Comment Tim O'Reilly is like a Burger King sandwich in that he likes things his way.
O'Reilly invited Free Software Foundation lawyer Eben Moglen to participate in a discussion about "licensing in the Web 2.0 era" at this week's OSCON. The conference organizers did their best to fix the conversation. Even though everyone laughs at O'Reilly's Web 2.0 moniker to his face, the conference promoter still takes the phrase very seriously and expects others to do the same. Moglen declined the offer.
"Tim has a television show under production where we get told in advance what we are going to say and how it will reflect Tim's underlying idea," Moglen told us. "I decided not to go with the program."
Moglen's performance turned into the stuff of legend.
Regrettably, we missed the assault. Stories needed to go out, and we assumed the chat would follow familiar, boring lines. After about ten people later asked if we caught the spectacular show, The Register contacted the OSCON audio staff to obtain a recording of the session. "No problem," they said, "It will just take a couple of minutes, but you need to get O'Reilly's permission first." O'Reilly corporate refused to release the audio, saying it would cause a slippery slope. (We're still trying to understand that one.) They, however, did add that Moglen appeared to be "off his meds."
So what exactly happened?
Moglen attacked O'Reilly for wasting his time promoting Web 2.0 darlings, when he should be focusing on the core issues crucial to free software.
"I decided to say that we've reached a stage where we ought to be able to tell the difference between daily business news – X is up, Y is down – and the stuff that really matters, which from day-to-day is not racehorse X is running faster than racehorse Y.
"I think what time has done with this forum in general is to emphasize the trivial at the expense of the significant."
According to published reports, Moglen described O'Reilly's current approach to open source software as "frivolous." He also chastised O'Reilly for chasing money, billionaire chums and "thermal noise" like Facebook.
"We still have serious problems to correct in public policies made by people propping up business models that were dying and wasting time promoting commercial products," Moglen said, during the session.
As we understand it, O'Reilly failed to muster anything resembling a defense, and we'll just have to take others' word for it.
Chairman Khaki Scruff
Few of you will suffer from jaw drop when learning that the O'Reilly faithful came to the defeated Burger King's rescue.
A fair-minded type on the, er, O'Reilly blog noted that, "Eben was slinging careless insults left and right."
(Moglen's insults seem rather careful to us.)
I thought that Eben was lacking general courtesy and respect for his host — I don’t think its acceptable to insult your host on stage. Especially if the host is Tim O’Reilly who has gone to great lengths to foster community and has given open source developers countless chances to collaborate. Sweeping all of Tim’s accomplishments under the table and berating the audience for having wasted 10 years time is plain rude.
Another blogger described the chat as follows:
I felt uncomfortable just listening to the conversation and it was clear that many in the room felt the same way. Tim was a gracious host and gave his invited guest his full attention and asked how he could help address the issues, at which time Eben replied ‘Take down your name (the large O’Reilly sign behind the stage) and start promoting freedoms.” Tim was speechless (or so it seemed).
You have to love the shared concern for respecting the host's rights at a conference meant to foster all kinds of lively discussions. And the latter posting proves priceless for equating "speechless" with "gracious."
How symbolic that O'Reilly took the OSCON stage today as PRC Communist party propaganda music played.
Like Steve Jobs with his jeans and black top, Larry Ellison with his glazed brain and political blowhard Tucker Carlson with his bowtie, O'Reilly dons a uniform. It's tennis shoes, khaki pants and a khaki, crappy jacket. You're meant to think O'Reilly is a man of the people rather than a wealthy, self-promoter backing whatever happens to be selling. The strategy works well. But let's try – hard as it is – to stall the ad hominem track for a moment and focus back on the issues at hand.