Yesterday at the FOSS4G conference in Denver, one of the workshops that was new this year was a newcomer event targetted on folks who were new to FOSS4G and new to open source geospatial. I've seen attendee counts that suggest tha attendance this year at FOSS4G will be around 900, an all time high for FOSS4G. Of these an estimated 100+, according to a tweet I've seen from Arnulf Christl, president of OSGEO, attended the newcomer event, which suggests that a significant number of FOSS4G attendees are new to FOSS4G and new to open source geospatial.
The newcomer event was moderated by Brian Timoney who besides moderating provided background on open source, open standards, and open data. Peter Batty, chair of FOSS4G this year, gave the perspective of someone with an extensive background in proprietary, closed source software (Peter has worked at IBM, Smallworld, and Intergraph), who has found significant benefits in using open source software in his current role at Ubisense.
I talked about why Autodesk saw an important role for open source in the area of interoperability, specificially for an Autodesk developed technology called Feature Data Object (FDO) API which is designed to allow designers to directly access geospatial data without making copies. As a concommittant, Autodesk supported the development of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGEO) back in 2006. Coincidentally, I was able to announce that just that morning Autodesk had released Revit Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) exporter as open source. I tend to use utility industry examples, and I was surprised to find that there was at least one utility person in the audience, from Xcel Energy. I suspect that this is just the beginning of a trend and that in future FOSS4G events more folks from industries outside of government will be attending and discovering the role that open source has to play in their organizations.
Michael Byrne, GIO of the FCC and who used to be GIO of California, and Juan Marin also of the FCC gave a fascinating technical and business prespective on the development of the National Broadband Map, which was developed in seven months from a standing start and got half a million hits in the first ten hours it was up. Major business objectives mandated by Congress included searchability, interactivity and on-line. His number one priority was the tight development timeline, 7 months, and his second priority was user response time. Seven months is an incredibly tight development timeline for any eneterprise system. Early in the development cycle, the team, which was only eight people, decided that a RESTful architecture (see GeoREST for an example) and open source geospatial software were the only way they were going to make this timeline. They decided they needed to communicate directly with developers to be able to resolve problems in days, not months. After deciding on the software stack, the system was developed in four and a half months and survived a deluge of traffic in its first hours and days.
Arnulf Christl, president of OSGEO, gave an impassioned perspective on the advantages of open source in the geospatial world.