Entries Tagged 'Linux' ↓

451 Take on Red Hat-CentOS

There was a somewhat quiet, cost-free acquisition of sorts in the Linux world earlier this year when Red Hat announced it was joining forces with Red Hat Enterprise Linux community clone CentOS. The move, which effectively brings organization, governance, backing and technology of CentOS under Red Hat’s brim, is interesting for a few reasons.

First, it illustrates the continued presence and power of unpaid community Linux distributions like CentOS. Second, it’s part of the changing Linux market, which is being driven by cloud computing and new types of uses on the rise. Third, it also may be a sign that open source software users and customers are exerting more influence than ever before.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

451 Research perspectives on OpenStack and Amazon APIs

There’s been an interesting debate on the OpenStack cloud computing project and its API compatibility with Amazon. The discussion and debate over the open source cloud software’s compatibility with cloud leader Amazon’s proprietary APIs was just beginning when the 451 Group released The OpenStack Tipping Point in April. With the advancement of the OpenStack software and community — along with lingering questions about the desired level of compatibility with Amazon’s cloud — the matter is heating up. However, the issue of Amazon cloud compatibility is largely a non-issue.

Enterprise customers are focused on solving their computing and business challenges. They typically center on promptly providing their customers and internal users and divisions with adequate resources and infrastructure; speeding application development and deployment; and avoiding so-called “Shadow IT,” which normally involves use of Amazon’s cloud. Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

I’m not the only one with an opinion around here. My 451 Research colleagues have also weighed in on the matter and 451 Research subscribers can view their argument that Amazon API compatibility may be a fool’s errand.

451 CAOS Links 2011.08.26

Jive Software files for IPO. VMware adds Python and PHP to Cloud Foundry. And more.

# Jive Software filed for a $100m IPO.

# VMware launched the beta availability of Micro Cloud Foundry and announced that ActiveState and AppFog would be adding Python/Django and PHP respectively to the Cloudfoundry.org project.

# Meanwhile Salesforce.com’s Heroku added support for Java.

# Eucalyptus Systems announced the launch of Eucalyptus 3.

# EnterpriseDB announced the general availability of Postgres Enterprise Manager as well as the launch of Postgres Plus Cloud Server.

# MOSAID Technologies has filed a patent infringement complaint against Red Hat, as well as another complaint against IBM, Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Networks, NetApp and VMWare.

# The Outercurve Foundation announced the contribution of the OData Validation project.

# Rackspace Hosting announced the availability of professional training for OpenStack delivered by Rackspace Cloud Builders.

# Brian Proffitt did his research on GPL violations of the Linux kernel and found the sky is not falling.

# The Document Foundation announced the forthcoming election of its board of directors.

# Simon Phipps outlined the seven corporate steps towards software freedom.

# Icinga launched version 1.5 of its Nagios fork.

FLOSSmole has published a comparison of 24 software forges.

Red Hat: one in a billion

It looks like it’s time again to ponder on Red Hat’s ability to (nearly) make $1bn in annual revenue and wonder why open source has not produced more billion dollar success stories.

Matt Asay doubts whether there will ever be another pure play open source company with $1bn in revenues. I would go further and state categorically that there will not be.

I have already discussed why that might be the case, in terms of the diverging strategies of pure-play open source and hybrid source, so I won’t go into that again in this post.

Instead I wanted to look specifically at Red Hat and how it was able, and was allowed, to grow to the point where it is on the brink of that $1bn revenue barrier. Red Hat’s strategy was covered extensively in our recent Control and Community report. Some excerpts from that report:

“Red Hat’s position has been achieved thanks to its ability to dominate the market for Linux subscriptions by virtue of its brand status. This in turn has been achieved by having a strong product, good customer support and a commitment to community-led development that has enabled the company to balance its own economic interests with the diverse interests of its community of users and developers…

“Clearly Red Hat has made enough impact among revenue-influencing users to generate significant profits from Linux, as well as its other open source software assets, but maintaining that influence is another factor for open source distributors. Even in those cases where a user does feel the need for a support contract or subscription, the longer they use the software, the less likely they are to require support for non-mission-critical deployments…

“The answer, for open source distributors, is to ensure that they are delivering more value than simply saving time, and Red Hat has led the field in delivering additional ongoing value in its RHEL subscriptions, including the Red Hat Network systems management software…

“Perhaps the biggest problem facing open source distributors, however, is the commoditizing impact of open source software, and the fact that they are attempting to generate revenue at a stage of the value chain that has been commoditized with that very product. Red Hat’s Whitehurst put this into perspective when he described how in order to generate $5bn in revenue, Red Hat would need to displace software that currently costs $50bn…

“That the open source distributor approach will survive is not in dispute. We also do not doubt that Red Hat will be able to maintain its position as the leading open source distributor for as long as it remains independent.”

The point about Red Hat’s independence is a critical one, and explains why I stated above that Red Hat “was allowed” to grow to its current position. Clearly avoiding being acquired is integral to that (and it remains the case that Red Hat could be acquired before it even hits $1bn).

What is particularly interesting about Red Hat is how important its independence was to other companies that have also generated significant revenue from Linux. Returning to Control and Community:

“In his 2003 book The Innovator’s Solution, Clayton Christensen noted that when one stage of the value chain becomes commoditized, the ability to earn attractive profits from proprietary products emerges at an adjacent stage in the value chain. In that context, it can be observed that the biggest beneficiaries of the adoption of Linux were not the Linux distributors, but rather server vendors including IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which exploited interest in Linux and industry-standard server and processor architectures to rapidly displace Sun Microsystems’ more expensive Unix and Sparc machines.”

