Fogging up in the cloud …


Just spent two days this week at the Ex Libris UK user group conference, hosted possibly for the last time at the plush BL convention centre (one minor observation, the coffee there is a bit weak.)

The company is making an admirable transition to the cloud environment, and seems intent on taking as many customers as it can along for the ride. Despite this, details on their next gen resource management software are still scant, but we were interested to hear more.

Amongst a flood of product updates and familiar faces, the undoubted highlight for myself was a one hour debate on the merits of open source and proprietary software ownership models, with specific reference to library usage.  The formidable but agreeable Carl Grant (EL chief Librarian and former OS guru) and independent library tech consultant   Owen Stephens (the MashFather himself) took the floor.

I think both would agree that they had more in common than not.  A few highlights:

  1. Owen noted that Ex Libris clearly had faith in open source internally. Most of their products rely heavily on core OS tech, Red Hat, Apache, Lucene, Tomcat etc.
  2. Carl Grant stated that it would be a hard sell for a company like Ex Libris to open up its products.  For one thing, their management and business accounting practices are simply not set up to handle it.
  3. No-one was taking the argument the Open Source was morally the right thing to do. Thankfully.
  4. Both agreed that its not really how much you spend, its where you spend it – both models need careful attention to estimating T.C.O.
  5. Software licensing is less important in cloud / SAAS models – in some respects it may be advantageous to open up chunks of your stack for inspection
  6. Without a good community, any Open Source venture is dead
  7. Get your code accepted in the core trunk or die
  8. Retaining techies to maintain and develop open source products can be costly

It was a fantastic thing for the UK user group and Ex Libris UK to host. Ex Libris have gone to great and commendable efforts to expose functionality in their systems to developers, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.

However, I’ll refrain from referring to their platforms as ‘open’ as they are wont to do. For one thing, their model does not match the definitions of the term espoused by the Open Knowledge Foundation and others.  OKFN advocate Peter Murray-Rust has had a lot to say on this recently.  Ex Libris are a company with great integrity, they don’t need to resort to mis-using words like ‘open’ for marketing purposes.  Public facing works fine for me, and the functionality sells itself.

One way to improve things would be to provide public documentation on the API spec. Right now, its for customers only. Having to pay to get access to documentation on closed source software is hardly open in any sense.

I also really enjoyed a presentation by Luke O’Sullivan on the VuFind project at Swansea, probably one of the best catalogue interfaces anywhere right now.

I also spoke about Linked Data and the Comet project. No-one seemed to nod off.

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