Zentyal Summit 2012 has been announced

Zentyal Summit 2012 has been announced
Original picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Zentyal Summit 2012 has just been announced, with a more ambitious scope and plenty of surprises to disclose. Stay tuned for the spoilers! And register asap if you want to book your seat.

Disclaimer: the Indonesian children in the picture might be joyful for reasons not concerning Zentyal nor its Summit. In fact, they probably have not heard about Zentyal yet. Oh, unless they are gifted children with a passion for system administration, that could be. Anyway, they look merry.

July 31st, 2012

Back from Loadays

loadaysFOSDEM (the Free and Open source Software Developers’ European Meeting) is the largest OSS community developers’ meeting in the world, gathering 5000+ attendants each year, roughly double than it’s American counterpart OSCON. In both cases we are talking about thousands of attendees, really impressive figures.

Taking into account that there are way more system administrators than software developers in the world, it would be reasonable to expect a European conference for Linux sysadmins at least as big as FOSDEM, right? Well, that’s not the case. Maybe BOFHs are less social than developers. Maybe there is less need for community interaction among sysadmins. Maybe they are more product-dependant and they thus prefer attending more product-centric events. Maybe they just prefer attending events where it’s easier for them to find a girlfriend. Maybe a combination of all. But anyway, the best community conference for Linux sysadmins we found in Europe is Loadays (Linux Open Administration Days), in Antwerp (Belgium), and it sounds really tiny compared to FOSDEM.

As I needed to give it a try, I decided to I visited it last week-end and I must confess I am not disappointed. It is a young event (this was only its third edition), organized in a small school in the South of the city, with no more than 200 attendees, most of them from the Benelux. So, at first glance it looks more like a local event than a European conference.

However, the speakers did come from the whole of Europe (from France, UK and Spain to Germany, Hungary, Italy and Russia, and of course Benelux. Even some Americans) and the quality of their talks was very high. Just to get you an idea, there were lead developer and top consultants from CentOS, Puppet Labs, Percona, MariaDB, DNSSEC, Rudder, Zorp and even Zentyal, among others, in an event with no more than 30 sessions in total. Not the typical local event, right?

Also, being a small event made it easier to talk with everyone and the atmosphere was very relaxed and easy-going. It was also easy to set up pizza-diners and social events in the evenings.

Finally, I was impressed by the quality of the organization. I know how challenging it is for a small, volunteer-based team to close the required sponsorships and to get everything in place, so a big +1 for them.

In summary, Loadays is the hidden gem for European Linux sysadmins and it might get spoiled by trying to foster its popularity. So I do not encourage any reader to attend 😀

April 8th, 2012

Mono or multilingual community?

Multilingual communityTwo months ago there was a discussion in our forum proposing to make it English-only (it was mostly English, but there were two small Spanish and Portuguese sections). Almost at the same time, there was a petition to open a Dutch-speaking board. Which decision should we take?

Both options had good convincing reasons. If we standardized to English-only, we could avoid dispersion of information and isolation of groups of users in language-specific islands. Every comment, suggestion, solution and improvement could be shared equally for everyone in a common language. And Zentyal users need to have some level in English anyway, because no one can work in IT nowadays without understanding Shakespeare’s language.

However, even if people can understand written English, interacting in a forum is a different matter. Many users would feel more comfortable if they could do so in their mother tongue. So, forcing everyone in English might make us actually lose many interactions from potential users who can then start their own Zentyal forum elsewhere in their own language. The result would be eventually similar with either option, except that with an English-only forum, users interactions would be scattered in different sites, instead of different boards in the same forum.

With this rationale we eventually opted for a multilingual forum. We can open as many language-specific boards as required, with three conditions:

  1. The main forum language will remain English
  2. A board needs to have at least one person responsible for its moderation and maintenance
  3. Every useful contribution will be translated and shared in the English sections and/or in the community documentation

So, once we set these minimal rules, and once mmullenders kindly offered his help, we launched the Dutch board. The results have been very positive: the board started to get alive and during the 7 weeks since launch, it has accounted for some 5% of all the forum posts during the same time. More importantly, the number of Dutch forum member has increased by an astonishing 40%!!! Which means that either there were many Dutch who did not feel comfortable writing English, or that our SEO in Dutch has improved and we have been found by many new users searching in their mother tongue. That is easy to prove: take the words “VPN achter een proxy server” (VPN behind firewall), one of the topics started during the past 7 weeks. Now google them and the first result is our forum 😎 Proost Nederland!

Encouraged with these results, this week we launched the French board, again after a petition from the community and with a responsible for it (christian, one of our Forum Moderators, who happens to be from France). The results are even better: in just two days the number of posts in French have surpassed the total number in Dutch, and a google search of a topic started yesterday, with such a generic title as “Comment envoyer et recevoir des mails” (How to send and receive emails) is on the top 10 results!!! All I can say is: Mes félicitations à la communauté francophone! :-)

Now, when will we have boards in German and Italian? 😉

July 21st, 2011

7 tips on open-sourcing a project

CommunityOpen source is an attractive badge that most software vendors are eager to wear, especially in times when customers’ budgets are being tightened and their ears are keen to hear about cost cutting. However, many vendors’ approach on open source are filled with myths and false expectations, most probably because they did not experienced it by themselves.