The fact is that it was in the best interests of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others – including software vendors such as Oracle – *not* to acquire Red Hat. Nobody wanted to repeat the mistake of having multiple competing flavours of Unix. The fact that Red Hat was independent was part of what enabled IBM et al to be successful in positioning their Linux-based products as (to borrow a phrase) “not Unix”.

It was Red Hat’s innovative business strategy that made it the leading Linux distributor, but it was the rest of the industry’s need for an independent commercial Linux partner that elevated it to another level.

Could we see another open source vendor elevated to a similar level of importance in the future? It is entirely possible, but unless is there is a repeat of the requirement to keep the vendor in question independent any successful OSS pure-play will simply be acquired.

The success of Red Hat is based on the conflation of such a large number of factors (not all which have been addressed here), that I don’t think it will happen again.

It’s also worth thinking about whether that requirement to keep Red Hat independent still exists today. But that’s another matter…

Oracle updates Linux with Unbreakable Enterprise kernel launch

Ever since Oracle introduced its Unbreakable Linux support program in late 2006 there have been doubts about whether the company could continue to maintain compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Doubts have increased recently following Red Hat’s decision to cut support for Xen in favour of the KVM virtualization technologies it acquired along with Qumranet, while Oracle remains committed to Xen.

While Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison made no mention of this issue he effectively delivered Oracle’s answer to it on Sunday night as he announced the launch of Oracle’s Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel for Oracle Linux (formerly Oracle Enterprise Linux).

The Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel has been developed by Oracle in relation to its Exadata and Exalogic integrated systems and is being positioned by Oracle as the recommended choice for all Oracle software.

Ellison maintained that Oracle will continue to support Red Hat compatibility, and Oracle Linux will continue to include Oracle’s “Red Hat Compatible Kernel” should customers require compatibility.

The Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is optimised for flash cache reads, Infiniband support, solid state disks and OLTP transactions, according to Ellison, who added that a new kernel was required not just to add Oracle’s additional functionality, but also because, he claimed, Red Hat is “slow to pick up community enhancements.”

Ellison also noted that Oracle’s products have not been tested or certified on Red Hat Enterprise Linux for some time, but on the Red Hat-compatible kernel.

Ellison also noted that Oracle now has more than 5,000 customers for Oracle Linux. To put that in perspective, that is approximately 1.4% of Oracle’s 370,000 total customers. It is also less than half the number of new customers Red Hat adds every quarter.

CAOS theory: The launch of Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel appears to be the inevitable result of development work Oracle has been doing to optimise Linux on its Exadata and Exalogic machines, as well as Red Hat and Oracle’s divergent virtualization strategies. While Oracle maintains that it will continue to support Red Hat compatibility it is clear that Oracle Linux with the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is the company’s Linux variant of choice, especially for its integrated systems and that overtime the need to maintain compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux will diminish. The big barrier to cutting off ties with Red Hat remains ISV certification.

Spotlight on Novell’s evolving open source strategy

The 451 Group has recently published a Spotlight report focused on Novell’s strategy as it relates to open source software.

The report is particularly relevant given speculation that private equity firms might be about to acquire the company and break it up, and takes a look at the importance of open source to Novell beyond well-known initiatives such as openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise.

The recent reorganisation of Novell’s assets placed the focus on Intelligent Workload Management (IWM), and brought the Identity and Security, Systems and Resource Management, and Open Platform Solutions divisions together into the Security, Management and Operating Platforms business unit.

While the company is placing less emphasis on the Linux and open source technologies that represented the bulk of the former Open Platform Solutions business unit, open source is no less important to Novell.

In the parlance of The 451 Group’s open source strategy assessment, Novell is expanding on an Open Complement model (using open source to drive interest in its complementary products and services) to add an Open Inside model (building proprietary software products around open source software projects).

The latter is evident in Cloud Manager and Pulse: two new products due for release later this year. Cloud Manager draws on a number of open source projects, such as the OpenESB service bus project, Hibernate for database abstraction, and the Enunciate Web services engine.

Similarly the Pulse real-time collaboration product is based on a combination of closed and open technologies, including Google Wave and Google’s Operational Transformation algorithm, as well as the open source Apache Hadoop data processing framework and Apache Lucene and Solr.

There’s a lot more detail in the report itself, which examines Novell’s Linux-based revenue, the role of Linux within IWM, the company’s community development engagements, and provides more detail on Novell’s Open Complement and Open Inside approaches to OSS, as well as comparison with competitors.

The report is available to existing clients now, while non-clients are, as always, able to apply for trial access via the same link.

Those with an interest in Novell may also be interested in our recent Target IQ report, which examines potential strategic buyers for the company.

Open source and the cloud – the quick and the dead

Savio Rodrigues has published a post arguing that cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure pose a threat to the monetization of open source by specialist vendors.

Savio makes a good case based on the recent launch of AWS’s Relational Database Service, based on MySQL, and Microsoft’s support for MySQL and Tomcat on Azure:

    “When Amazon decided to offer MySQL via Amazon RDS, they did so without purchasing MySQL support from Sun. I’ve confirmed that Microsoft Azure is supporting MySQL on Azure without paying Sun for a MySQL Enterprise subscription.”

Clearly there is a threat to open source vendors from cloud-based services. Meanwhile I have previous argued that the cloud and open source are complementary. Can both positions be valid?

I believe so, and I think it’s important to look at the technologies involved. Certainly, the ability of cloud platform providers to provide services based on infrastructure components such as MySQL and Tomcat threatens potential support revenues for on-premise deployments, but SugarCRM’s launch of CRM Applications on Windows Azure proves that just because the code is open source, does not mean that the cloud platform provider will automatically cut the vendor out of the picture.

Perhaps the difference with SugarCRM is that it is application, rather than infrastructure. Perhaps it is also the fact that SugarCRM has been proactive about exploring on-demand and cloud delivery models.

