Entries Tagged 'Licensing' ↓

Google – an open source adopter’s best friend?

“How do enterprises learn about open source alternatives?” was the first question posed on CIO.com’s Executives Online blogathon. A surprising number of respondents listed Google as the first port of call.

For example, Chris Keene wrote: “Here is a simple test. If you are looking for a technical solution – for example a visual ajax tool – you should be able to type “visual ajax tool” into Google and get both open source and proprietary solutions.”

The fact that Google was mentioned is not be surprising given its dominance of search, but I was expecting more mention of tools such as www.eosdirectory.com, Ohloh, ITerating, and OLEX (although EOS Directory did get a couple of mentions to be fair).

Trusting in the developers and engineers and empowering them to discover and nominate potential alternatives was also a popular choice. As Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier noted: “if you are a CIO or IT Manager and are wondering if there’s an open source application that would solve a problem for your business, ask the front line guys. The odds are they’ve already done the homework.”

Beyond that it was noted that, while the sales model is different in that customers can download the software and ensure it fits their needs before engaging in a commercial conversation with the vendor, the process for evaluating the functionality of open source software should be no different than for any other software.

Although, as Brian Gentile pointed out, there are some open source-related criteria by which suppliers need to be judged. For example: “the resources and licensing mechanism to ensure your success (including customer support)”, “the size and vibrancy of its community”, and “how many production deployments are in use”.

Which leads in nicely to the second discussion point: how to evaluate an open source project’s business model.

How open is your open source vendor?

There was some interesting discussion following my post last week asking whether there is a growing rift between commercial open source software vendors and some aspects of the open source user community.

Amongst the comments, Chris Marino of SnapLogic suggested that some of the tension might be eased by open source software vendors being more upfront about their intentions via the publication of social contracts. Examples include the Debian Social Contract and also Funambol’s Open Source Project Social Contract.

As Chris noted, the problems come when companies start changing how they interact with open source communities. Nevertheless, this sort of contract at least lays out the ground rules so that users and developers know what sort of vendor they are involved with and have something definitive to refer to when disagreements arise.

If vendors are not proactive about writing and publishing declarative statements about their open source involvement, they may find that community users start judging them on the community’s terms. From Milking the GNU comes the suggestion that a new independent organization could be formed to judge vendors that claim to be open source on a number of criteria, such as patent policy, business model and development model.

“Equitable Open Source” as it is called, is only a suggestion at this stage, but is an example of the caution being expressed by some users towards commercial open source vendors. As the idea is described, it would at least create a level playing field upon which vendors can be judged.

This would help to avoid debates like this one, in which Baron Schwartz argues that MySQL is free software but not open source. His point is that the development model is not open.

While respondents have pointed out that, according to the Open Source Definition, MySQL is in fact open source, the fact is that the OSD only defines the license used to distribute the software, not the method used to develop it.

Simon Phipps has recently suggested adding open source patent and trademark definitions to the Open Source (Copyright) Definition. Does the industry need an open source definition for business and development models?

MySQL licensing redux

After all the fuss it appears that MySQL will be remaining open source after all. As Kaj Arno and Monty Widenius report, Marten Mickos announced at CommunityOne that the MySQL Server will stay open source, as well as the forthcoming encryption and compression backup features, which MySQL had considered making available only to paying customers.

“The change comes from MySQL now being part of Sun Microsystems. Our initial plans were made for a company considering an IPO, but made less sense in the context of Sun, a large company with a whole family of complementary open source software and hardware products,” writes Kaj.

“My hope is that the experiment when it comes to closed source extensions developed by Sun is now ended. As far as I know, there is no existing plans for any closed source extensions to the MySQL server,” adds Monty.

While that seems pretty clear cut, there is still room for a little confusion. Kaj writes: “To financially support MySQL’s free and open source platform, we have a business model which allows both community and commercial add-ons, and we remain committed to it.”

Monty clarifies: “I interpret this, in the context of Mårten’s and Jonathan’s announcements, that we will continue to support and make available commercial addons to the MySQL server from third party, like the Infobright storage engine. Things that we develop ourselves at Sun, at least on the server, will continue to be open source.”

UPDATE – The phrase “at least on the server” is revealing, however. Matt Asay points out that MySQL will continue to develop commercial add-ons above the server, which is the direction as I understand it, and – as I noted two weeks ago – has been the direction for some time. – UPDATE

While we’re on the subject of MySQL (again) it’s also worth taking a look at the slides (PDF) from Monty Widenius’s “Future Design Hurdles to Tackle in the MySQL Server” presentation at the recent MySQL Conference and Expo.

The slides provide a fascinating insight into the technical challenges Sun and MySQL face in positioning MySQL for wider adoption, as well as evidence of the intention to be more open, both about the nature of the challenges and in accepting more contributions from outside the company.

As slide 18 states, the fact that the MySQL community is not currently contributing to development means that the project is not benefiting from the experience of real-world users and that the user base is growing slowly.

The suggested solution is to open up the development process to give outside developers commit and decision rights and to learn from how PostgreSQL is developed. I previously wrote that “if MySQL does choose to develop closed source extensions to the GPL code it will probably have to find some way of balancing that with providing more value to the community.”

It would appear that the development of close source extensions is no longer an issue, but that providing more value to the user community remains a priority. Sun has gained a lot in acquiring MySQL, but one thing it hasn’t gained is an understanding of building a wider developer community. In fact, MySQL has a lot to learn from Sun in that regard – both its successes and its failures.

SpringSource’s GPL move highlights commercial concerns

Given the previous discussion on this blog and elsewhere about the commercial benefits of the GPL versus more permissive open source licenses it is fascinating (if you’re in to that sort of thing) to see that SpringSource has chosen the GPLv3 for its new Application Platform.

