Saturday, February 25, 2006

Interview with Sam Hiser

Recently, I posted a review of the book, "Exploring The JDS Linux Desktop," by Sam Hiser and Tom Adelstein. Here's an interesting Sam Hiser interview by

Listen to a interesting interview with Tom Adelstein and Sam Hiser by LQ Radio, part of Topics covered include an in-depth look at the Sun Linux strategy, current trends in the Linux market, thoughts on Novell and Red Hat, Linux OEM preloads, the importance of open document formats, Linux in emerging areas, Open Sourcing OS/2, Linux standards and much more. Total running time is 1:16.

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Sam Hiser

Hiser is a Principal and Managing Director of Hiser Adelstein & Associates, New York and Dallas. In New York City, he directs a pilot program in collaboration with Computers for Youth called "Knowledge-Up" in which NYC middle-school students provide computer support and skill training to the teachers in their school. Hiser is also Member of the Working Group of the Open Government Interoperability Project for establishing software development standards and providing standard applications to State and Local governments across the United States.

Hiser was teaching middle-school English in The Bronx District 9 with NYC Teaching Fellows when he was called to advise Sun Microsystems, Inc. on open source community management and software marketing for the launch of 1.0 in Spring of 2002. Prior to that, he was CIO and Principal of Reel America Inc., a dot-com aggregator of cultural programming for cable TV and the Internet. This followed an early career as an investment banker and security analyst in technology.

Hiser speaks frequently to businesspeople, user groups, students, parents and educators about Open-Source Software iand writes occasionally on software development in several online journals. He holds an MBA from Duke University's Fugua School of Business, and a BA in English Literature, Art History and Physics from St. Lawrence University. claims an impressive 8.5 million downloads in the past two years and near compatibility with MS Office. A conservative estimate would place the number of users of 1.0 at 2 to 5 million. Hiser also claims that 1.0 is the office suite running on the single desktop that's set up in the middle of a Rwandan refugee camp.

Virtual Activism interviewed him.

Virtual Activism: How long have you been involved in the Open Office project and what promoted/ motivated you to join it?

Sam Hiser: The OOo Project began on Oct. 13, 2000 when Sun Microsystems open sourced the StarOffice code. Sun Microsystems is the founder and significant ongoing sponsor of I started contributing to OOo Marketing just after 9/11 in Oct. 2001. On 9/12, before the dust [of the World Trade Center] began to settle, literally 7 miles from where I was at the time and still live, it occurred to me that the start-up where I was working was not going to continue as a going concern. It was a wake-up moment. We were in the process of securing secondary financing -- with about 6 months of cash left (that was Reel America, in the bio) -- and 9/11 made the venture financing conversations halt on a dime. We ended up winding the Reel America concept down (through April 2002) and put it in mothballs, where it remains today for other parties or the original principals to just add water. But it was the weeks immediately after 9/11 when I decided to "give back" some how.

That's when I decided that I wanted to do something proactively to stop Microsoft from abusing its strong market position and personally accelerate the adoption of open software standards. I've always known this was going to affect the networked world and having a 3-year-old at the time I was thinking that I would regret not having DONE something to make it work out better than the present trajectory indicated. The importance of's open XML file format seemed to me at the time to make that project a good place to put that energy. OOo Marketing welcomed the help and that was one place that appeared to need bodies and could use code-less ones, at that.

That was also the same time I decided to finally go into teaching, and joined the NYC Teaching Fellows. Started training just after Reel America wound down.

VA: What were your qualifications to join this team and lead it?

SH: I joined with no coding skills and modest experience in marketing -- apart from business school and the deep brand development I had just led from scratch at Reel America through to a Web site and complete spec for
a digital infrastructure to a business not far different from the many regional affiliates of PBS.

At OOo I just pitched in and didn't lead anything officially until, I forget, around the summer of 2002 after OOo's important 1.0 launch -- I was voted co-lead of Marketing under Josh Berkus, then the Lead. (I only just became Lead myself in Oct 2003).