One of the reasons AWS was able to deliver the a managed MySQL service on EC2 was, frankly, because Sun had not already done so. All the realtional database vendors made their products available as AMIs on AWS in 2008 and since then they have done almost nothing about innovating delivery options abound those AMIs.

Had Sun launched MySQL-as-a-service on EC2 it could have grabbed the market share that AWS will now grab with RDS. I’m not sure why Sun failed to do this, incidentally. FathomDB did it, although it lacked the market presence to prevent AWS stealing the limelight. I would argue that Sun/MySQL could have done so.

Savio argues that open source specialists faced with this dilemma should double-down on their investments in “proprietary features in the ‘enterprise version of the open source product, which are note available in the ‘free community’ version”.

Certainly that is one opportunity for differentiation, but I would also argue that open source specialist vendors should also be concentrating on working with cloud platform providers to bring managed service deployments to market before the platform providers beat them to it.

I think in the long-term we’ll see more vendors providing open source software for on-premise deployment while offering enterprise versions via paid managed service deployments on cloud platforms, along with services to help customers migrate their data/applications from one deployment option to the other.

And if you’re wondering why a cloud provider would bother working with an open source specialist vendor, rather than just taking their code, consider this: one of the cloud providers mentioned in this post pays for enterprise Linux support subscriptions rather than using a community Linux or supporting its Linux servers internally. And it isn’t Microsoft.

Cloud computing is undeniably a threat to the monetization of open source software, but it is also an opportunity. Be quick or be dead.

WSJ reports OIN to acquire former SGI patents (via Microsoft)

An interesting story in today’s Wall Street Journal states that the Open Invention Network is “nearing an agreement to acquire 22 patents that Microsoft sold to another organization earlier this year” that could be used to protect Linux from patent attacks.

If true it won’t be the first time the OIN has acquired patents in the name of protecting Linux: it was formed for that purpose and it previously did so in 2006, and also last month launched its Distinguished Inventors Patent Acquisition program to acquire patents from individual inventors.

The fact that these patents were previously owned by Microsoft adds a twist to the tale, however. The WSJ cites Dave Kaefer, general manager for intellectual-property licensing at Microsoft, as saying that the patents were acquired from Silicon Graphics and were sold because they weren’t strategic to the company.

Meanwhile it also cites Keith Bergelt, chief executive officer of OIN, as saying that Microsoft presented the patents to potential bidders in its auction as relating to Linux. The patents were apparently acquired by Allied Security Trust, which is selling them on to OIN.

So what might the patents relate to? Those of us with long memories will recall that in 2002 it was reported that SGI had sold much of its 3D graphics patents portfolio to Microsoft – a deal that was later confirmed by SGI.

We await formal confirmation with interest

A decade of open source IPOs

Red Hat is celebrating the 10 year anniversary of its initial public offering. An anniversary to be proud of for Red Hat, but one that has given The VAR Guy pause for thought about the relative success of open source in the past 10 years.

“Would anyone have predicted that no additional open source companies would launch IPOs over the next decade? Ten years without an open source IPO … amazing and somewhat depressing for open source business advocates,” writes the VAR Guy.

It is somewhat depressing that there are not more public open source vendors. However, the statement that there have been no open source IPOs is simply not true. In fact there have been six open source IPOs since Red Hat.

These are covered in detail in our recent CAOS report, Open to Investment, but the edited version is as follows:

VA Linux/VA Software/SourceForge (Nasdaq:LNUX)
The next open source vendor to go public after Red Hat was VA Linux, which was then offering Intel-based servers designed to run Linux. VA Linux became VA Software in December 2001, having moved away from system hardware, and focused its attention on the SourceForge.net development repository and the SourceForge Enterprise development product, as well as media services such as Slashdot, Linux.com and Freshmeat. In 2007, VA Software sold its SourceForge Enterprise Edition software product to CollabNet and changed its name to SourceForge Inc.

Caldera/SCO Group (in Chapter 11)
The last open source vendor to go public before the dot-com bust was Linux distributor Caldera. The company acquired the Unix assets of Santa Cruz Operation in 2000 and changed its name to The SCO Group in 2002. The less said about it after that the better, probably.

Turbolinux (OSE :3777)
Having canceled its IPO in late 2001, Turbolinux eventually found its way to the stock market in September 2005 via an IPO on the Japanese Osaka Securities Exchange. Between those events, the Japanese Linux distributor was owned by Software Research Associates and then Livedoor. Turbolinux’s shares continue to be traded on the Osaka Securities Exchange.

Mandrakesoft/Mandriva (Euronext: FR0004159382)

French Linux distributor Mandrakesoft, which listed its shares on the Euronext Marche Libre in July 2001. Mandrakesoft acquired Brazilian Linux distributor Conectiva in February 2005 and changed its name to Mandriva before purchasing desktop Linux specialist Lycoris in July of the same year.

Trolltech (acquired)
Linux application tools vendor Trolltech made its name with its Qt application development platform and Qtopia mobile device platform. The company made its debut on the Norwegian Oslo Bors in July 2006. In January 2008, it was acquired by Nokia for $153m and renamed Qt Software.

Sourcefire (Nasdaq:FIRE)
Sourcefire, which makes internal security products and sponsors the open source Snort intrusion detection engine, made its debut on the Nasdaq in March 2007, pricing its offering at $15 a share, giving it an opening market capitalization of $350m.

There have admittedly been just a handful of IPOs involving open source vendors. The lack of IPOs is due in part to the relative immaturity of commercial open source business strategies, the attractiveness of open source vendors as acquisition targets (MySQL was on the brink of an IPO when it was acquired) and the fact that the trajectory of these vendors has been impacted by two global economic crises – the dot com bust put pay to the IPOs of Linuxcare and Turbolinux, while there are a couple of vendors that might have been in a position to go public this year or next were it not for the current malaise.

