Simon Phipps

Sun Microsystems

The Zen of Free
19 minutes, 8.8mb, recorded 2006-07-27
Simon Phipps

Much has been done to strengthen the three major pillars of open source: licensing, business models and governance. In this talk, Sun's chief open source officer Simon Phipps looks at the measures needed to ensure the Zen of Free is protected as we move into the next era of software. Along with the "freedom to tinker", the community must defend the "freedom to participate" without undue controls, and the "freedom to leave", an open-standards based assurance that users can move their data easily between interoperable platforms and services.

In Phipps' ongoing quest to understand and model the dynamics of OSS communities, he picks up on the familiar themes of altruism and the commons that enable software developers to cooperate, share code and achieve their goals. Such freedoms are the springboard of innovation. They can be fortified, Phipps proposes, by the resolution of five koans:

  • Altruism Without Sacrifice
  • Licensing Without Lawyers
  • Community Without Controlling
  • Lock-in is Lock-Out
  • Staying Because of the Freedom to Leave

In each of these apparent contradictions, Phipps argues for an interpretation that sustains freedom by strengthening community and reinforcing the virtuous cycles of open source. With the right benchmarks for good governance, the community can rally around open data formats, protocols and interfaces to promote the substitutability of applications and services. Users are leery of lock-in. Increasingly, they are demanding the freedoms of a butterfly fluttering from flower to flower, easily migrating data as they go. The potential of interoperability is being realized in standards and specifications such as iCalendar, atom, opml, and various Web 2.0 APIs.

Technology futurist Simon Phipps is a well-known computer industry insider and commentator and as well as having a widely-read weblog he speaks frequently at industry events on technology trends and futures. At various times he has programmed mainframes, Windows and on the Web. Currently the Chief Open Source Officer at Sun Microsystems, Inc., he was previously involved in OSI standards in the 80s, in the earliest commercial collaborative conferencing software in the early 90s, in introducing Java and XML to IBM and most recently with Sun's launching Sun's blogging site, He lives in the UK, is based at Sun's Menlo Park campus in California and can be contacted via



This free podcast is from our Open Source Conference series.

For The Conversations Network:

  • Post-production audio engineer: Joe Lipscomb
  • Website editor: Liz Evans
  • Series producer: Liz Evans