Due for release in June the SpringSource Application Platform combines the Spring Framework, Apache Tomcat, Eclipse Equinox and other OSGi-based technologies with the new SpringSource Dynamic Module Kernel backbone. All of these are available under Apache or Eclipse, however, the SpringSource Application Project itself will be under the GPLv3.

As Rod Johnson explains, the choice of license is very much designed to protect the commercial interests of SpringSource:

“Creating an application platform that makes the benefits of OSGi available to end users was a huge investment for us. There’s a lot of technical innovation under the hood which won’t be immediately apparent but which enables us to make a generational leap. If we’re giving that technology away in open source, we wanted others who build on it to also give away the results in open source.”

TheServerSide discussion shows that not everyone is happy with the company’s decision to go GPL and it is interesting to see the company using the GPL to restrict the commercial opportunities for potential rivals (although at least the code is still open source, it could after all have changed it to a proprietary license). Marc Fleury, meanwhile, describes it as “the same thing you had yesterday for free, except it is now under the GPL and a proprietary subscription license.”

To clarify, the Spring Framework itself remains under the ASL 2.0, and it is also worth noting that the change SpringSource has made (like it or not) is only possible thanks to the GPLv3’s compatibility with the Apache license (although the Eclipse Equinox tools are another matter).

Microsoft rides in to cross-platform systems management

While Microsoft’s focus on its making its applications (almost) exclusively available for its own software stack is understandable, I have often thought that in the systems management sector the strategy had the effect of restricting Microsoft’s potential market and increasing opportunities for its rivals.

The company’s decision to offer cross-platform extensions for System Center therefore makes good business sense, but is no less surprising as a strategic about-turn.

Specifically, Microsoft will enable the management of Linux and Unix servers from within its own systems management software. The functionality is based on Web Services for Management (WS-Management) and the OpenPegasus project, which is an open-source implementation of the DMTF CIM and WBEM standards.

Additionally, Microsoft announced that “it will be joining the OpenPegasus Steering Committee and contribute code back to the open source community under the Microsoft Public License, an Open Source Initiative (OSI)-approved license.” This is the first major use of Ms-PL that I am aware of since it was approved by the OSI in October.

Sam Ramji points out that “it simply makes great technical and business sense to cooperate with the OpenPegasus community to build upon industry-standards based cross-platform technology,” and the System Center business would appear to be an ideal testing bed for increased interoperability and open source involvement from Microsoft.

When I have previously question Microsoft about the fact that its previous System Center strategy restricted its addressable market the official response was that the company was happy to provide opportunities outside its expertise for partners.

The new strategy will therefore see Microsoft stepping on a few toes, and it’s no surprise to the company also talking up opportunities its systems management partners. Specifically Quest, Novell and Xandros are all on board with functionality to enable System Center users to manage third party applications on top of Windows, Linux and Unix. In fact, if you read Joe Brockmeier, Microsoft’s new Linux management capabilities are all “thanks to Novell”.

One question that remains is whether users will trust the management of their Linux an Unix servers to Microsoft. My guess is that the new cross-platform features will be highly attractive to Microsoft-dominated shops that have made a commitment to System Center and want to reduce th number of systems management products they use. Unix/Linux-heavy shops are unlikely to be distracted away from their existing heterogeneous management tools, however.

Trying to keep the customer satisfied

I was just reading Fabrizio Capobanco’s take on the MySQL excitement (“this move is clearly into the right direction”) when it occurred to me that the situation is related to the comments recently made by the former CTO of Kaplan Test, Jon Williams, at the recent OSBC conference.

As I wrote at the time: “Another point Jon made was that the subscription model helps keep open source vendors on their toes as every year he gets to decide whether they will received another payment.”

In other words, as Matt Asay put it: “the more happy he is with his commercial open-source software, the less likely he will be to pay for it. Why? Because his developers will acquire the expertise over time to support themselves and because the product will mature to the point that support will be less necessary.”

Is this the challenge that MySQL faces? A lot of attention is placed on its circa 1:1,000 conversion rate from Community users to Enterprise subscribers, but I wouldn’t mind betting MySQL and Sun are more concerned about retaining that one existing paying customer than they are chasing the 999 who will most likely never pay.

That does not mean the company should – or can afford to – turn its back on its Community users, of course, but it does make it hard to balance the two communities. Ultimately I believe that a lot of the really negative reaction has been based on a misunderstanding that the company was going to remove features from the open source version, which is clearly not the case.

The company needs to move quickly to decide and explain how exactly it is going to license the new functionality. Once it has everyone can make up their own minds and get on with (or without) it. Until then, the confusion is likely to grow.

MySQL’s business model in a state of flux

“Sun to Begin Close Sourcing MySQL” screamed the headline on Slashdot last night. The headline is not entirely accurate (although slightly more accurate than the bizarre statement that “Sun has had a very poor history of actually open sourcing anything”).

So what is going on at MySQL? To get to the bottom of that you have to weave together a number of posts and comments from a number of sources. First the article behind the Slashdot headline:

“Just announced: MySQL to launch new features only in MySQL Enterprise,” states Jeremy Cole, which is a much more accurate description of the state of affairs. “MySQL will start offering some features (specifically ones related to online backups) only in MySQL Enterprise. This represents a substantive change to their development model — previously they have been developing features in both MySQL Community and MySQL Enterprise.”