Our CAOS report includes a list of the vendors we think are best positioned for a run at an IPO in the 12-24 months after the downturn ends.

Microsoft GPLv2 code – donation or obligation?

Earlier this week Microsoft announced that it was contributing driver code to the Linux kernel under the GPLv2, and we published a CAOS Theory Q&A to discuss the implications. It has subsequently become clear that there were two important questions that were not answered by our Q&A:

Q. Is this a donation, or an obligation?

A. In discussing the motivations for the Linux Integration Components (Linux IC) release, Microsoft cited enhancing the performance of Linux as a guest operating system where Windows Server is the host, and that the GPLv2 is “the Linux community’s preferred license”.

An alternative viewpoint began to emerge that suggested that perhaps Microsoft had little choice in the decision to release the code, however. It started with the publication of a post written by Stephen Hemminger, a principle engineer at Vyatta, which stated:

“This saga started when one of the user’s on the Vyatta forum inquired about supporting Hyper-V network driver in the Vyatta kernel. A little googling found the necessary drivers, but on closer examination there was a problem. The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts. The GPL does not permit mixing of closed and open source parts, so this was an obvious violation of the license. Rather than creating noise, my goal was to resolve the problem, so I turned to Greg Kroah-Hartman.”

Kroah-Hartman runs the Linux Kernel Driver Project and is working with Microsoft to introduce the Linux IC code to the Linux kernel. He appeared to confirm Hemminger’s perspective when he wrote “Steve gives a little more of the backstory of what caused me to start talking to Microsoft in the first place,” and then told Mary Jo Foley that her suggestion that “Hemminger is claiming Microsoft put the LIC code under the GPL because it was in violation of the GPL” was “accurate”.

Cue stories such as “Linux community pushed Microsoft to hand over its code” and “Microsoft opened Linux-driver code after ‘violating’ GPL“.

Before commenting on these stories I took the opportunity to speak to Sam Ramji, who seemed genuinely surprised by the perspective that the driver code had violated the GPL and maintained that he was not aware of the account provided by Hemminger prior to its publication.

The two viewpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In his exchange with Foley, Kroah-Hatmann notes that he “didn’t have to ‘suggest'” that Microsoft was in violation, he “only had to merely point out the obviousness of the situation”.

Additionally, Vyatta’s vice president of strategy and marketing, Dave Roberts, has noted that “nobody ‘accused’ anybody of anything. Stephen merely called the situation to Microsoft’s attention… There were no threats, no screaming, no broken fingers, no frothing at the mouth. Just a few calm phone-calls placed behind closed doors, out of the limelight and media focus. And that was that. Microsoft noodled on things. And then it decided to open source the drivers and contribute them to the kernel.”

I also put it to Ramji that if, *hypothetically*, Microsoft were to have discovered it was inadvertently in violation of the GPL, then from a PR standpoint, the company would have much more to gain by being seen to have responded appropriately than by trying to cover it up. He agreed.

(And I don’t think this can be understated actually, if you consider what the open source group within Microsoft is trying to achieve you begin to understand why they would be hyper-sensitive to the fact that trying to claim credit for something they didn’t do would be counter-productive).

Anyway, Ramji has subsequently posted his views on the issue, including:

“Microsoft’s decision was not based on any perceived obligations tied to the GPLv2 license. For business reasons and for customers, we determined it was beneficial to release the drivers to the kernel community under the GPLv2 license through a process that involved working closely with Greg Kroah-Hartman, who helped us understand the community norms and licensing options surrounding the drivers.

The primary reason we made this determination in this case is because GPLv2 is the preferred license required by the Linux community for their broad acceptance and engagement. For us to participate in the Linux Driver Project, GPLv2 was the best option that allowed us to enjoy the tremendous offer of community support.”

Q. So was Microsoft in violation of the GPLv2?

A. Of course, “not being accused of being in violation of the GPL” is not the same thing as “not being in violation of the GPL” but it is not completely clear whether that was actually the case.

Over on Cnet, Gordon Haff got some more technical details from Hemminger:

“According to Stephen, the issue revolves around a feature of the Linux kernel called EXPORT_SYMBOL_GPL that allows for interfaces to be marked as only available to modules with a GPL-compatible license. From Stephen’s perspective, Microsoft’s proprietary code had to use some of these interfaces that ‘the kernel did not want to offer to non-GPL [code].’

If that all seemed a bit geeky technical, well it is. Very possibly a violation of the GPL but hardly one that is simply flagrantly flouting the law.”

UPDATE – The Software Freedom Law Center’s Bradley Kuhn has told SDTimes that Microsoft *was* likely in violation of the GPL:

“It seems to me that Sam [Ramji] is likely correct when he says that talk inside Microsoft about releasing the source was under way before the Linux developers began their enforcement effort,” said Bradley Kuhn, a policy analyst and tech director at the SFLC.

“However, that talk doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a problem. As soon as one distributes the binaries of a GPL’d work, one must provide the source for those binaries, so Microsoft’s delay in this regard was a GPL violation.”

However, Ramji continues to deny that a GPL violation was the significant issue. “Greg’s coaching on how to get it contributed was invaluable, but it was not the original driver of our plan or decision,” he told SDTimes. “That’s the beauty of the real world. Different people have different perspectives, and that is what causes them to act. We appreciate Greg’s coaching regardless of his motivation.” – UPDATE

2ND UPDATE – Sam Ramji has once again denied that Microsoft violated the GPL. In a podcast published at Network World he points out (from 15.30) that the code did not statically link to libraries in the Linux kernel, but to the header files, and that Linux developers are split on whether that constitutes a violation of the GPL. “The act of compiling to a header file doesn’t generate a GPL obligation to my knowledge, that was never a consideration in our process.” – 2ND UPDATE

In his initial blog post, Hemminger stated that the saga was started by an inquiry about supporting Hyper-V network driver in the Vyatta kernel, presumably this one, from March, when Hemminger has said the issue was bought to his attention. Hemminger’s response at the time is that “Msft hyper-v driver is not open source, and redistributing it would require agreement with them”.

