Economy up or down, can open source come out on top?

We’ve written about how a bad economy is indeed good for open source software. We’ve also recognized that with open source software’s maturity and place at the enterprise software table, a bad economy can be a double-edged sword for open source since the failure or fade of large enterprise customers, say big banks, hurts open source vendors right alongside traditional software providers.

What is interesting is that after a couple of years of economic rebuilding, we’ve seen recently how open source is being driven by innovation, particularly in cloud computing, where open source is prevalent and disruptive, and also mobile computing, which continues to be impacted by openness.

Given recent economic developments around the globe, I’m wondering whether we may see a return of cost as the main driver and benefit of open source software in the enterprise. Recent conversations with vendors and customers illustrates the fact that the motivation for adopting open source is not always the main benefit from open source. For example, open source users and customers identified cost as the main reason for adopting open source when we asked more than 1,700 of them two years ago. However, when the same group was asked what was the main benefit from open source, the top pick was flexibility. We also saw dramatic increases in factors such as performance and reliability when comparing drivers for adoption and benefits from adoption. Still, just as we’ve seen unpaid community Linux lead to paid subscription Linux and also paid Linux lead to more unpaid community Linux use, it can go both ways with open source advantages, as well. One recent conversation with an up-and-coming, open source-centered vendor in the NoSQL space highlighted how many large enterprise customers are deploying open source in divisional, departmental, pilot and other limited form to replace traditional databases primarily for flexibility, performance and similar reasons, but finding the cost savings to be significant and worthy of wider deployment.

This begs the question whether open source software, driven by its myriad of advantages for different contexts, finds a way to win regardless of whether economic conditions are good or bad? There’s no question open source has displayed staying power throughout both. We should also point out that these advantages and factors end up putting a lot of pressure on open source software development and projects, given there are inherent expectations of cost-savings, flexibility, speed, performance, scalability, etc. As we’ve highlighted recently, open source is not always the correct route for enterprise ogranizations. However, we do believe that if done properly, open source projects and communities can and do deliver benefits that enable both providers and consumers of technology.

Similar to sales and marketing, longevity, economic and developer opportunity, open core, etc., it all boils down to the community, which in a good economy tends to drive innovation and value or in a bad economy serves as a source of cost efficiency, savings and survival. That is, of course, if the community is properly supported in code, cash, contributions and stewardship that still allows open source to do its thing.

Linux kernel solid, but what will become of Novell contribution?

The Linux Foundation has just released its annual Kernel Development Report, tracking the amount of changes and contributions to the Linux OS kernel. Similar to last year, there are no real surprises on this year’s report, which provides a good check on who is developing the core of the OS and what they are doing. However, I do have one big question for the kernel and Linux contributions after reading the report: what will become of the Linux kernel work from Novell now that it has been acquired, along with the SUSE Linux technology and business?

We do see consistency again this time on the top kernel contributors, particularly Red Hat, Novell, IBM and Intel. While Red Hat continues toward its goal of a billion dollars in annual revenue (helped along by its cloud computing and PaaS play), the fate and future of Novell and SUSE Linux is less certain. While we do believe the OS itself will live on thanks largely to big enterprise users and developers that are part of the SUSE Linux and OpenSUSE communities, and Novell acquirer Attachmate has signaled continued support, the kernel contribution from Novell developers is really another matter. We will be watching closely to see whether the kernel support continues, but we may see Novell fade on the top kernel contributor list as others, such as Oracle, SGI, Fujitsu, Parallels, Nokia, Google and others may rise.

It is also interesting in the kernel report to see yet more mobile and embedded contributors — including AMD, Freescale, Cavium Networks’ MontaVista, Renesas Technology and others — something we started seeing with last year’s kernel report and expect will continue to grow.

In conclusion, Linux fans should be encouraged by the quality, diversity and new directions of the Linux kernel development community. While there is cause for some concern regarding Novell’s contribution, overall, Linux development seems to be charging ahead.

