I got back from AU last night (late) and am starting to catch up. I can’t understand how people find time to blog at conferences, but enjoyed reading Geoff Zeiss‘ blog about the MapGuide Users Meeting and community participation in the MapGuide project.
I was meant to speak at that meeting, but snow and Air Canada managed to conspire against me. I dodged the Nanaimo airport closure bullet by taking the ferry to Vancouver the previous night. Then my morning flight was cancelled, and I picked up another flight that would have got me to the hotel part way through the meeting but in time to speak. I sorted my wants from my needs and stored what would have been my checked baggage in Vancouver, got on the flight, and proceeded to wait in line for de-icing for an hour and a half. Arrgh…
At the meeting, I would have talked a bit about my history and how I got involved in the MapGuide Open Source project. More importantly, I would have been speaking on how MapGuide Open Source is going to benefit Autodesk customers, who are used to a completely closed development process on a proprietary product.
Geoff covered (and James reinforced) one of the main benefits: an open development model. By going through the RFC process, anyone can add features to the MapGuide code stream. This means that if a customer has a real need for a new feature, instead of waiting for Autodesk to make it a priority, they can either build it themselves or fund its creation, possibly in conjunction with other interested users. This is an extremely compelling feature from my viewpoint, and I have already taken advantage of it twice.
I would also have brought up another slightly less obvious advantage. Foresight. Autodesk typically has tight controls around revealing information on products that are currently under development. This can cause extreme headaches for users who are trying to do strategic planning around application development and upgrades. The open development process that comes with good Open Source projects gives these users unique insight into MapGuide, unlike any other product in the Autodesk line. This may be opening up a bit with Autodesk Labs (which is a good thing), but Open Source does it much earlier in the development cycle. An example of this is the roadmap that was posted by Joe Francica on the All Points Blog earlier this week. This road map is still tentative (most of the features on it have not gone through the RFC cycle) but is completely open. It will also become more dynamic as we move to a new project tracking system in the new year which integrates wish list items, RFCs, and road maps into a single view of the development.
There are, of course, other benefits to Open Source (such as license fees, freedom to modify, a community of support, and more) but it is likely that without education many Autodesk customers will not take advantage of these. To try to encourage involvement in the Open Source community, I was going to be talking about some ways that users could benefit from their involvement:
- contribute code: scratches your itch and reduces internal maintenance burden of custom code by placing it in the community’s care
- pay others to write and contribute code: same as above, but does not require internal resources, and helps build a community of expertise around MapGuide
- work with consultants who have a history of contributing to MapGuide: these consultants will thrive, adding new features to the code that you can take advantage of in the future
- participate on the mailing lists, help with documentation and examples, spread the word: your participation will draw others to the community, which increases the rate of code contributions you can leverage
As an example of the third point, I would have been shown how DM Solutions Group‘s Fusion application development framework can be leveraged to create maps with compelling designs and user interfaces. This framework has been developed in large part through the work DM Solutions has done for clients like the City of Nanaimo, such as our Fusion / MapGuide Cemetery application which should be released to the public sometime early in the new year. Here’s a screenshot (click for a larger image):
The City of Nanaimo is also working on a Fusion / MapGuide rewrite of our CityMap application which should have betas going public around the same time as the Cemetery map goes live.
AU was great by the way. Much like the ESRI UC (drink the kool-aid), but with a sexier presence. There’s definitely a male predominance at the show. As Lynn joked at the entertainment event on Thursday night, AU is a great place for women… there were lines at the men’s washrooms and not at the women’s.