The driver cited in that query would appear to be the original Linux Integration Components for Hyper-V, which were released in September 2008, the same components that The H reported were previously withdrawn from release candidate distribution in July 2008 for a licensing review.

As Patrick O’Rourke noted at the time, “Licensing is tricky when open source and proprietary software are packaged.” No kidding.

A quick note while we are on the subject of timing, Hank Janssen says he proposed that Microsoft open source Linux IC driver code in October 2008. Sam Ramji told me Microsoft started seriously considering it in January this year and first heard from Greg Kroah-Hartman in May.

While Hemminger started that Microsoft’s release of the code under the GPLv2 “”took longer than expected”, Gordon Haff notes that Hemming “said that he first discovered this in March, so four months is actually fairly rapid resolution as such things go in large companies.”

Q. Anything more to add?

A. Probably. If anything new does arise, we’ll post details here.

Why we should all be very grateful for Linus Torvalds

Last year I speculated about the growing tension between commercial open source vendors and elements of the open source user community, wondering whether it was a sign that FOSS was heading for a previously predicted identity crisis.

Glyn Moody reminds us that there has always been a divide between purists and pragmatists, and that actually there is value in that divide in that debate helps expose weaknesses and refine arguments.

However, recent events have indicated that the fissure is growing, and spreading in multiple directions. Where once there was “free software” on one end, “proprietary software” on the other, and “open source” somewhere is between the two, now there is “fauxpen source” and “Faux FLOSS Fundamentalists“, and “freedom-apathetic”, and “open washing” and “neo-proprietarists” to contend with.

It’s all getting a little bit silly. And as Matt Asay points out, it threatens to discourage would-be open source adopters.

With all that in mind, it is worth reading Linux Magazine’s interview with Linus Torvalds on Microsoft’s contribution of device drivers to the Linux kernel.

Microsoft has been congratulated for its contribution, but there have been suggestions that Linus should reject the code, simply because it comes from Microsoft. Reading his response to a question about that I am grateful that it was someone as cool-headed and – dare I say it – pragmatic as Linus Torvalds that created the Linux kernel:

    “Oh, I’m a big believer in “technology over politics”. I don’t care who it comes from, as long as there are solid reasons for the code, and as long as we don’t have to worry about licensing etc issues.

    In fact, to some degree, I’d be more likely to include it because it’s from a new member of the community rather than less (again, I’d like to point out that drivers are special. They don’t impact other things, so they get merged much more easily than some core changes).

    I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.

    There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.”

Microsoft has also been criticised for serving its own interests in releaseing code that enables Linux to run on Windows. Linus again:

    “I agree that it’s driven by selfish reasons, but that’s how all open source code gets written! We all “scratch our own itches”. It’s why I started Linux, it’s why I started git, and it’s why I am still involved. It’s the reason for everybody to end up in open source, to some degree.

    So complaining about the fact that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they picked an area that helps them. That’s the point of open source – the ability to make the code better for your particular needs, whoever the ‘your’ in question happens to be.

    Does anybody complain when hardware companies write drivers for the hardware they produce? No. That would be crazy. Does anybody complain when IBM funds all the POWER development, and works on enterprise features because they sell into the enterprise? No. That would be insane.

    So the people who complain about Microsoft writing drivers for their own virtualization model should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are being so hypocritical.”

I think it’s probably fair to say that if it wasn’t for Linus’s pragmatism Linux and open source – and free software – would not have gained the adoption that they have today.

(I wouldn’t normally quote this heavily from a single article but I wanted to include the full quotes, I encourage you to take a look at the original article to put them in context).

Microsoft contributes to Linux kernel: a CAOS Theory Q&A

Microsoft has announced that it is to contribute code to the Linux kernel development effort under the GNU General Public License (GPL) v2. What on earth does it all mean? Here’s our take on the situation. With thanks to Jay Lyman for his contribution to the following:

Flying Pig

Q. This is a joke, right?

A. Not at all, although if any announcement is better suited to the image above, we can’t think of one. Microsoft has announced that it is going to contribute code to Linux under the GPLv2.

Q. What code is Microsoft contributing?

A. Microsoft is offering 20,000 lines of its own device drivers to the Linux kernel that will enable Linux to run as a guest on its Hyper-V virtualization technology. Specifically, the contributed loadable kernel modules enable Linux to run in ‘enlightened mode’, giving it efficiencies equivalent to a Windows virtual machine running on Hyper-V.

Q. Why is Microsoft doing this?

A. Red Hat and Novell’s Linux distributions already support enlightened mode, thanks to the development work done by both in partnership with Microsoft. One benefit for Microsoft of contributing to the kernel is that it reduces duplication of effort and the cost of supporting multiple, unique implementations of Linux. Once the code has been accepted into the kernel, Microsoft will use the kernel tree code as the basis for future virtualization integration development.

It also means that community Linux distributions will be able to use the code, which opens up more opportunities for Microsoft in the hosting market, where adoption of community Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Debian and CentOS is significant. It also therefore slightly strengthens the challenge those community operating systems can make to Red Hat and Novell, which are more direct commercial challengers to Windows.

