All posts by Jeremy Bennett

Open for Business 2016

Open for Business 2016 logoOpenUK is the co-host and sponsor with the BCS Open Source Specialist Group of the annual Open for Business conference.  This is our annual festival of open source in the business environment which takes place on Monday 5th September in Hebden Bridge.

This year we are focusing on how to bring open source into your business,  looking at how to make money using open source, how to manage open source procurement and how to handle legal and licensing issues.  But most of our speakers are an international group of senior executives, with huge real work experience of success  with open source in their own business.

Highlights include

  • A keynote from Mike Little, co-founder of WordPress, which now powers 26% of the Web.
  • Maarten Ectors, VP for IoT at Canonical presenting on making money with open source.
  • Matija Suklje, lawyer and FOSS legal specialist who spent 5 years heading up the FSFE Legal Network (global FOSS legal network and Chatham House Rule list, which also publishes the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review journal

and our very own Stuart Mackintosh, Founder of OpusVL and chair of Open UK.

This year, over an extended lunch break, our speakers are offering “surgery” sessions. An opportunity to seek free advice one-to-one with leading practitioners.  In the evening you are invited to join speakers and other attendees for an informal dinner in a local pub.

Open for Business is just one part of the 10-day long Wuthering Bytes festival, a 10-day celebration of open source technology in the heart of the UK’s “Northern Powerhouse”.  There are many more meetings of interest to OpenUK members, from workshops on open source hardware through to open smart cities to the global meetings of the LLVM and GNU Tools Cauldrons.

Full details of Open for Business 2016 are here, with free registration through EventBrite here.  We look forward to seeing you in Hebden Bridge next month.

Starting An Open Source Business

Last autumn, the OSC was co-host with the BCS Open Source Specialist Group of Open for Business as part of the Wuthering Bytes festival. This was a one day conference to help those wanting to start their own open source business, or to use open source more widely in their existing business.

We recorded (almost) all the talks, to provide a permanent repository of information that will serve as an invaluable resource to those running, starting up or considering starting, their own open source business.

Tariq Rashid Opening keynote: Digital services video slides
Rob Blake The best of times, the worst of times: The golden age of the modern web, open source and market commoditisation. video slides
Stuart Mackintosh Discovering open source business models (or “hacking the IT industry”) video slides
Stuart Mackintosh The Open Source Consortium: An introduction video slides
Rob Taylor Thoughts from 10 years of open source business video
Scott Wilson University R&D, technology transfer and FOSS video slides
Amanda Brock Open source and commercial agreements slides
Peter Coates Building a self-sustaining ecosystem of clinically led open digital solutions for the care community video slides
Robin Kennedy Support for Innovation video slides
Cornelia Boldyreff The BCS Open Source Specialist Group video slides
Adam Jollans Closing keynote: IBM’s journey with open source video slides


The entire video set is also available as a playlist, allowing you to relive the day in its entirety. Amanda Brock gave her talk via Skype, and unfortunately we were unable to capture the audio, but we are able to offer her slides.

The event was very well received by all who attended, and by popular request, we hope to run a follow up event as part of Wuthering Bytes 2016. I’ll be writing more about this later in the year.

Finally, my thanks to our hosts at Hebden Bridge Town Hall, Calderdale Council.

Jeremy Bennett, OSC Treasurer

Open Source Everywhere: ORCONF 2015 at CERN

jor1kI’m in CERN this weekend at the annual meeting of the Free and Open Source silicon design community.  CERN with its open hardware group is a leading player in this area.

This is our fourth meeting, and the size reflects the explosion in interest in open source for hardware.  Our first conference had less than 20 attendees.  This year we have 100.

The number of free and open source processor designs is growing.  The granddaddy is the OpenRISC 1000, but more recently Krste Asanovic and David Patterson (he of RISC-1 fame) created the RISC-V architecture, and groups all over the world are building chips based on this.  With clock rates of up to 2GHz and energy usage of 30GFlops/Watt these are not just free and open source, they are possibly the most efficient general purpose processors in the world.

