As a first-time attendee of OSBC this past week, I really didn’t know what to expect. In a word, I’d say I was impressed with the conference.

I’ve never been surrounded by so many lawyers, VCs or startup CEOs for such a concentrated period of time. Most of the breakout sessions were quite interesting (regardless of whether I agreed with the speaker’s pontifications on OSS).

Some highlights (i.e. things that I agreed with):

MySQL‘s CEO Marten Mickos claiming that there is no OSS business model. That we are all participants in the software market; and we use OSS methodologies to develop, distribute and profit from software. Marten also distinguished between two customer types:

[1] Those willing to spend time to save money
[2] Those willing to spend money to save time

He discussed how customers seldom move from group 1 to 2 or vice versa. A very interesting point for folks who hope to convert the 12mil downlowds into paying customers.

The two customer keynotes on day 2, Rob Curley from the Washington Post and Lee Thompson from E*Trade spoke a lot about their use of OSS to drive business results. Rob showed us some really cool news products his team was able to develop using various OSS products. The crowed oohed, ahhed and laughed appropriately. I asked a question that I pretty much knew the answer to:

“Rob, can you talk about how much your team spends on OSS licenses or support contracts?”

This seemed like a hugely appropriate question for a conference attended by hundreds of folks hoping to make a living (and them some!) from OSS products and companies. Rob’s answer was:

“Well, we don’t spend anything. We don’t buy support. It’s likely not the answer you wanted to hear”.

I’m not sure how many in the audience heard his answer or took a second to process what it means for someone hoping to cash in on OSS. I asked Lee the same question in person as there wasn’t time for questions during the keynote. His answer was the same as Rob’s “we don’t pay for anything from OSS, no licenses, no support. We use the OSS project forums for support.”

Anyone else find it funny/strange/unsettling that the customers chosen to speak to a group of VCs interested in OSS and OSS CEOs aren’t spending a single dollar on OSS?

I don’t mean to imply that we should extrapolate from these two customers to “there is no money to be made in OSS”. What we’re seeing here is what Marten described in his two customer types. I truly wonder how many attendees really understood the impact of the two customer types on their aspirations to strike it rich with OSS.

I had a great discussion with Michael Cote from Redmonk about Pragmatic Open Source….Cote’s term for some thoughts that have been popping in and out of my head lately. The discussion deserves a post on its own. For now, I’m just giving Cote props for the term. More later.

Off to the airport!