Make no mistake about it, Microsoft’s contribution is driven by its own interests. While it must serve and respond to enterprise customers that continue to drive the use of multiple operating systems and mixed environments, Microsoft also benefits by differentiating its Hyper-V virtualization technology from virtualization leader VMware. We believe Microsoft sees an opportunity to make virtualization with Windows more Linux-friendly than VMware.

Q. What’s in it for Linux?

A. The interoperability benefits previously reserved for ‘approved’ Microsoft partners will now be available licensed under the GPLv2, and available for all Linux distributions – commercial or community – without the need for a formal partnership.

The contribution of device drivers to the Linux kernel as been a sticking point for the Linux development community in the past as developers have struggled to encourage vendors to contribute driver code to the kernel. Microsoft is therefore setting something of a precedent and could encourage other vendors that have been reticent to contribute their drivers to do so.

The seal of approval Microsoft has given to the GPLv2 is also not to be overlooked. If Microsoft can find a way to contribute to Linux projects, many other organisations may also be encouraged to do so.

Q. I guess Linux is no longer “a cancer” then?

A. Exactly. Back in 2001 Steve Ballmer told the Chicago Sun-Times* “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That’s the way that the license works.”

Reviewing the statement in the context of today’s announcement demonstrates how much progress Microsoft has made in the intervening years to understand open source licenses. Contribution to Linux, or to any other project under the GPL, would have been unthinkable at the time, and is still barely believable today. The announcement is likely to challenge perceptions of Microsoft’s strategy when it comes to open source, Linux and the most popular open source license.

*The original article is no longer available online. Plenty of references are still available, however.

Q. What does this say about Microsoft’s overall strategy towards open source?

A. The contribution is a significant sign that Microsoft is now prepared to participate with open source projects on their own terms by using the chosen license of that project and making contributions directly to the chosen development forge of that project. Microsoft continues to use its own CodePlex project hosting site for code releases, but if an existing open source project uses SourceForge then Microsoft has acknowledged that the best way to engage with that community is on SourceForge. Don’t expect this to be the last contribution Microsoft does under the GPL.

Microsoft is now becoming more proactive in how it engages with open source under a strategy it describes as ‘Open Edge’ (which we have previously mentioned here and here. Whereas Open Core is used by commercial open source vendors to offer proprietary extensions to open source code, Open Edge is Microsoft’s strategy to encourage open source development and application deployment on top of its suite of commercial software: Windows, Office, Exchange, Sharepoint, SQL Server etc.

The Open Edge strategy is rooted in attempting to ensure Microsoft’s commercial products continue to be relevant to the ecosystem of developers and partners that the company has attracted to its software platform. It is also a continuation of the realization that if customers and developers are going to use open source software, Microsoft is more likely to retain those customers if it helps them use open source on Windows et al.

For more details on Microsoft’s strategy towards open source, its partnerships with open source vendors, and its contributions to open source projects, see The 451 Group’s formal report on the contribution to Linux (the report will shortly be available via this link ).

Q. How is the contribution to the Linux kernel being handled?

A. The contribution is being made via an alliance with the Linux Kernel Driver Project and its maintainer, Greg Kroah-Hartman, who will steward the contribution into the Linux kernel code base. (Greg has a post up about it here).

Q. What are the intellectual property issues?

A. The copyright for the code will remain with Microsoft, with the contributor credit going to its engineering lead, Hank Janssen, group program manager at Microsoft’s Open Source Technology Center.

Q. And patents?

A. If we were putting money on the most likely conspiracy theory to emerge in response to this news it would be that this is a Trojan horse and Microsoft is contributing code to Linux that it will later claim patent rights over. Whether that is even theoretically possible depends on your understanding of the GPLv2.

The GPLv2 contains an implicit patent promise that some would say makes a Trojan horse impossible. However, the FSF obviously thought it necessary to introduce a more explicit patent promise with the GPLv3 to remove any doubt.

Ultimately this is a question for a lawyer, or an eloquence of lawyers (yes it is ironic, apparently). In the meantime, it is our understanding that Microsoft’s understanding is that contributing code using the GPLv2 includes a promise not to charge a royalty for, or assert any patents covering, the code being contributed.

Q. What about Microsoft’s prior claim that Linux infringes its patents?

A. Microsoft really dropped the ball on its communication of the suggestion that free software infringes over 200 of its patents, and tensions with free and open source software advocates are likely to continue to be tested by Linux-related patent agreements, such as the one struck with Melco Holdings last week, which have driven scepticism and mistrust of Microsoft among some key open source supporters.

Absent the company giving up on software patents altogether, we believe that in order to convince those FOSS advocates that it is serious about co-existence, Microsoft needs to find a way to publicly communicate details about those 200+ patents in such a way that is not seen as a threat and would enable open source developers to license, work around, or challenge them. We also believe that the company is aware of this, although finding a solution to the problem will not be easy. But then neither was contributing code to Linux under the GPLv2.

UPDATE – It has subsequently become clear that there were two important questions that were not answered by our Q&A. Those have been covered by an addendum – UPDATE.

451 CAOS Links 2009.03.20

IBM to acquire Sun? TomTom countersues Microsoft. Sun unveils Open Cloud Platform. Oracle’s contributions to the Linux kernel. SpringSource updates Tool Suite. And more.

Follow 451 CAOS Links live @caostheory

IBM to acquire Sun?

No prizes for guessing the big story this week as the Wall Street Journal reported that IBM was in talks to buy Sun for $6.5bn, according to “people familiar with the matter”. Raising the game, the New York Times reported that the purchase price was nearer $7bn citing “a person with knowledge of the negotiations”.

The media exploded with speculation about what it all meant but was unable to agree on whether the deal was about software and services or not.

At The 451 Group we are largely withholding judgment until the terms of any deal are confirmed, but at the Inorganic Growth M&A blog Brenon Daly provided an overview of the likely implications.

