Birds of a Feather flock together

Research organisations talk open source

The conference in Wellington is not all about keynote speakers. Some of the most interesting sessions come from the Birds of a Feather (BOF) gatherings, where people come together to talk about all things open source.

The ad hoc sessions are designed as a meet and greet for people with similar interests and experience to share ideas and issues.

This week, a host of delegates have got together to congratulate, conspire and commiserate with each other about the opportunities and challenges of the open source community.

The Birds of a Feather sessions include topics such as installfests and how to run them, Linus standard operating environment development and MySQL Sandbox.

“It’s a bit of a chin wag,” said Zane Gilmore, who suggested the BOF for people interested in crown research institutes (CRIs), CSIRO, universties or similar research establishments. “Our organisations are unique so it’s great to get together and talk about things.”

Gilmore said one of the major issues for open source is convincing management of the benefits of using Linux and open source software.

“Linux doesn’t have public relations or sales people, so managers don’t see people trying to convince them, apart from within their own organisation. As an open source advocate, it can be hard to convince management of the benefits.”

This can be for a variety of reasons; often people simply don’t understand the technical aspects and the implications of using open source versus propriety software, Gilmore said.

“The problem is not unique to CRIs — scientists tend to understand open source and are full-on fans. Open source is in line with the scientific ethos of collaboration and sharing information, so when scientists see software following that line, they love it.”

Open source software has found a niche in bioinformatics and has been used to map the genomes of foods such as the onion, potato and strawberry.

The BOF discussions also focused around the use of the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN) — the 10 gigabit per second broadband network that links education, research and innovation organisations in New Zealand to each other and the world.

Participants came from organisations such as Plant & Food Research, CSIRO, Avondale College, Monash University and the University of Melbourne and Griffon University and covered topics such as the NZ food composition database, advanced computing CFD simulations, UCSD programming, Drupal databases, earth sciences and electronics and national telescope facilities.

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