Marten Mickos confirmed Jeremy’s post in the comments section, stating: “In 6.0 there will be native backup functionality in the server available for anyone and all (Community, Enterprise) under GPL. Additionally we will develop high-end add-ons (such as encryption, native storage engine-specific drivers) that we will deliver to customers in the MySQL Enterprise product only. We have not yet decided under what licence we will release those add-ons (GPL, some other FOSS licence, and/or commercial).”

So to clarify. Sun (or MySQL) is not going to begin closing the source code of MySQL features, but it is going to introduce new features into the Enterprise Edition that will not be available under an open source license.

To some extent there is nothing new here. The company previously announced that the Standard Edition of the recently introduced MySQL Workbench would include functionality not available in the open source Community Edition, while the MySQL Enterprise Fall 2007 release saw the availability of replication monitoring and advisory functionality only available with the Enterprise subscription.

Before that the company introduced Network Monitoring and Advisory Services with the Enterprise version in October 2006. Additionally, MySQL removed the Enterprise tarballs from its community ftp site in August 2007.

Mickos also responded to the Slashdot post itself; pointing out that “the business decision on this was made by MySQL AB (by me as the then CEO) prior to the acquisition by Sun, so this has nothing to do with Sun” and that “everything we have released under GPL continues to be under GPL”.

In a later comment he added: “If the world were perfect, we would only produce GPL code and we would have a great business that can fund the software development. But we have found that the world is not perfect. We have been experimenting with a variety of business models around FOSS (dual licensing, support only, simple subscriptions, different binaries for community and enterprise, non-open source features) to find the best one. And we will continue to experiment until we are satisfied. We need to find a model that allows us to produce a ton of great code under GPL while having the financial strength to do all this.”

I was reminded of an article Mickos himself wrote in 2006 about the 13 different business models used by open source vendors (the original article appears to have vanished but you can see my response to it and a list of the business models here).

From this list it is clear to see how MySQL is in the process of moving from “3. Software is free but if you embed it in closed source, you better pay a fee (Trolltech, DB4Objects, Funambol, MySQL, etc.)” to “6. Software is free but some enterprise features are not (SugarCRM, Zimbra, JasperSoft)”.

Of course, whether you believe this to be the correct model for MySQL is another matter, and Matt Asay for one would prefer to see MySQL opting for “5. Software is free but on-going maintenance, monitoring and provision of binaries is not (Red Hat)”, which is the direction the company had appeared to be going in.

The fear, as far as the community users is concerned, is that MySQL might end up using “7. Software is free but we built a closed-source product around it (EnterpriseDB, GreenPlum)”. However, given Sun’s business model is “9. Software is free but we sell everything else on the planet, including closed source software (IBM)” there appears to be little chance of that.

As Matt also notes, the problem MySQL has right now is a public relations problem (or a community relations problem). Given that there does not appear to be a vast change in strategy (despite the headlines this is a bend in the road rather than an about turn), this should not pose a long-term problem for the company.

Zack Urlocker has also clarified the situation here.

In the OSI board we (must) trust

Given the role the Open Source Initiative plays in protecting the open source brand and reviewing and approving licenses as conforming with the Open Source Definition, it is somewhat surprising how little interest there has been in the recent election of the OSI board.

As the OSI’s announcement explains, just two out of ten seats at the table were up for grabs as Raj Mathur and Matt Asay decided not to stand for reconfirmation.

Bruce Perens had previously campaigned to be considered alongside Martin Michlmayr and Harshad Gune and while he succeeded in that regard, he failed to win the votes needed to be elected to the board.

You may well be wondering “elected by who?”. One of the possibly unintended results of Bruce’s campaign has been to shed some light on the workings of the OSI and its elections. Mark Hinkle recently took a look at the OSI’s bylaws (which to be fair have always been available for everyone to see) and noted that “the bottom line is that no matter what the users, vendors, or even Bruce Perens want the board has no obligation to act based on their input.”

Which isn’t to say that this is necessarily a problem (it certainly hasn’t been to date), but it doesn’t mean that the election of the OSI shouldn’t be more widely reported and the structure and role of the OSI questioned or reconsidered. As Mark added:

“I suspect that many people are unaware of the workings of this important organization. They use, develop, and distribute open source software without a thought to the power the open source brand has. There are also many companies that rely on the open source brand to help grow their businesses. I think it’s worth our attention to consider whose running that show and how other organizations might join the governance of the brand.”

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of trust. “When it comes right down to it the future of the brand is controlled by ten people who we ultimately have to have faith in to continue to do the right thing,” added Mark. “Hopefully my admission of my own ignorance educates and provokes the thoughts of others.”

Does your OS systems management got GPL?

That has emerged as the question, or at least a major factor in determining whether open source software works in the enterprise systems management market.

The three open source players that have managed mid-market and enterprise customer growth — GroundWork Open Source, Hyperic and Zenoss — all base their products, both community and enteprise versions, on software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The three systems management ventures that have faltered recently — Levanta, Open Country and Qlusters — did not use GPL licensing. Levanta and Open Country did not even offer community or free versions. While Qlusters opened its QRM software in 2006, it did not emphasize its free version, which is now in the hands of the openQRM developer community. Open Country and Qlusters did base their products on open source software that was licensed under the Mozilla Public License with attribution. This is not to say MPL does not work in the enterprise (see systems management project Ziptie, licensed under the MPL). However, when looking at these six companies and considering their differences, the GPL licensing stands out.

Other prominent factors are the functionality focus (monitoring seems to be a gap in current offerings and competition, compared to provisioning, patching and other systems management subcategories) and interoperability with and support of Windows and other proprietary software.

This is not to say GPL licensing + monitoring = enterprise systems management revenue. There are other examples of ventures based on open source software, such as OpenESM, that are both GPL and centered on monitoring, yet never took off. However, when we look at the newest open source systems management ventures — OpenNMS Group, Nagios Enterprises and Paglo — we see that these community-driven commercial plays are sticking with what works: the GPL.

