During the decline and fall of the New Economy in early 2001, I was winding up a highly educational but ultimately unfulfilling stint as a venture capitalist. As I sat amidst the ruins of the dot com world contemplating what to do, I was looking for a next thing that would be both personally meaningful and contribute something to the world of computing.
In doing this, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. Over the past 20 years, I'd worn many hats in information technology: consultant, developer, software designer, entrepreneur, CEO, angel investor, and VC. Of all of these, I most loved designing software, particularly the kinds of applications a person uses in everyday life. Other roles were each compelling in their own way, but the one which I found most sustaining was as a software designer. My passion about making useful software artifacts remained, and I had accumulated a major backlog of innovative ideas.
For the longest time, I could not see how to test those ideas in reality's lab. The whole idea of founding a company to development of new productivity software was a complete non-starter. No sane VC would or should fund a venture to compete with the Microsoft monopoly. As a different option, I refused even to think about the self-indulgence of "vanity publishing". No, if I was going to invest much time, effort, and money to develop something new, I wanted it to have a chance to have an impact in the world. But how to accomplish this?
It came to me slowly that going the open source route might be the answer. The enormous impact of Linux hardly escaped me, yet I was in no way an open source zealot. It was truly impressive how Linux had grown organically without being owned or controlled by anyone to the point where it would become a preferred alternative for servers. But for the end-user, Linux was still messy and full of holes, and the culture of open source, as I saw it, was much more about developers making tools for developers than with making quality applications for end-users. Open source felt risky, but the idea of making something, which, if it caught on, would be freely shared and improved upon felt extremely compelling. I could see it having lots of impact.
In the spring of 2001, I funded an initial, limited experiment by hiring a consulting group to prototype a couple of the key ideas. I quickly saw that to get real traction, there would have to be a small corps of full-time developers, not just consultants. We need to form a group with a common mind-set. I was beginning to get very excited about the idea of working again with a small group.
In the summer of 2001, I took the plunge, committed to open source, and hired the first employee of a fledgling non-profit. Why non-profit? I had not, all of a sudden, ceased to believe in the virtues of capitalism. But I wanted to make a clear statement, that my intent was not to use this as a vehicle to make more money. I would be very happy for others to make money and intended to find a licensing scheme which would permit both non-commercial and commercial development on our code base.
Thus was born OSAF.Posted by email@example.com at October 17, 2002 02:30 PM