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Sun: Open source is about self-interest

Sun's chief open-source officer tells conference to forget volunteerism and ideals, think more like Warren Buffett.

For open source to prosper, people need to stop thinking of it as "free" and instead think of it as "connected capitalism," delegates at an open-source conference in London were told on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Open Source Business Conference, Sun Microsystems' chief open-source officer, Simon Phipps, said that open source had been focused for too long on sharing code instead of what he called "the enrichment of the commons."

The open-source community needed to look to the lessons of capitalism and capitalists, Phipps said. Referring to the recent announcement that billionaire Warren Buffett was donating much of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Phipps pointed out that "Warren Buffett is driving gold--he is creating wealth."

Expanding on his message, Phipps said that the message of open source was that "creating and maintaining a completely independent code base was ultimately self-defeating."

Instead, the future is in co-operation and in organizations preserving what is ultimately of value to them, he said.

"This is not volunteerism," Phipps said. "It is directed self-interest, synchronized self-interest, and there is nothing wrong with self-interest."

And Phipps took time out to take a swipe at some of the exhibitors at the conference who were selling professional advice on negotiating the open-source "legal minefield."

"I disagree with those who say who say open source is a legal minefield," he said as he threw from the stage a brochure from one firm of lawyers. "If you think open source is a minefield you're doing it wrong."

But while Phipps was happy to be outspoken in his presentation, he was moved to silence in at least one area. In introducing Phipps, the conference chairman and vice president of the ECM company Alfresco, Matt Asay, said that he hoped that he was "going to hear today that Sun has decided to open source Java." Phipps remained silent on the subject.

Asay made his presentation a call to arms, arguing that it is time for "Europe to reassert itself in open source." There is no doubt that open source is "very, very big" in Europe, Assay said, quoting Gartner research that said that 81 percent of companies in Europe have deployed open source. However, he also warned that some of the initiative in business use is moving elsewhere.

The Open Source Business Conference has been run in the U.S. before. This week's two-day conference in London is the first of its kind held in the U.K.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.