Bruce Perens draws his line in the sand

Bruce Perens has announced his intention to stand for election to the executive board of the Open Source Initiative with a stated policy of reducing vendor representation and license proliferation. He is asking for individual open source developers and supporters to back his campaign and show community support for his candidacy.

I mentioned recently that “As many mainstream IT vendors respond not by adopting open source methodologies but by adapting them to fit proprietary models there appears to be increased tension between a Free Software movement exhibiting a strengthened resolve to stand by its principles, and an Open Source Software movement in which individuals have to decide where they draw the line”.

Since then we have seen Sun’s Simon Phipps offering to help redefine the Open Source Definition and now Perens standing to reduce vendor involvement in the OSI. I’m not calling it a crisis just yet, but from the language used by both indicates that they have decided that enough is enough.

“I do believe that certain recent events between the open and proprietary software worlds mean that it’s time for software freedom fighters to get together and work on these things,” stated Simon.

“With its increasing participation in Open Source, there’s even a chance that Microsoft could be offered an OSI board seat. I have been an outspoken opponent of vendor excesses, fighting SCO, the Novell-Microsoft agreement, etc., for more than a decade. Help me continue that work,” stated Bruce.

Matt Asay, incidentally, calls the potential of Microsoft joining the OSI board a strawman, and he may well be right (Michael Tiemann certainly thinks he is), but the fact that it has been raised at all is an indication that battle lines are being drawn.

Redefining open source

Sun’s chief open source officer, Simon Phipps, has written and interesting post today that relates to a couple of posts I’ve written about recently, particularly The impact of licensing choice and Is FOSS heading for an identity crisis?

In Software Freedom: More than Copyright Simon argues that “certain recent events between the open and proprietary software worlds mean that it’s time for software freedom fighters to get together and work on these things”.

By these things he means the protection of open source ideals through the application of new definitions related to intellectual property. Simon notes that the Open Source definition does not actually define what does or does not constitute ‘open source’, but, as he puts it, “it defines a subset of the requirements that protect software freedom, in this case the copyright license.”

Simon goes on to suggest that perhaps the OSD would be better renamed the Open Source Copyright Definition and bolstered by the creation of Open Source Patent Definition and an Open Source Trademark Definition which would act to define how open source is protected and promoted by the use of patent and trademark policies.

Simon was responding to a recent post by Michael Tiemann in which he bemoaned the process regarding the proposed ISO approval of OOXML. Tiemann’s post includes the insightful comment: “I have become increasingly aware of a strategy that seems frequently employed by the powerful: when caught bending the rules, bend them to breaking, and when breaking the rules, break so many so comprehensively that it seems pointless and small to call any specific infraction to light.”

It is in the light of this strategy that I suggested that we might see “increased tension between a Free Software movement exhibiting a strengthened resolve to stand by its principles, and an Open Source Software movement in which individuals have to decide where they draw the line.”

It is interesting to see Simon attempting to draw that line.

Is FOSS heading for an identity crisis?

In his recent Forbes article Cash Me Out (by way of The Register’s Open Season) Dan Lyons likens the assimilation of open source into the mainstream IT industry to the incorporation of gay culture into mainstream culture.

In his article, Lyons references The End of Gay Culture, an essay written by Andrew Sullivan and published in The New Republic in 2005 that argued that the gay rights movement had been so successful that gay culture had been absorbed into mainstream culture. While the success was something to celebrate, it also challenged former definitions of gay culture and identity, according to Sullivan.

The assimilation of any sub- or counter-culture into the mainstream is a divisive moment – signaling as it does both the success of the movement in reaching a wider audience, and the watering-down of its principles by external forces. There are signs that an identity crisis is already impacting the Free- and Open Source Software movements.

[CLARIFICATION – In this post I have tried to be very careful with my use of the terms ‘Free Software’ and ‘Open Source’ in order to recognize that they are two separate, but linked, movements. When the term ‘FOSS’ is used it is used deliberately to refer to both movements collectively (hence the title). Otherwise I have used the phrase ‘Free- and Open Source Software movements’ to indicate that I am referring to two separate movements at the same time. I have also been careful about my use of the term ‘adoption’ as opposed to ‘assimilation’. I am not for a moment suggesting that increased adoption of FOSS is a problem for Free- and Open Source Software vendors, and have edited those occasions where I am referring to adoption to avoid confusion.]

An example of the assimilation of FOSS into the mainstream was provided by Microsoft’s successful attempt to have two licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative. There are those that see Microsoft’s creeping engagement with open source as pernicious, and some that thought that the OSI should have discriminated against the software giant by blocking its move.

While this is an obvious example of the blurring of the line between open source and the mainstream, a more subtle – but perhaps more significant – example was revealed in the recent Port25 post by Sam Ramji that revealed how open source has influenced Windows Server 2008.

Here is a clear example of how Microsoft has taken lessons from the success of the open source development model and applied them to its own proprietary code development – observing what works for open source and adjusting its development practices accordingly while retaining control over the project.

As Savio Rodrigues noted: “this should scare any OSS proponent. It seems like the folks at Redmond have been busy while the OSS movement has been prematurely readying Microsoft’s eulogy. I hope I’m wrong. But Microsoft simply appears to be meeting the challenge of OSS better than OSS appears to be meeting the challenge of displacing Microsoft.”

And Microsoft is just one example. Everywhere you look in the IT industry there are examples of how proprietary vendors have taken the benefits of open source and applied them to their own products.