Other recommended reading on the subject comes from Joe Brockmeier, who pondered what might happen to Linux if IBM does buy Sun, Matt Asay on the potential of a combined entity to monetize open source, and Larry Dignan on why the deal makes sense.

Also recommended is Rich Sands’ speculation about what IBM would do with Java, which involves an explanation of IBM and Sun’s different open source strategies and Peter Yared’s explanation of why the deal would be good for everyone.

TomTom countersues Microsoft
But not over its FAT patents. TomTom launched its counterstrike, claiming that Microsoft’s Streets and Trips products infringe on four patents it owns related to vehicle navigation software. While many open source advocates celebrated, Matt Asay quickly pointed out that TomTom’s patent claims against Microsoft do not involve the FAT patents claims as asserted against TomTom’s use of Linux.

The best of the rest
# Sun Microsystems unveiled Open Cloud Platform using Java, MySQL, OpenSolaris and Open Storage.

# Oracle’s claim to be a friend to open source was corroborated by the news that its developers Chris Mason, Randy Dunlap top the list of contributors for Linux kernel 2.6.29.

# SpringSource released SpringSource Tool Suite (STS) 2.0.

# Stormy Peters interviewed Kim Weins about the implications of companies fostering or controlling communities.

# Platform Computing launched a new Linux cluster management solution developed with HP.

# Ingres announced its forthcoming webinar on The New Economics of IT, which will feature perspectives on the impact of economic conditions on open source adoption from The 451 Group.

# zAgile released Wikidsmart, which brings semantic wiki features for Atlassian’s Confluence enterprise wiki.

Microsoft blinks first on interoperability with Red Hat

More than two years since Microsoft persuaded Novell to enter into an interoperability agreement concerning Linux and Windows, it has finally got Red Hat to talk interoperability.

The agreement does not appear to be a repeat of the one Microsoft struck with Novell, however. I’m still taking in the details but one element stands out:

    “There are no patent or IP licensing rights provided by these agreements, nor are there any financial clauses.”

That is a significant statement given Red Hat’s insistence that an intellectual property agreement was not necessary to create interoperability between Linux and Windows, and Microsoft’s former claim that patent indemnification was a prerequisite for collaboration.

Under their agreement to work together Microsoft and Red Hat will provide testing, validation and coordinated technical support for mutual customers using server virtualization. Red Hat has joined Microsoft’s Server Virtualization Validation Program, and Microsoft is now a Red Hat partner for virtualization interoperability and support.

According to the agreement: “Once technical validation testing is complete, customers with valid support agreements will receive coordinated technical support for running Windows Server 2008 virtualized on Red Hat Enterprise virtualization, and for running Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V.”

There is no Linux-support coupon scheme, although that was exclusive to the Novell-Microsoft agreement anyway, and no patent or intellectual property agreement either.

There is no L in Sun’s LAMP

Yesterday Sun introduced Glassfish Portfolio. Its a new stack of open source middleware products including Glassfish Enterprise Server, Glassfish ESB, Glassfish Web Space Server, and the new Glassfish Web Stack, which includes support for projects such as Tomcat, Memcached, Apache, PHP, Ruby and Python and a copy of MySQL Community.

It’s a pretty complete infrastructure stack. What it is not, however, is an integrated LAMP stack, despite Sun’s reference to it as such not once but twice on its press announcement.

Glassfish Portfolio runs on Linux of course, as well as Solaris, but it does not contain Linux (integrated or otherwise) or Linux services (although that is available elsewhere). When I asked Sun for clarification on Glassfish’s status as a “LAMP stack” the answer was that most people use the phrase as shorthand for an Apache middleware stack whatever operating system it was running on.

That might be true for some people and the AMP Stack, is already taken but I am sure many more would dispute this position. It is still curious that Sun’s should continue to be so vocal in its use of “LAMP”. The result is probably one of two things:

  • It draws attention to Linux, the one part of the stack that Sun does not own.
  • It de-values the role of Linux as the underlying platform for the majority of modern web computing environments.

I doubt Sun would set out to deliberately do the first of these, which suggests that it is attempting to do the second. After all, it’s not the first time that Sun’s has played fast and loose with the definition of LAMP. Last year Jonathan Schwartz told Charles Babcock that “the ‘L’ doesn’t have to be taken literally” prompting Amanda McPherson to take him to task.

I believe Sun has an absolute right to compete with Linux, but its misuse of LAMP does it a disservice and can only serve to antagonize would-be customers who do very much care that their middleware stack runs on Linux. If Sun wants to market Glassfish Portfolio as an integrated LAMP stack it needs to come with Linux services (even if it is just for paying customers, as is the case with MySQL support).

Without Linux, it’s not LAMP.

Linux netbooks to hit the UK highstreet

I would normally leave the Linux netbook market alone thanks to Jay’s great coverage but since Marks and Sparks is a British institution I’m grabbing this one.

Via Glyn Moody comes the news that a £99 Elonex netbook is expected to go on sale in high street M&S and Next stores next month.

According to The Telegraph: “The Elonex websurfer has just 2GB of memory – not that much more than a good mobile phone – and a thirtieth of what most full-blown laptops contain. However the netbook will be able to tap into your home or work computer remotely, accessing all of its documents and storage. By controlling your home or work PC remotely over the internet, the netbook should be able to compete with larger, more powerful laptops.”

At that price the suggestion is that they must have a Linux variant on board. The Elonex One – targeted at the education market and also available for £99 apparently runs a variant of Linux called Linos which is tailored to the chipset.

Red Hat snaps up Qumranet for $107m

I mentioned just few weeks ago that virtualization specialist Qumranet, would make an “obvious target should Red Hat decide it needs more hypervisor in-house expertise.”

