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How open source got its groove back

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Articles - October 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Kyle Smith (left) and Scott Campbell of Puppet Labs discuss new features for an upcoming software release. 
Photo by Michael Cogliantry
Not that long ago, the region’s place in the open-source community’s imagination was fading. Battered by the 2008 economic meltdown, OSCON failed to show in 2009 in Portland for the first time in six years, relocating that year to Silicon Valley. Its departure hurt not only the area’s open source luster, it hurt Portland. Jeff Blosser, executive director of the Oregon Convention Center, ranks OSCON as one of the OCC’s top 10 events each year, generating about $1.5 million for local businesses, such as hotels and restaurants.

If losing OSCON weren’t enough, the Open Source Development Labs moved from Corvallis to San Francisco the same year. Startups found funding difficult. The Open Technology Business Center changed its name to the Oregon Business Technology Center and broadened its mission beyond incubating open-source-related technology companies. It looked as though the idea of creating an open-source mecca in the region was turning into a myth.

But it turns out the Great Recession was just a hiccup in open source’s ongoing success in the region. OSCON returned for the second straight year this summer. According to Gina Glaber, the company’s vice president of conferences, while the Silicon Valley OSCON was a financial success, “Portland, overall, is a better match.” She says, “Yes, there are more open-source companies in the Bay Area, but Portland is a better match culturally.”

There is, indeed, a culture match between open source and the region. People cite the do-it-yourself attitudes in Oregon that fit the hands-on fervor of open-source developers. Others point to the link between the open-source community’s affinity for beer and the microbrew culture of the area.

When the devotees of Portland’s Puppet Labs software come to town in September for the company’s semi-annual conference, Luke Kanies has arranged for a tour of local breweries. He says the combination of open-source developers and microbrews “just fits.”

“When I’m pitching people to come here,” says Daniel Frye, IBM’s vice president for Open Systems in Hillsboro, “I always mention that we’re the biking and brewpub capital of the world.”



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