“Appistry’s new open distribution program combines the best of open source and commercial software. By making this download available we’re able to let developers experience its benefits immediately, for free, and with no strings attached. Plus, they have the benefit of knowing that the product is commercially supported should they ever need it, and customers like FedEx and GeoEye count on it for mission-critical applications.”
Kevin Haar, Appistry chief executive officer, earlier this week.

I picked that example not only because it is timely but because you could replace the name Appistry with that of any vendor in the IT industry and it would still make sense. How many times have we read variations on this theme in recent years? The trend is set to continue.

Of course, giving software away for free does not make it open source any more than applying a collaborative development methodology within a restricted development team does – so how are the Free- and Open Source Software movements to respond to these developments?

Clearly while there are things FOSS vendors and groups can do to stop the misuse of FOSS code and the term ‘open source‘ there is little that can be done to prevent the benefits of FOSS development and distribution being applied to proprietary products. Indeed, whether you want to do anything about it depends on whether you see the assimilation of open source into the mainstream as a threat or an opportunity.

Sullivan ultimately saw “The End of Gay Culture” as an opportunity – specifically for the gay movement to define itself on its own terms, rather than as a reaction to exclusion from the mainstream. A major difference with the Free- and Open Source Software movements is that they have already defined themselves on their own terms, either to deliberately exclude the mainstream or to encourage inclusion.

The challenge faced by FOSS is more akin to that faced by the Green movement, which previously defined itself on its own terms but now finds its core message being rewritten by corporate agendas and external forces.

During a recent meeting with open source services firm Sirius it was suggested to me by Tom Callway and Mark Taylor that the Green movement could provide a model of how open source will come to be more widely adopted in the UK despite current ambivalence.

Certainly there are parallels to be drawn between the Green movement and FOSS , with the tendency of some sections of the mainstream press to dismiss Free- and Open Source Software supporters as sandal-wearing and beard-toting troublemakers or romantic idealists, for example. It’s an image that is almost identical to the one applied to environmental activists in the past.

[Aside – It is not beyond the realms of fantasy to see how open source could become more widely adopted in a similar fashion – particularly the way in which the ecological arguments are now being presented hand in hand with economic arguments.

Perhaps in years to come we will see big businesses boasting about lowering their proprietary licensing footprint through the more efficient use of computing resources, just as today they boast about the efficient use of natural resources. Maybe the laggards could pay someone else to adopt open source for them via proprietary offsetting schemes.

While I am being flippant here, it wouldn’t seem unreasonable for shareholders to demand that businesses justify their spending on IT resources to ensure that profits are being reinvested efficiently. We’ve already seen an attempt Oracle to publish an Open Source Social Responsibility Report, although there was a different agenda behind that move.]

The Green movement has been astonishingly successful in recent years at placing environmental issues further up corporate and personal agendas, but now faces the challenge of maintaining its own identity in a world where the very companies once attacked for destroying the world’s natural resources are now positioning themselves as leaders of the ecological agenda.

Where environmental protesters were once dismissed by the mainstream press in the UK as unwashed eco-terrorists, The Daily Mail now runs style guides enabling “middle Britain” to spot the different types of environmental activist in their local health food shop.

The success of the Green movement in moving beyond the beard and sandals stereotype has not been without a degree of compromise.

“Green consumerism is an oxymoronic phrase,” Paul Hawken, author and environmental activist told the New York Times in 2007. The NYT added that “He blamed the news media and marketers for turning environmentalism into fashion and distracting from serious issues.”

As can be seen from the article, one of the implications has been to split the Green movement between those that see eco-consumerism as a step in the right direction and those that see it as watering down the message to the extent that it becomes meaningless.

It appears that the Free- and Open Source Software movements are on the brink of a similar schism between those that see the assimilation of FOSS into the mainstream as an opportunity and those that see it as a threat. Additionally while there have always been philosophical differences between Free- and Open Source Software, they are now being highlighted by external factors.

Examples include DRM, with the Free Software Foundation clearly on one side with its Defective By Design campaign and the likes of Linus Torvalds on the other, shying away from such ‘crusades‘. Then of course there is the issue of patents, where there is a much clearer delineation between the haves and have nots, the related issue of interoperability, and licensing – particularly the use if non-OSI approved ‘open source’ licenses called out by Michael Tiemann.

[UPDATE – To be clear, the relationship between the Free- and Open Source Software movements could be described to date as an uneasy alliance in which the focus, as a means of fulfilling their separate goals, has been on what unites both sides. It is my contention – based on observation – that the external forces referenced above are placing increased pressure on that alliance. The Free Software movement has always defined itself in way that excludes it from assimilation by the mainstream and will naturally resist any dilution of its principles. The Open Source Software movement, on the other hand, was formed specifically to encourage mainstream interest. As many mainstream IT vendors respond not by adopting open source methodologies but by adapting them to fit proprietary models there appears to be increased tension between a Free Software movement exhibiting a strengthened resolve to stand by its principles, and an Open Source Software movement in which individuals have to decide where they draw the line.]

What do you think? Is it time to pick sides, or is there middle ground that will enable the principles of FOSS to flourish despite – or even because of – assimilation into the mainstream?

Further reading:

Thoughts on an (impending) identity crisis for FOSS, Open Source Unleashed

Dear Dan Lyons: Open Source was Never ‘Counter Culture’, There is no Open Source Community

Don’t be Freetarded, The Keene View

Further thoughts on the impact of licensing choice

I’m still kicking around the ideas suggested by Tim Bowden’s post, which suggested that the GPL is a better licensing choice than BSD for vendors establishing commercial dominance around an open source project.

