Tuesday, July 03, 2007

NECC Reflections

This post brought to you by Computrace Lojack for Laptops.

I'll try to get down a few thoughts about my NECC before they fade from memory. I had no responsibilities this year; I didn't give a talk or man a booth. I also barely looked at the program. The only talk I attended was the inACCESS update in the open source lab, so my NECC was defined almost entirely by a few conversations.

I probably spent about one full day (of three) with Chris Lehmann and Marcie Hull, including a memorable bull session with Chris Sessums and Bill Fitzgerald. That was the most fun I've had talking in a long, long time. It was the first time Chris and I had met, and while I think he was exaggerating a bit when he said we'd been corresponding online for 10 years, it has been close to it. We'll have to make sure it doesn't take another ten.

Steve Hargadon did his usual great job setting up the open source lab. It wasn't in quite as prominent a position as it was last year, but this time you could actually hear, and the room was often packed with 100+ people for the slate of open source talks and demos. There is some dissonance between the popularity of the sessions and one's attempt to evaluate the primary buzz at this year's NECC. Oh, free software was big this year, ask Red Hat's Greg DeKoenigsberg:

Turns out that the Moodle session is going on in the Open Source session room -- and it looks like a Who concert. People sitting and kneeling at every table, and sitting and standing at the back of the room. Not a square foot of empty floor space in the entire room.

There comes a time in any given IT market when the "open source" switch goes off in people's minds. Education is clearly at that point. And no one is so zealous as the newly converted. It's a very exciting time.

Free software was big this year, bigger than last year, and it'll be bigger still next year, and even bigger every year for the foreseeable future. The buzz may wax and wane a bit, but substantially the open source universe only grows. This just doesn't fit into the inevitable pattern of trying to find something new at NECC -- although increasingly those new things may themselves be free software. Hopefully next year Second Life will fit into that category.

Greg was at NECC to man a Red Hat/OLPC booth in the "Open Source Playground." So there was, as far as I could tell, a single XO at NECC, sitting quietly under a staircase like a cute white and green IED (Information Explosion Device), barely noticed by the masses. I left town before Greg's talk, but I guess it went well.

One interesting tidbit I gleaned from talking to Greg: the Sugar interface designed for the XO is also part of Red Hat's larger post-GNOME desktop strategy. Basically, they feel they've gone as far as they can with a desktop that is essentially a Windows clone and that bigger market share will require a more distinctive and innovative desktop. This gives me some reassurance that even if the grand vision for OLPC goes off the rails, some of the cool technology they're developing will endure.

There were promising signs at NECC that we might be beginning to bridge the gap between people currently implementing free software solutions in schools and industry players impotently speculating about the possibility of being more "open" at some indeterminate point in the future. In addition to giving an update on inACCESS (plugging along nicely, thank you very much) Mike Huffman announced the K-12 Open Minds conference (web site to come...), sponsored by the Indiana Department of Education and the Center for Digital Education, October 9-11 in Indianpolis. Mike is one (and perhaps the only) person with credibility with both the "do-ers" and the "thinking about doing" crowds, so actual progress is not out of the question. Also, Steve Hargadon confirmed to me that he's working part-time developing some content (i.e., podcasts) for the K-12 Open Technologies initiative, which is a good thing. Getting someone with grassroots experience with open source can only help push K12OpenTech in a more clueful direction.

It is now five days after I started this post. If there is anything else I meant to write, I've forgotten it by now!

No comments: