An event that promises to treat open-source software as a social movement will debut at the University of Toronto in May, contrasting with other shows about free software systems focusing strictly on the technology or day-to-day implementation issues for non-technical users.

“”Open source and

free software: Concepts, controversies and Solutions,”” a conference being presented by the Knowledge Media Design Institute, is “”trying to focus on the big picture”” rather than details, said Ron Baecker, conference chair.

Some legal issues the conference will cover include open-source licensing models, the legal benefits and risks of adopting open source versus proprietary software and the experiences of countries adopting open source, said Baecker. Linux legal issues have been making headlines around the world this week following a decision by SCO group to sue AutoZone over what is claims is an infringement of its intellectual property related to an earlier version of the Linux kernel.

“”There are very few such conferences anywhere in the world,”” he said. “”The closest, I believe, that really took this broad approach was one in Cambridge, England three years ago. MIT and Harvard did one last summer that was a little bit in the spirit of ours. If you’re sitting here in Toronto or Ottawa, all that you have available are things like Real World Linux, or there’s sort of specialized Linux shows in Ottawa.””

An MIS manager or CIO at a large Canadian corporation wants to know about the more encompassing legal, political and business issues related to Linux and open source, said Baecker, noting the Institute last took a high-level look at technology eight years ago when it examined the Internet beyond 2000. He expects 500 attendees at this year’s open-source show.

Last year, Real World Linux debuted an event organizers said pushed from the forefront non-technical subjects, a sign the technology has advanced to a stage in which it’s being actively targeted at business decision makers, said Bruce Cole, president of Real World Linux Inc. in Thornhill, Ont.

“”The event is actually not a geek event,”” Cole said of Real World Linux. “”When I was developing this event, I felt that there was already enough events in the marketplace to cover the technical side.

“”In many cases, the business decision makers are not fully equipped to appreciate the possible benefits, and therefore this gives them a non-technical opportunity to learn about an alternative system without having to dig into the code.””

April’s Real World Linux 2004 will address certain technical issues, but its audience will be comprised of senior executives right down to system administrators, Cole said. His group wants to show individuals employed in government, education and business that Linux and open-source operating systems are alternatives to other proprietary systems and should be considered an option as they develop their company’s IT strategy.

Business-focused seminars at Real World Linux discuss the financial benefits of choosing Linux over other systems like Unix and Microsoft, and the considerations to be made by business users as they migrate to Linux, Cole explained.

Moreover, conference participants will hear a number of case studies detailing the experiences of organizations shifting to a desktop-based Linux system, he said. “”Instead of talking about lines of code, we’re talking about successful implementations.””

Cole expects attendance to average 2,500 people, more than the 1,800 participants the show attracted last year, which debuted three days after the World Health Organization announced Toronto was no longer a recommended destination because of a SARS crisis.

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