If you were to draw up a list of the most successful commercial open source vendors, I believe they would all be based on either the L/GPL or the MPL. Certainly, taking Tim’s central point about M&A valuations for open source vendors as the yard stick, then the largest open source M&As have all involved copyleft licenses (although Ian Skerrett believes this has as much to do with trademarks as it does license, and of course the brand is significant).

With community-led projects, vendors more often that not face a choice of two business models: support services (Covalent) or proprietary extensions (EnterpriseDB). Both models enable commercial businesses to flourish, although neither does so as quickly as the captive model has done via dual-licensing (MySQL) or mandatory subscriptions and copyright control (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).

The dual licensing approach, in particular, gives the open source vendor control over the ‘open market’ for support and services around a captive open source project, and has proved popular for customers concerned about the implications of adopting GPL software. Meanwhile Red Hat’s model is as close as you can get to a dual-licensing approach in a community-led GPL project.

Arguably it is these models, rather than the license itself, that has enabled the vendors to establish dominance in a particular market (although more research is needed into the difference between captive GPL projects created by commercial operations and commercial operations that have emerged from community GPL projects).

Meanwhile, earlier this week I met up for a chat with Gianugo Rabellino, the CEO of Sourcesense, during which he made the point that what is good for the vendor is not necessarily good for the customer. As an ASF member and Apache committer, Gainugo leans towards community- rather than captive-open source software and points out that for every MySQL there will be several open source vendors that don’t make it.

The failure of open source start-ups is an aspect of the industry that open source has not yet had to face up to. There have been isolated incidents of vendors falling by the wayside, and it is likely there will be more, although most investors will look to get some return from their investment, rather than just letting it dwindle away.

So far M&A activity around open source vendors has been driven by the value extant in the open source model (although you could argue about XenSource) but what happens if and when open source vendors are acquired by a vendor in order to kill an open source alternative or to take advantage of dual licensing to take a project proprietary?

It is certainly theoretically possible for the dual licensing approach to be used to remove the freedoms and flexibility that attracted customers to open source software in the fist place. While the original code would remain GPL, unless a community springs up to support it, it is effectively moribund. Of course the BSD license specifically allows this situation to occur, but the fact that projects are community-led rather than captive enables them to survive and thrive while vendors come and go (see PostgreSQL).

According to Gianugo, if an open source vendor shake-out occurs, the potential advantages of community-led projects will come in to play for customers. The community-led project arguably offers a better model for ensuring the long-term availability of code and the creation of a contestable market for support and services. If customers find that the dual license approach isn’t the safety net they thought it was, the argument goes, they could migrate towards community-led projects.

Additional reading:

Wavemaker CEO, Christopher Keene’s The Silverado Rules for Open Source Success points out that license strategy is one of many factors influencing success for VC-backed commercial open source vendors (although he does recommend a dual license strategy based on the GPL).

Ian and Tim continue the discussion in the comments on Ian’s blog.

Open Source Licensing: Obsolete or Of Importance?, Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady.

Thinking Legal for Open Source Success: Trademarks & Licenses, Mark Radcliffe.

The impact of licensing choice

Tim Bowden published an interesting post earlier this week about the impact that the choice of open source license has on the potential valuation of an open source vendor. Taking the MySQL and PostgreSQL databases as an example, Bowden wrote:

“When it comes to takeovers and valuations, I think the role of GPL as a strategic weapon is often under appreciated. If you’re top vendor dog in a GPL project, other players have a very hard time unseating you. That may sound counter-intuitive given world + dog has the code, but I don’t believe it’s such an advantage for competitors as most assume. Your lesser competitors in the same space have to share their plum developments with you. Sure, the top dog has to share his plums too, but when you’ve got the top plum growers in your own yard (to push a metaphor too far), you get to go to market with the best solutions first. If you can keep your plum growers happy, and can do your business execution right, you’re in a very strong position.

“With BSD projects on the other hand, solution providers tend to go to market with proprietary solutions. You can’t force your competitors to share their plums. You don’t share your own (at least, not till they’re getting a bit old and withered). The competitive maneuvering follows a more traditional proprietary model. Being top dog doesn’t stop the competition accruing some distinct proprietary advantage. Sure, it’s rarely easy winning from behind, but if you’re a second tier vendor and have to give away your best produce to the market leader when you go to market (like with GPL’d projects) surely it’s so much harder again.”

If you look at the history of open source databases, there is an argument that the BSD license not only makes it easier for smaller vendors to challenge incumbents, but also for more difficult for the first-to-market to establish anything near a position that could be considered ‘top dog’. PostgreSQL is a prime example of an open source project that has never been successfully commercialized on a global basis, despite all its good qualities.

While regional support players such as Command Prompt and PostgreSQL Inc in the US, Credativ in Europe and Software Research Associates, Fujitsu and NTT Data in Asia provide support services for PostgreSQL, global players have come and gone. Illustra was subsumed into Informix, and Great Bridge failed to generate enough funding, while Pervasive and Red Hat more or less gave up (although PostgreSQL – Red Hat Edition is still available).

PostgreSQL’s success in the academic and scientific community has had something to do with the lack of global commercialization opportunities, but it does appear that the use of a license that enables proprietarization has actually reduced the opportunities for commercialization.

For more on this see Further thoughts on the impact of licensing choice.

Sun opens up on the limits of MySQL Enterprise Unlimited

UPDATED – As you can see from the comments on this, the change is not Sun limiting Enterprise Unlimited, but being being more open about the limits. Kudos to Sun for doing so – UPDATED.

Sun Microsystems has announced the completion of its acquisition of MySQL – “the most important acquisition in the modern software industry” according to Jonathan Schwartz – and that MySQL’s open souirce database is now backed by Sun’s “17,000-strong global sales and services organization and its extensive international network of authorized distribution channels”.

