almost every other ICT industry player makes. Even Microsoft has made some major technical and marketing blunders in recent years.

So, in short, keep on doing what you are doing. But, where possible, tell more and more people about it. Tell the mainstream. Be proactive in marketing your skills, your projects, your communities and your ideas.

Our realm is living the lifestyle and facing the challenges which will come to pass for everyone else over the next few decades. Let us be the ethical, upstanding bellringer for these great changes and potential dangers.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk to your audience.

OC Editor: Thanks again Mr. Zymaris, it is a pleasure to know that there are good people like yourself working in the FOSS world.

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