I can’t even start to touch on all the subjects we have covered – you can see the list on the ORCONF website.  For some great pictures, follow the Twitter tags #orconf and #orconf2015.  But these are engineers who know few limits.  The picture with this blog is Sebastian Macke talking about his jor1k JavaScript simulator for the RISC-V processor.  Run Linux on a simulated chip on his website.

I suspect this is an area, few OSC members know about, but it is a rapidly growing field.  As the trade body, we support open source in all its forms.  Including hardware!

Jeremy Bennett, OSC Treasurer

Creating and Growing Open Source Businesses

Open_Source_BoutiqueTo those familiar with traditional business models, my company, Embecosm, is something of a mystery.  A team of very highly paid engineers using expensive equipment to write immensely complex software, which we then give away for free.  Yet despite this, we are a growing and profitable business.

The answer of course is that we are not paid for the software product we produce.  We are a service business and we are paid to write and modify compiler tool chains, which our customers then give away to enable the use of and help to advertise their wider products.  This business model works for Embecosm, because first of all we have customers with a very strong commercial pressure to provide compilers; and secondly writing compilers is really, really hard.

Our customers are generally processor manufacturing companies, and a good implementation of either GCC or LLVM is a must-have for any successful processor design.  As I have written before, there are probably only between 20 and 50 true experts worldwide in implementing each of the major free and open source compiler tool chains (GCC and LLVM).

This is perhaps the oldest and simplest of open source business models.  But there are many other business models that work, and which may be much more suitable for different commercial sectors.  How do you choose the right one for your business?  Indeed, how do you get started with an open source business at all?  Getting access to open source specific business expertise is a problem for the wider open source community.   To help address this, the Open Source Consortium, in partnership with the BCS Open Source Specialist Group, have put together a one day conference as part of the Wuthering Bytes Festival, bringing together leading authorities in open source business to share their expertise.

Open for Business: Monday 28th SeptemberBCSosc-web

08:30–17:30. Hebden Bridge Town Hall, Saint George’s Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 7BY

This one day conference aims to help anyone with or working at an open source business, along with those who may be thinking of starting an open source business.

The presentations will provide insights into first-hand experiences at companies ranging from micro to global in scale, together with talks that look at the economics and legal considerations, exploring open source business models and contracts. We will also hear about the role of open source in taking ideas out of University and into commercial deployment. There will be presentations that explore public sector adoption of open source and the opportunities that it presents. Finally, there there will be a talk that looks at the government support available for innovation. Generous breaks for coffee, lunch and tea ensure there will be plenty of opportunity for networking.

To find out more and book your place, look at the agenda and details of the talks and speakers.

Open for Business is hosted by the Open Source Consortium and the BCS Open Source Specialist Group , and is being run as part of the Wuthering Bytes technology festival.

Wuthering Byteswuthering-bytes-logo-dark_720w

One of the reasons for hosting Open for Business as part of the Wuthering Bytes festival, is that it provides the perfect stage within which to explore potential business opportunities. Immediately before Open for Business is the annual conference of the Open Source Hardware User Group, over the weekend of 26th & 27th September. This features 13 talks and 7 hands-on workshops, covering topics including the Internet of Things, open hardware licensing, research into the maker movement, open source processors and wearable computing.

Then immediately following Open for Business, Calderdale Council are hosting three days on the theme of Our Tech Future, exploring topics such as the role of open data in the provision of public services, citizen innovation and much more.

Finally, the festival will draw to a close on Friday 2nd October with a day of talks that are a celebration of technology in everyday life, with inspiring stories and thought provoking insights, covering a diverse range of topics.

I look forward to seeing you all there.


Jeremy Bennett

Open Source Consortium Treasurer and CEO of Embecosm

My thanks to Gary Cheski for permission to use his cartoon. An earlier version of this article appeared on the Embecosm blog.