The company has also confirmed that MySQL Enterprise Unlimited, the site-wide agreement introduced in January last year that provides unlimited use of MySQL Enterprise for $40,000, the same price Oracle charges per CPU for Oracle Database Enterprise Edition, is only available to companies with 400 employees or less.

MySQL Enterprise Unlimited is proof of the open source model’s ability to disrupt a market but also effectively places a cap on the revenue MySQL – and now Sun – can earn per customer. Given that Sun is aiming to grow adoption of MySQL among its biggest customers it is no great surprise to see that Sun is apparently exploring introducing further pricing bands for larger companies.

How do you define ‘commercial open source’?

Adobe has announced that it is sponsoring the SQLite public domain database engine project by joining Mozilla and Symbian on the SQLite consortium. The news is interesting in that it balances Google’s recent sponsorship of efforts to support Photoshop on Linux, while it also raises an interesting question about Microsoft’s attempt to define commercial open source.

SQLite has seen some success recently as the chosen database for Google’s Android project. It also replaced MySQL as the default database for the Ruby on Rails project. Adobe, meanwhile, uses SQLite as part of its new AIR runtime software, amongst other things.

The sponsorship of open source projects such as these is a timely reminder that in th open source world there is a blurred line between commercial and non-commercial. Microsoft’s recent announcement that it will offer free access to the APIs and protocols for its core products was accompanied by a “covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols”.

The same covenant is not available to commercial open source vendors (they can license the software on RAND terms juts like any other vendor). Explaining the distinction, Microsoft stated that “companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft”.

Where do the Google and Adobe sponsorships fit in to this picture?

Clearly Adobe is a commercial entity, but it does not earn revenue directly from SQLite (although it does have commercial products that make use of it). In so far as Adobe has developers contributing to SQLite, would they be entitled to Microsoft’s covenant? If not, who would need to take out a license, Adobe, or the SQLite Consortium?

Google’s case is a little different. Both it and Codeweavers are commercial entities and Google has hired Codeweavers to improve Win’s support for Photoshop on Linux, so presumably Codeweavers would need a RAND license. But while Google uses Wine, it is not engaged in the commercial distribution of Wine or Photoshop. Are its actions commercial or not? Is it entitled to that covenant in this case?
These are questions that only Microsoft can answer, and it will be interesting to see the response. No doubt there is a line that can be drawn somewhere, but these are two examples of how open source software will not be easily shoe-horned into a Microsoft-centric view of the world.

What Microsoft’s open APIs mean for open source

Microsoft has announced that it is to provide rivals and partners with free access the APIs and protocols it uses to ensure interoperability between its core products (Windows Vista and Server, Office, SQL Server, Exchange and SharePoint), as well as a new strategy that is focused on open access, portability, open standards and engagement with the open source community.

The announcement has implications for the entire technology industry, but also specifically open source. Here is The 451 Group’s take on the announcement:

“Nudged by the European Union’s Court of First Instance, but more likely the result of a hard look at market dynamics and the competition, Microsoft has opened up its APIs and pledged to work more openly with the rest of the industry, including the open source community, on interoperability and standards issues. It’s an acknowledgment that in today’s world, many more flowers bloom when platform companies make their APIs completely open for developers to write to, a la Google and MSFT’s recent investee, Facebook. This is yet another thing Google has taught the largest software company in the world. It appears on the face of it that Microsoft now intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in.

“As a result, developers should gain the potential to tie applications more closely into Microsoft’s Windows, SQL Server, Office and Exchange Server products with greater flexibility and innovation, perhaps through self-sustaining developer communities. SharePoint could also benefit from a platform approach, becoming a de facto central application for large segments of the market. And Microsoft is aiming to make open source applications run as well on Windows as they do on Linux, enabling it to continue competing against Linux while at the same time accepting and working to support open source projects.”

As for the open source implications:

It is worth noting that the new strategy will see Microsoft providing a list of the patents and patent applications that relate to the protocols and formats it uses for the named products. This should mean that open source developers are able to identify some of the 235 patents Microsoft previously claimed were infringed by free and open source software and will be able to license them (on RAND terms), attempt to develop around them, or challenge their legitimacy.

Additionally, while there are a number of drivers behind this announcement (the European Court of First Instance rejection of its appeal, the growing adoption of web services and SaaS) the announcement shows that the open source/open standards movement has demonstrated that an open approach can be more fruitful in developing partnerships and business opportunities.

Of course by opening up Microsoft could take the wind out of the sails of open source. Making its APIs and protocols freely available makes them closer to de facto standards and could potentially reduce drive to develop direct alternatives. The approval of OOXML as an ISO standard is crucial to maintaining Office’s market share of course (and let’s not forget the ballot resolution meeting that will decide OOXML’s fate is just days away).

Then of course there is the fact that Microsoft is happy to see open source software succeed – as long as it is deployed on Windows. While Windows-Linux interoperability does come in to play here, encouraging open source development on Windows is a bigger driver. Microsoft is happier limiting its competition with open source to Linux.

Meanwhile, despite the speculation elsewhere, Microsoft’s promise not to sue developers of open source projects for infringement of patents, as with the Novell agreement, is limited to non-commercial open source developers, which is of questionable value in reality.

And the announcement doesn’t quite level the playing field just yet. While the APIs and protocols are open and the patents are licensed on RAND terms, distaste for the patent system will prevent many FOSS advocates taking advantage of the program, and Microsoft still has source code- and wider patent-licensing agreements at its disposal for select partners.

