I just returned home with my son William from our trip to LA. We attended the Gartner conference on Tuesday morning and I spoke on the open source panel. I would like to personally thank the Gartner folks for accomodating William so well: they gave him a "companion / speaker" badge and he was really proud of it. (I told him it said "speaker" because he talks so much ...) Before I get into the panel itself, let me talk a bit about doing panels in general.
In truth, I always have mixed feelings about doing them because, on the surface, the math doesn't add up. For example, this panel was 60 minutes long with 4 panelists, plus 2 analysts acting as moderators. So each panelist might reasonably expect to get 10 minutes of talking time. If you are pushy or are on a hot seat for some topic, you might get more time. If you are more passive or a lengthy topic is being discussed that is less relevant to you, you might get less. So let's say you get your ten minutes and then you consider your travel time. In my case this was a roundtrip from New York state to LA (7+ hours just for the time when the first plane left the ground, until the second landed, each way), plus the other travel time, night in a hotel, and so forth. Of course, it's not really fair to attribute all this time to the panel session. I did do work on other parts of the trip and sometimes being on a plane vs in conference calls all day can make you a lot more productive. You also have to add in the good time after the panel you get to spend with customers and others who heard it, etc. My point in all this is that you have to weigh the opportunity cost of the total time associated with doing the panel vs. the value of doing the panel. Let me just say right here that it was very worthwhile for me to participate in this Gartner panel and I hope that any of you who saw it agree.
This has not always been true of other panels: you know you are in trouble when there is one guy who starts off with "I guess I'm going to be the contrarian of the group." This is not because controversy isn't good, because panels are definitely more fun when you mix things up a bit. Panels are boring when everyone agrees. It is the responsibility of the people putting the panel together to make sure that many different views are expressed and then discussed intelligently. I view the "contrarian guy ploy" as a weak marketing technique to get attention. Nobody on the Gartner open source panel tried pulling that one.