Digium's Mark Spencer on Growing Up

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Digium's Mark Spencer on Growing Up

Mark Spencer is founder of Digium and creator of Asterisk.
Spencer delivered a keynote speech last night entitled, Mysterious Keynote, in which he spoke about the changes at Digium, and how Digium is growing up.
He cited major changes such as new management team, a new facility, and a new focus on broader customers and increasing the channel.
Of course, Spencer being Spencer, he quickly dismissed Digium’s transition to “adulthood” with an “Okay. But not completely.”
Truth be told, Spencer did come across as a more serious, more mature business leader than the quirky offbeat open source evangelist that he’s better known as.
He spoke about Unified Communications as a hot trend.
“Amazingly,” he said “it seems that people think it’s all new, but as most people understand it, UC has been around for a long time.”
Spencer believes UC encompasses how one could use communication to change people’s business process.
Spencer cited an interesting example of an outfit called Botanicalls. This NYU project essentially devised a system whereby your plants can call you when they need water or if they’ve been over watered, etc… He mentioned an initiative called QueueGames, which is essentially a trivia game callers can play while on hold. The point Spencer was driving home is that even silly concepts such as these serve to get people thinking about the possibilities of communications. Initiatives such as this serve to expand the definition of UC.
He mentioned the evolution in the open source world, where things have gone from a simple “good versus evil” debate (open source vs. proprietary) to a complicated new world where we find open source (good) fake open source (bad) proprietary open source (evil), and even proprietary hybrid hosted (really evil).
Among the new challenges Spencer says Digium faces are the need to bring Asterisk to new markets, and the entry of new “scary” players like Microsoft into the telecom world.
The response to these new challenges he told the crowd is to write more code, package Asterisk better, educate resellers and users on the different products available in the marketplace, and most importantly, to be educated by users and resellers on whattheir needs and desires may be.
As Mark Spencer told the audience, “I’m here at ITEXPO looking to understand what I can do better to help you use Asterisk to win more business.”

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Mark Spencer is in a bit of hot water these days. He turned the heat up on himself or so it appears. First, he used his keynote at ITEXPO to bash his number one competition, Fonality, by calling their business model "really evil" for not being fully open source. Whenever you start to sling words about good vs. evil, you are bound to get a flashlight shined on you.

So, by doing this he opened himself up to wave of criticism as he never addressed Digium's own long-standing closed source secret. Digium has long sold a closed source version of Asterisk called "Asterisk Business Edition". The tricky little thing (wait, the "evil" little thing) about Business Edition. is that when a company buys it, they are allowed to make changes and don't ever have to give those changes back to the GPL or open community (so long as they continue to pay and annual "maintence" fee of 15% to Digium.) So, in effect, this little contract allows the company to continue to pull changes from the open community but never give their own enhancements back.

Wonder why reporters never discuss that Digium's profit model is actually based on a closed source licensing schema?

Then, two weeks ago, Digium further colored their own self-evangelized status of innocence. They bought a 100% closed-source Asterisk PBX company called switchVOX. When asked several times about their plans Mark Spencer would only make vague comments about how certain portions will be made open. It is clear that Digium will not open source all of their new acquisition, which will in effect deepen Digium's long-standing commitment to closed source software.

Business models are not based on good or evil. They are based on making a profit. And they should be 100% honest with customers about how that business model works. Give the customers the honest information and let them vote with their wallets.

So, Mark Spencer's vision of a good vs. evil is simplistic and binary in nature. What he should focus on is being 100% truthful with Digium's own closed source strategy. Evil can only fester in the shadows of dishonesty.

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