All that said, this is clearly a welcome move from Microsoft and a potenially industry-changing initiative that will confound some of its strongest critics.

Zimbra offers a timely reminder with version 5.0

It’s good to see I’m not the only person concerned about Zimbra’s future in a world where Microsoft owns Yahoo. In fact, the open source collaboration firm offered a timely reminder that it is part of the Yahoo empire with version 5.0 of its Collaboration Suite, prompting many more people to wonder about the project’s long-term future.

The official line appears to be business as usual. Scott Dietzen, CTO of the Yahoo Zimbra and VP of engineering at Yahoo, told InformationWeek that “he had convened the Zimbra team on the morning of the offer and all agreed they must stay focused on ‘innovation in ZCS [Zimbra Collaboration Suite], building the Zimbra community and customer base’.”

He added that “the open source grant we made to the world is irrevocable”, suggesting that even if Microsoft were to acquire Yahoo and disband Zimbra as it stands today, the project would live on.

Dietzen may be confident about the future, but Groklaw’s Pamela Jones is not so sure. “I’m worrying about Zimbra, a project I had high hopes for,” she writes, adding that in her view, under the terms of the Yahoo Public License and Zimbra EULA, you cannot sublicense. The issue is that while most of the code is already open source, some of it is proprietary.
Not surprisingly there have already been calls for Yahoo to release all of the Zimbra Collaboration Suite under the GPLv3 as soon as possible in order to ensure its long-term survival.

Of course the situation could change dramatically if Google launches a counter-bid for Yahoo and another suggestion from Groklaw readers sees Yahoo selling Zimbra to Google. My guess would be that if Yahoo doesn’t accept Microsoft’s offer it will do its best to retain everything it has. I also can’t see Microsoft letting a potential Zimbra competitor back into the wild should the deal go through.

FSF clarifies its position on patent litigation

Q. When is a program not a program? A. When it is all the works ever licensed under GPLv3. Via the Software Freedom Law Center comes news that the Free Software Foundation has published a document clarifying its position on patent litigation related to the GPLv3 – specifically what constitutes a program under the GPLv3 for the purposes of patent infringement claims.

According to section 10, paragraph 3 of the GPLv3:

“[Y]ou may not initiate litigation (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that any patent claim is infringed by making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the Program or any portion of it.”

The new FSF document clarifies that in this instance the term “program” refers to a specific work that is licensed under the GPLv3, rather than all work licensed under the GPLv3.

“‘The Program’ cannot mean ‘all the works ever licensed under GPLv3’; that interpretation makes no sense, because ‘the Program’ is singular: those many different programs do not constitute one program,” states the FSF in its  new document. “It does not speak to the situation in which a party who is a licensee of GPLv3-covered program A, but not of unrelated GPLv3-covered program B, initiates litigation accusing program B of patent infringement.”

If this sounds like the FSF has passed up on an opportunity to reduce patent infringement claims related to GPLv3 software you would be right, but as it goes on to explain, it has done so to avoid the use of broad patent retaliation.

“Since software patents pose an unjust threat to all software developers, all software distributors, and all software users, we would abolish them if we could. Indeed, we campaign to do so. But we think it would have been self-defeating to make the license conditions for any one GPL-covered program go so far as to require a promise to never attack any GPL-covered program.”

Likewise opens up on its new strategy

I recently noted that Centeris, which enables the integration of Linux into Microsoft environments, had changed its name to Likewise and launched a new open source authentication project called Likewise Open. This week I was able to catch up with Likewise CEO, Barry Crist, who shared some more details about the company’s products and strategy going forward.

One area in which I did the company a disservice was in doubting its past commitment to open source. While Likewise Open is the company’s first full product distributed with an open source license, there has been plenty of involvement in open source projects behind the scenes.

Likewise is heavily involved with the Samba project, for example, and employs Samba team member Jerry Carter, who is project director for Likewise Open. It also contributes to projects such as OpenLDAP, Kerberos, the GSS API, and single sign on for SSH and PuTTY, amongst others.

A sign of Likewise’s open source credential is that the Likewise Open will be distributed in the next versions of both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu, while the company is also in talks with Novell regarding SUSE Linux.

Likewise Open enables core Active Directory authentication for Linux systems and Likewise is already seeing significant interest from government and education, according to Crist, who pointed out that the open source product is not just there to seed the market before customers pay for enterprise features.

For customers that are just interested in authentication to reduce management overheads, Likewise Open has everything they need, according to Crist, and customers will only move up to the commercially-licensed Likewise Enterprise when they are looking for Group Policy-based management of Linux machines for compliance requirements and improved efficiency.

While Likewise expects many customers that start off with Open to eventually see the benefits of moving up to Enterprise, Crist said the two products are aimed at fulfilling different needs.

The Enterprise product continues to drive Likewise’s revenue and has built up a customer base of 150 since its launch as Likewise Identity earlier this year. New features in the recently released version 4.0 include treating Linux, Unix and Mac machines as first class citizens through the inclusion of more than 500 Group Policy scenarios.

Version 4 also includes support for centrally-managed Linux desktops via configuration settings that can be set from Active Directory, as well as the ability to manage Active Directory from a Linux machine. This is done via the Likewise Administrative Console, which is a pluggable framework modeled in the Microsoft Management Console.

On the subject of Microsoft, Crist noted that while the software giant is working on Linux interoperability with Novell, integration of Active Directory with Linu is not one of the projects involved (they are working on interoperability between Microsoft Active Directory and Novell eDirectory based on WS-Federation and WS-Security, however), giving it a good opportunity to work with both parties.

Indeed, the company is working with Novell on locking down its customer’s SLED deployments with Likewise Enterprise using existing Active Directory group policies.