A New Generation of Engineers: Why Open Source Really Matters

babbage-analytical-engineWe face a challenge maintaining British excellence in computer engineering. It is an industry where we excel, but last summer the BBC reported that we face a “retirement cliff”, with the average age of an engineer in Britain now being 54 years. It is not for a lack of jobs. In a period where graduate salaries have fallen, salaries for engineering graduates have been rising. A study by the former editor of Business Week, John Byrne, found that Engineering was the most common degree discipline of millionaires, with the sub-discipline of computer science in 8th place.

The UK has a long and distinguished track record with computers.  This is a country that gave us the first computer (Babbage’s Analytical Engine), the first programmer (Ada Lovelace) and the first programmable digital electronic computer (Colossus at Bletchley Park). In the late 1940’s, where there were three computers in the world, two were in the UK—EDSAC in Cambridge and ‘Baby’ in Manchester (the other was the Harvard Mark 1).  We could even exploit them commercially—the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) was the world’s first business computer.

The simple fact is that we have skipped training a generation of engineers. While in the 1980’s, computers were fashionable, by the 1990’s we were content to be users. The old secretarial skills course became the GCSE in IT, and we bored children with learning word processing under the pretence that they were learning about computers.  And just as significantly, we have also taught a generation that computes are secret black boxes, that they should not be privileged to understand.

Yet despite this, UK computer engineering is still a power house.  Take apart any modern smartphone, and you’ll find a processor designed by ARM (Cambridge), graphics from Imagination Technologies (Kings Langley), Bluetooth & audio from CSR (Cambridge) and high speed data from Icera (now part of Nvidia, but based in Bristol).  Even where you do find a US company like Broadcom with a chip in there, it was largely designed in their Bristol and Cambridge R&D centres.

When we look at those modern companies, we see them run by engineers who grew up with the BBC Micro.  The question is where to find the generation to succeed them.

Now the BBC Micro was not a free or open source design.  The concept really didn’t exist—the GNU Manifesto wasn’t published until a year or two later.  But it was still the case that at tremendous amount of software was made freely available, and school age programmers were encouraged to experiment.  As the noted educationalist Miles Berry has observed, the free and open source paradigm is perfectly matched to education, where experiment and exploration should be encouraged.

There is no single way to address the issue. The ditching of the old IT curriculum was a good thing, even if its replacement has not yet been fully thought out, and government policy has still to make it through to classroom teaching. Initiatives like Young Rewired State help bring youngsters into technology outside the school system.  The emergence of Arduino, Raspberry Pi and a host of other computers, all of which use free and open source software (if not hardware) is a strong move to an educationally rich environment.  Perhaps most exciting is the LowRISC project, taking free and open source design right into the processor silicon itself.

My company, Embecosm together with RS Components has been supporting the excellent #techmums initiative that was founded by Dr Sue Black. As existing initiatives show, the reason children get involved with technology is often because their parents are interested. So #techmums aims to give confidence to mothers by running a range of introductory workshops, in which they gain skills and are introduced to the excitement of technology. Empowering and inspiring women, in the hope that their children will then be encouraged to take up technology.

Last year, between us, we supplied 100 Shrimp Persistence of Vision kits (free and open source software and hardware) to #techmums, and in partnership with the BCS and Ravensbourne we ran two workshops. The first of these was to train the #techmums trainers so that they can run workshops themselves. The second was for a group of mothers in Greenwich, East London. I’m delighted to report that both of the workshops were a great success, as clearly evidenced in the smiles of all those who took part.

One more step towards the next generation of engineers.  And all with the help of free and open source software and hardware.

Dr Jeremy Bennett is Treasurer of the Open Source Consortium.  He is also Chief Executive of Embecosm, a software consultancy developing the next generation of free and open source compilers for chip manufacturers around the world.