During the last 10 years I have being deeply involved with open source business almost non-stop and from multiple points of view (system integrator, business association, software vendor, etc) and I have had the chance to discuss about it with many different people (customers, vendors, VARs, public sector, contributors, users, etc). So, I will try to sum up what I have learned in the way in just 7 tips, hoping to do my bit in understanding how software vendors can sensibly embrace open source.

  1. Know why you do it: once you open-source a product there is no way back, so you better know why you are doing it. There are many reasons why it would make sense for a company to open-source its technology. For example to improve the quality/functionality of its products, to grow its user base, to gain visibility, to prepare for international expansion, etc. However, open-sourcing will have a profound effect in many of the operations, from sales to marketing, business development and, of course, R&D. Have a very clear understanding of why you are doing so and communicate it internally before going forward.
  2. Make it useful: it seems an obvious tip, but I found several vendors planning to open-source their core product, but keeping an essential part under a commercial license. The result would be a useless piece of software, with no way whatsoever of doing anything unless you pay for the license. Needless to say it is impossible to develop a user community around a useless product. In addition, making a product difficult to install or undocumented will turn it almost equally useless.
  3. Be active: when a potential contributor stumbles upon your project, one of the first things he/she will decide is whether spending a few hours testing and learning about it will be worth his/her precious time. That is, does the project seem active enough and thus guarantee some continuity to make use of initial investments of time. If you just publish it and “let them come and code for free” (sic) you are very much mistaken. You need to show commitment with your own project, by fixing bugs, releasing new versions or answering questions in the forum, especially in the beginning regardless nobody is downloading it. Otherwise, you will not find valuable contributors
  4. Get ready for different kinds of contributions: many vendors have the wrong perception that the main contribution they might receive are “free programmers”. However, the value received from the community will probably have very different forms. To start with, testing and debugging is a cumbersome task that usually consumes around half of the total R&D resources in a product’s life cycle. A large community, by trying it in very different scenarios and by very different users, can hunt the most hidden bug. Moreover, localization, a costly task acting often as an important barrier for internationalization, can be another benefit that the community can bring to the table. User requirements, documentation, expert suggestions and, eventually, code can be some other valuable contributions as well. However, you need to make it easy for users to contribute and be ready to receive and process these contributions in an orderly way
  5. Plan ahead: to outsiders it might seem that communities spring out around any project like magic and that “build it and they will come” is the way to go. But that is far from reality. Developing a community requires a continuous effort in communication and promotion, as well as investing much energy in providing technical support and documentation for free. You might also want to open up your community governance to externals, which will require a careful design of rules and a plan to make it happen. All these tasks mean precious time and resources that should be reserved in advance
  6. Hunt the community champions: members in a community do not behave uniformly. In fact, a year ago I had a look at the behavior of Zentyal forum members and the results were enlightening: just like in Pareto principle, 20% of members were responsible for 80% of posts in the forum. That means that a community will very likely have a small core of enthusiasts, surrounded by a bulk of occasional contributors and users. You need to spot your champions and focus your energies on them
  7. Be patient: developing a community is a complex and long process of engaging in a conversation, creating trust, educating your users, sharing common goals and developing in common. It is not something that you can build in one day, but it will probably take a few years before you can call it a community

April 25th, 2011

Zentyal, five years alive and kicking

Cake ZentyalTime flies! It seems as it was yesterday when we presented Zentyal (then called eBox Platform) at the Chamber of Commerce of Zaragoza five years ago. It was a big thing, because that very day we were making the project open source software, allowing anyone to download and redistribute it, publishing the source code for free public scrutiny and starting the creation of a community.

As 5 years sounds like a round number, this might be a good moment to look back and summarize the lessons learned. I guess the main questions to answer are “If we could travel back in time, would we still make Zentyal open source? Is it worth it?” and “What would we have done differently?”

The first question is easy to answer: definitely yes. I cannot conceive Zentyal as closed source software and I wonder whether the project would exist today hadn’t we open it up then. I could sum up the lessons learned on the way in the following three points:

  • Open source is the best market test: you will learn quickly whether the product has any interest among users and whether it is wise to continue investing your time and money in it.
  • Nowadays in the software market, if you want fast growth and to become a relevant player in your market quickly, you need to be open source. If you prefer a slower, more traditional path of growth, you will probably be obsolete before you can become international.
  • You need to know what you make open source and why: on one hand, once you open up the code you cannot take it back, and it is not straightforward to generate a sustainable business model based on a free product; on the other hand, turning a user forum into a user community is a long and costly process, so you have to be ready to invest time and effort in the community, probably more than what you would initially expect.