Java mutiny in the making

The Apache Software Foundation’s latest statement on the Java Community Process highlights continued dissatisfaction and dissent from Oracle’s stewardship and involvement in open source software.

This comes after some ups and downs for Oracle and its oversight of Java and other open source software that was previously under the auspices of Sun Microsystems. Oracle started off on a rough path when it sued Google over its implementation of Java in Android without preemptively or clearly stating that it was not attacking open source. At about the same time, it let OpenSolaris die a slow, somewhat confusing death. Oracle won a point when IBM came out with its support in favor of the JCP and OpenJDK over Apache Harmony, and this contributes to the adversarial positioning between Oracle and the Apache Software Foundation. However, Oracle has also seen an erosion of open source support and confidence as OpenOffice.org developers have migrated away from Oracle, many to contribute to the new Libre Office project.

Oracle’s moves illustrate the company’s lack of complete understanding of open source and the value of open source software communities. While it appreciates and leverages open source as an effective, efficient software development approach, it does not truly see the value of providing software to a community and attaining benefits of efficiency, reach and innovation as a result. This is not to say that supporting an open source software community will automatically translate into commercial and community success (not the case with Symbian, for example), but Oracle does not appear to support community as a priority in its proprietary and admittedly successful software strategy.

MySQL can be an example of Oracle doing things right with open source, though we may see similar dissatisfaction and defection as Oracle moves further toward commercialization and further away from free, community software. Still, Oracle at least showed it could continue and contribute and support a successful open source project in the case of MySQL. The same may not be said for OpenSolaris, OpenOffice.org or, increasingly it appears, Java.

None leading Linux kernel development

After reading the latest update on Linux kernel development, highlighted by 451 Group colleague Dan Kusnetzky, I have a few observations to share.

First off, to answer Dan’s question, ‘Are you surprised?,’ I don’t think there were any real surprises. We see a list of the companies that are most aggressively and persistently pushing Linux and also a legacy lead for the vendors that embraced Linux long ago — Red Hat, IBM, Novell and Intel — compared to those that took longer to come around or are newer to the scene — SGI, Fujitsu, Monta Vista, Google. Another thing that stands out is the increasing number of hardware, virtualization and mobile vendors that are among significant Linux contributors — Analog Devices, Freescale, MIPS Technologies, Marvell, Movial and Nokia, for example.

But what really stands out to me is the leading contributing entity to the Linux kernel: ‘none.’ This, along with the ‘unknown’ category that slips in between top contributor Red Hat and second-largest contributor IBM, accounts for more than a quarter of the kernel contributions (18.2% from none and another 7.6% from unknown). Does this mean that pizza-eating developers who don’t make any money are the main contributors to Linux? Certainly not. We know that most open source software developers have ‘day jobs’ working on other software, sometimes proprietary. Still, given our research on community Linux and its impact on the paid Linux market, it is interesting to see that there is still plenty of community development going on, even while corporate support and involvement continues to grow. This also coincides with survey findings from open source support vendor OpenLogic that indicate while customers prefer open source software with commercial support options, they also prefer software developed and backed by multiple vendors or a community.

One other point on the latest contributor report. Similar to last year’s report release and my attendance at the first Linux Plumbers Conference, we heard complaints about Ubuntu distributor Canonical’s contributions, or lack thereof, to the Linux kernel. So by this logic, Microsoft is contributing more and doing more for Linux than Canonical? Microsoft’s recent contribution of GPLv2 Linux drivers, delays notwithstanding, marks perhaps a greater kernel contribution from Microsoft than what is coming to the kernel from Canonical. However, I would reiterate that by contributing, refining, advancing and innovating outside of the kernel — which appears to have plenty of contributors, momentum and growth — Canonical is helping stretch Linux in new directions, such as desktop PCs and netbooks and cloud computing environments.

