The Linux Foundation’s job is promote the use of Linux-based open source software, whose code is freely available for anyone to examine, modify and distribute as they please.
Yet the foundation’s first End User Collaboration Summit in New York City this week was closed to the press and the public, open only to guests by invitation.
Does anyone see a contradiction here?
While the purpose of the Linux Foundation is to promote the use of open source software, the foundation will hold a closed conference with several hundred attendees to discuss how to accelerate innovation in the platform.
In declining my request to attend the summit, the foundation wrote that “the end users there are completely paranoid about getting quoted in the press and made us close it.” The end users. That means the big IT guns in the audience. No doubt they came from many industries but had a heavy representation from Wall Street firms who like having access to open source code and modifying it for their own competitive advantage without allowing their rivals (who might be in the next seat) in on the secret. It’s a tight-lipped group.
Exactly how would the presence of the press infringe on the confidentiality of the conference attendees? Would it make them reticent to ask questions? Even with the press absent, their competitors were still there to pick up any nuance in a question. If the insistence on secrecy comes from the “end users,” the confidentiality problem would have been better solved by simply having attendees ask speakers questions privately, as I did to the CIO of Merrill Lynch following his keynote at LinuxWorld. (To his very evident annoyance, I might add.)
If the push for a closed meeting came from speakers, that’s bad, too. One summit speaker defended the closed meeting by saying his company requires advance permission to give presentations at a public event, and it makes such permission difficult to obtain. (That sounds like the recent Chinese Olympics, which created special locations for protests but didn’t grant speaking permits.) How sad this is if corporations in the land of the free and the brave prevent their brightest developers from leading workshops and helping others because they might divulge corporate secrets. (And based on the workshops I’ve attended, that’s highly unlikely.)
Just this week, I struggled to find a user who would speak to me about his experience with a Fedora community project and a Red Hat spokeswoman explained that the Fedora project participants couldn’t speak to me either without getting prior corporate permission. (All this fuss over a new installer.)
Under the same principle of “protectionism,” what if the U.S. decided to close its borders to imports to boost local manufacturers and businesses? What if federal, state and local governments decided to close public meetings and decisions to avoid holding officials accountable for difficult (or slimy) actions?
I think the Linux Foundation caved on this issue. By closing the door on the press, it also closed the door to everyone except an elite handful. The thousands of Linux users who might have benefited directly or indirectly from the idea exchange and thought up new ideas on their own will never get that cross-fertilization opportunity.
Conferences on open source software should be open to the press and the public — period.