And what would we have done differently? I would have had a community manager/responsible since day 1. And I would have created a community-based organization/rules since day 2 (if not since the very day 1). These are key aspects that will define how your users will interact with your project and how your community will evolve. And most importantly, you can only see the results in the long term, so spending a bit of effort in the beginning means big gains in the future.

Anyway, let’s not become too philosophical. This is a time of joy and there is a big chocolate cake waiting to be tasted (courtesy of Heidi, thanks!). Happy anniversary Zentyal and cheers everyone!

December 2nd, 2010

Opening up to the community

NewNameAs I pre-announced in my previous post in this blog, we are planning to change the way eBox Platform is developed. During the past seven years the project has followed a classic in-house development approach, where a company (us) has taken most of the responsibility. And as eBox Platform is an open source product, it has benefited from the help of a community of users. The community contributions have been very valuable, specially when it comes to product feedback, localization, testing and debugging. And thanks to all of us, eBox Platform is becoming a real alternative to Windows Small Business Server.

However, during the last few months, quite a bunch of community members have proposed to become more involved in the project, assuming some of the responsibilities that we are doing (or should be doing) now. From the start, back in 2004, we believed this was the right approach: to take the project to a stage where the community can lead its development, a true open source product. And now we think is that moment! Of course this does not mean that we are stepping out. Quite the contrary, our involvement can only increase from now on. But we believe that more people, not just the employees of one single company, should have the chance to get involved in the project and have the right to assume responsibilities, give their opinion and help taking decisions.

So, following the spirit of the Ubuntu community teams we are launching the Localization Team, a combination of language-specific, self-governed groups which will collaborate to achieve native-quality translations of eBox Platform. This team is just the first step towards a true Ubuntu-like community, with boards governing the community and the technical development and specific teams working on particular areas.

In order to coordinate the Localization Team, we have developed an initial set of simple rules which we consider logical and positive for the organization of translation groups. The team consists of a Localization Leader, elected for two years, as well as a Language Leader and a Quality Supervisor for each language, together with any translator who wants to join a translation group. The Localization Team will coordinate through the Forum and language-specific mailing lists and will meet via IRC once every three months to establish goals and take the main decisions. None of these rules are written in stone and we will be more than happy to see groups adjusting their functioning to maximize their own efficiency. Initially Mateo Burillo, from the eBox staff, will take the lead of the Localization Team, but we hope to see soon candidates from the community interested in coordinating the whole team.

So, if you want to help in localizing eBox to your language, you just need to register in our translation platform and start posting. It is advisable to register in the general translation mailing list too, in order to coordinate with other translators. And if you consider becoming Language Leader, do not hesitate to contact Mateo Burillo (mburillo at ebox-platform dot com) so that he can set up the needed infrastructure (mail lists and such).

Feel free to leave any comments to this post or in the Forum!

August 11th, 2010

Four years of freedom

BreakingChainsOn a day like this four years ago eBox Platform was first published as open source. Anniversaries such as this one are good chances to stop for a moment and look back to how everything started.

Before open-sourcing eBox code we had been working in it for some 20 months already, since before summer 2004. Originally the whole idea of eBox came up as a joint-project between DBS (now defunct) and Warp in order to develop an open source server to offer small and medium businesses all the functionality needed to run their computer networks and network infrastructure. The stress was put in simplicity and usability, as most small businesses do not have an IT expert nor the time to set complex systems up.

After some work we quickly realized that a Webmin approach of developing just a web interface on top of a Linux system could work fine for a single network service but it lacked the service integration required for an easy-to-use, all-in-one solution. That’s where we started developing eBox as an integration framework, an abstraction layer that could turn a bunch of independent network components into a single entity. A kind of “glue” for network services in a Linux server. It was a beautiful idea, though challenging and complex, and no one before had proposed it.

The initial business model that was conceived for eBox was to bundle it in a specific hardware (a box) and sell it like hot cakes. Hence its name “eBox”. Clever, eh? 😉 Well, the amount of work needed to develop it turned out to be much greater than expected and we did not have enough resources to fund such an adventure and its market introduction, so we turned to search for public funding.

Our initial idea had always been to make eBox open source so we organized an event at the Chamber of Commerce of Zaragoza to give solemnity to the moment (in those times open source was in fashion among the public sector, but cases of businesses open sourcing their products were really scarce). We got over a hundred attendants, including some of the most important local politicians and IT entrepreneurs, and initial interest on eBox was pretty high, at least in the local context. However, this interest faded away during the following months and it was not until October 2006, almost a year after its publication, that eBox downloads started to take off, climbing to 2,000 from a meager 500 the month before.

It is really gratifying to see how long we have gone since the kick-off of the project and since we started with the development of the community. Now, with more than 2,000 members in our community and 150 new members every month we are becoming a well-established solution in the open source market and we can soon fulfill our goal of becoming the Linux Small Business Server.

November 30th, 2009


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