I'm not the one to say, but suspect my move to lead is due to 1) my desire to lead marketing and establish at least informally some strategic directions and willingness to take responsibility; 2) my active email contributions and local evangelism for OOo in NYC area; and 3) my forceful presence on the mailing lists (at OOoCon last March in Hamburg, some of our group observed that I seemed so quiet in person because my email was usually so loud ;); and 4) my willingness to admit that I've been a bone-head on some issues from time to time. But you'd get a better answer from the community on this. I did receive encouragement from Sun and the positive atmosphere of the project has always made it conducive and a constructive place. I must thank Zaheda Bhorat, now with Marketing and Community Management at NetBeans, who was extemely unselfish in her passion for open source marketing, who set a great example and who included me in some of the early strategic conversations -- particularly in driving the 1.0 release, which many developers thought was too early.

If I have had any impact on the project, it's in pushing the idea that we need to focus on and talk about the PRODUCT, get many many users going and then the PROJECT will take care of itself and attract developers when the user buzz gets going. If-you-distibute-it, the-developers-will-come, sort of thing. When I arrived -- and still a
bit today -- the emphasis was all about OOo Marketing's responsibility to talk up and generate independent developers' participation.

So, I can say with authority that I'm still unqualified.

VA: How many are working on the project?

SH: Thousands. Hundreds regularly. Sun sponsors a core group of programmers in Germany & Ireland, no more than a hundred or so; this team consists largely of the StarDivision group which Sun acquired in 1999 about a year before open sourcing the code.

VA: Why should people use Open Office?

SH: It works well for 90% of document creation needs; highly compatible with more different versions of MS Office documents than MS Office itself!; it runs on many OS platforms; the file format is open XML -- which brings substantial technical benefits to governments (public access to documents) and enterprises (document and content management); the file format is an open standard, governed by an international standards body, OASIS (and not by a single corporate entity); the file format will always be accessible to the public for free; the software is available in many more languages than similar proprietary software and therefore will eventually be used by more Earthlings:

VA: Who do you think would most benefit from it?

SH: Everyone would potentially benefit by its openness, flexibility and stability; no one more than any other. OOo especially helps bridge a path for companies to migrate their workforces to Linux desktops, which brings substantial productivity gains as well as costs savings.

VA: What, in your view, is the importance of Open Source software?

SH: Open source development methodologies create better software which keeps getting better and better. It does this through relatively efficient resource allocation. It is important that certain kinds of software -- like operating systems and office suites -- be created and made available openly because they are public utilities and no one has a right to govern or hide the machinations inside the code for personal benefit or for any other

VA: Are you planning any future releases of Open Office?

SH: Of course. There is a document "Q-Concept" which outlines the development roadmap currently specified for OOo 2.0:

VA: Are you working on other projects besides Open Office? if so, what?

SH: The Open Government Interoperability Project; Project Leopard;

I personally lurk on Python Marketing list and Mozilla but am not active. There are members of our community who are senior in other projects like postgreSQL, Mozilla, a few Linux kernel contributors and Ximian's MONO, Evolution & GNOME. Most major Linux distros have people who contribute back to OOo. Once you stare at it long enough you will realize that there are a few hudred people on earth who do all the critical work. One of the initiatives we've got under way at OOo that we have a lot of faith in is getting high school and university students to become aware of open source projects and join in. It's a great way to learn and discover a passion.

VA: Thank you.

OpenOffice is an identical Office Suite to Microsoft's Office Suite, and while they function alike, the difference is that it is given for free and you may download it from the Open Office website. The suite includes for example Writer [instead of Microsoft Word], Impress instead of PowerPoint, Calc instead of Excel etc.. The suite is compatible with all computers, and is also provided in many languages [you may check your language availability on their website]. Sam Hiser is Marketing Project Lead and Member of the governing Community Council of and a systems consultant to media, financial services, government and education

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