It was so obvious that Red Hat announced today that it is to acquire Qumranet for $107m in cash, adding its KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine) platform and SolidICE virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offering to the Red Hat portfolio.

The acquisition extends Red Hat’s influence over Windows desktops, as the FAQ explains:

“Red Hat will be able to offer a secure and scalable virtualization platform to Windows desktop customers. Red Hat is focused on providing the best infrastructure upon which to run the complete spectrum of enterprise workloads. This will range from server virtualization to desktop virtualization, which includes Linux servers, Windows servers, Linux desktops, and Windows desktops — all running on and managed by a Red Hat infrastructure..”

KVM has been included in the Linux kernel since version 2.6.20, and while it is included in Fedora, it is not yet in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is based on 2.6.18-8. In June the company announced that its forthcoming Embedded Linux Hypervisor would be based on KVM.

However, the company has traditionally sided with the Xen hypervisor and has confirmed that it will continue to support Xen until “at least 2014 (seven years after the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5)” and that “no decision on timing for the transition from Xen to KVM has been made”.

The financial details of the deal are as follows:

“The acquisition is not expected to contribute materially to revenue in the fiscal year ending February 28, 2009, but should add up to $20 million in revenue in the following year. Red Hat expects Qumranet operating expenses will be approximately $3.5-4.5 million per quarter before non-cash stock-based compensation expense, amortization expense and other charges resulting from the closing of the acquisition. The transaction is expected to be dilutive to FY09 GAAP earnings by $0.05 to $0.06 per diluted share and to FY09 GAAP cash flow from operations by $0.03-$0.04 per diluted share.”

Linux: the desktop years

IBM, Canonical, Red Hat and Novell have put out an interesting joint release about how they are working together with regional hardware manufacturers to “to deliver Microsoft-free personal computing choices with Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony in the one billion-unit desktop market worldwide by 2009.”

In celebration of Linux’s imminent domination of the desktop market I thought it would be worth remembering how we got here:

The year of the Linux desktop: 2003
Linus says 2004 is the year for desktop Linux
2005 will be the year of the Linux desktop
2006 – The year of the Linux desktop
2007 – The year of the Linux desktop
2008: Year of the Linux desktop

451 CAOS Links – 2008.06.24

Nokia acquires Symbian, intends to open source mobile OS. SpringSource and rPath obtain new rounds of funding. Linux kernel developers issue statement on closed-source drivers. (and more)

Nokia to acquire Symbian Limited to enable evolution of the leading open mobile platform, Nokia / Symbian (Press Release)

SpringSource Announces $15 Million Series B Round of Financing, SpringSource (Press Release)

rPath Continues Momentum with Addition of $10M in Funding and Key Client Wins, rPath (Press Release)

Position Statement on Linux Kernel Modules, Linux Foundation (Press Release)

Hyperic Launches Industry’s First Cloud Management Service, Hyperic (Press Release)

HP Contributes Source Code to Open Source Community to Advance Adoption of Linux, HP (Press Release)

Pentaho Continues Rapid Expansion in Europe, Pentaho (Press Release)

Talend Announces First Open Source Data Profiler, Talend (Press Release)

WSO2 boosts scalability, availability and SOA governance with Version 1.7 of open source enterprise service bus, WSO2 (Press Release)

SMBs Offer Good Growth Opportunities for Open Source Telephony Vendors, Research and Markets (Press Release)

Open Source Momentum Drives Market Leadership for Black Duck, Black Duck Software (Press Release)

Digium Ships 4 Millionth Port to Support Exploding Demand for Asterisk Phone Systems, Digium (Press Release)

Liberty Alliance Announces First Release of Identity Governance Framework Components, Liberty Alliance (Press Release)

Protecode Announces General Availability of Governance and Intellectual Property Management Software, Protecode (Press Release)

Google Sidesteps Rumors of Android Delay, LinuxInsider, JR Raphael (Article)

Sun: We screwed up on open source, Builder AU, Chris Duckett (Article)
Reasons for the Linux Plumbers Conference, O’Reilly ONLamp.com, Andy Oram (Blog)

Symbian goes open source: any more proofs?, Funambol – Mobile Open Source, Fabrizio Capobiano (Blog)

Opening up Symbian – Good or Bad for Linux?, Computerworld UK, Glyn Moody (Blog)

If a Linux interoperability deal is done in a forest, and no one is around to witness it, does it really exist?

I wrote last week about how the conservatism of many senior IT executives is a significant barrier to widespread open source adoption. A recent post from Richard Steel, CIO of the London borough of Newham, is a reminder that the machinations of the open source software world are not as engrossing as some supporters might consider them to be.

During a visit to the KommITS conference in Sweden, Richard discovered the following information: “I note that Novell has a local arrangement with Microsoft, which resells its version of Suse Linux to enable Linux exploitation on a Windows platform!” The exclamation mark is his own, and suggests genuine surprise at hearing the news of Microsoft and Novell’s entanglement.

It would be easy to suggest that any CIO must have had their head in the sand not to have been aware of a small agreement that Microsoft and Novell entered into a little while ago, but also I think one also has to accept that for a great number of senior IT executives this sort of information just isn’t as fascinating as open source followers think it is.

Open source software vendors would do well to recognize this if they are to convince the unconvinced that open source is a viable alternative to the status quo.

Conspiracy theory alert: Newham is one of Microsoft’s flagship local government accounts in the UK following its controversial decision to sign a ten-year agreement with Microsoft after ditching plans to move to an open source environment. Clearly, Newham has less reason then to be interested in Linux and Microsoft’s relationship with Novell than other organizations (it also explains why Microsoft’s SLES voucher-wielding sales team hasn’t been breaking down the door).