In the end, all contributions to the Linux kernel and the Linux OS have significance. The detailed reports so thoughtfully and well laid out by the good folks at the Linux Foundation can be useful and enlightening to let us know who is developing the core of the open source operating system (as well as how fast — an already fast rate of change in which the number of lines of code added to the kernel daily nearly tripled since 2008). However, the report should not serve as the sole indicator of an individual or organization’s contribution to Linux. If it does, then hats off to ‘none’ and ‘unknown.’

451 CAOS Links 2009.08.25

Terracotta acquires EHCache. SpringSource launches Cloud Foundry. And more.

Follow 451 CAOS Links live @caostheory on Twitter and Identi.ca
“Tracking the open source news wires, so you don’t have to.”

Terracotta acquires EHCache

Terracotta announced that it had acquired EHCache. CTO, Ari Zilka, explained the rationale, while Savio Rodrigues examined the impact on the wider caching market./

SpringSource makes an acquisition of its own
Hot on the heels of being acquired by VMware, SpringSource announced its acquisition of Cloud Foundry Inc and launched SpringSource Cloud Foundry, a new public cloud deployment platform for Java web applications.

Open source versus commercial versus proprietary. Or not.
As Seth Grimes argued that neither commercial nor proprietary are the opposite of open source, Roberto Galoppini argued that all open source software is commercial and Matt Asay noted that open source is not longer a differentiator. Meanwhile David Dennis argued against Brian Prentice’s asking whether “open source company” is an oxymoron.

See also:
“Define ‘open source vendor'”
“Further thoughts on defining ‘open source vendor'”
“Define ‘free software vendor’”, “What the OSD doesn’t say about open source”
“The right and best way to make money from open source”.

Are licenses relevant?

Zack Urlocker asked whether the choice of open source license has an impact on the business model. Bill Burke argued that your choice of open source license is “mostly irrelevant”.

SCO actually wins a court judgment (partially)
Groklaw reported that a Federal Court had confirmed the district court’s judgment that SCO Group owed royalties to Novell but ruled that the district court’s summary judgment over ownership of Unix copyrights was inappropriate. That is a matter for a jury, but as Novell noted it is not exactly clear what will happen next, given SCO’s bankruptcy.

The best of the rest
Novell’s Joe Brockmeier discussed how to build an effective community with Paul Krill, editor-at-large at InfoWorld and Ross Turk, community manager for SourceForge.

GCN reported that i4i has looked at OpenOffice and found that, unlike Microsoft Word, it does not infringe on its patents.

The VAR Guy published an audio interview with SugarCRM Interim CEO, Larry Augustin.

The US Department of Justice approved Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, while SD Times reported on Sun’s end of days.

The Mono Project announced the beta release of Moonlight 2.

Matt Asay reported that Linux is booming, but unpaid adoption may hurt vendors.

Stephen O’Grady asked “Does Copyright Matter? Or, is the End of Dual-Licensing Near?” And “Does the GPL Matter?”

Bruno von Rotz reported on the Linux Foundation’s latest research on who writes the Linux kernel. While Matt Asay noted that the Linux developer base is up 10% since 2008

Xconomy reported on Acquia and Drupal’s impact in the content management market and balancing commerce and community.

Savio Rodrigues asked whether Cloudera is to Hadoop as Kleenex is to facial tissues.

Brian Aker told Barton George that Drizzle may be production-ready by the end of the year.

Red Hat announced the launch of its HornetQ messaging middleware system.

Lucid Imagination launched LucidGaze for Lucene, a free monitoring capability.

Red Hat updated its partner program.

Zenoss Core reached the one million downloads mark.

Nambu announced that tri.im is to become an open source project.

Levementum announced an alliance with Pentaho.

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 2009.07.17

Sun shareholders approve Oracle deal. The un/importance of the GPL. And more.

Follow 451 CAOS Links live @caostheory on Twitter and Identi.ca
“Tracking the open source news wires, so you don’t have to.”

Sun shareholders approve Oracle deal
As expected, Sun’s shareholders approved the proposed acquisition by Oracle, reportedly in the absence of Scott McNealy and Jonathan Schwartz. Meanwhile people continue to be obsessed with Oracle killing things. If its not OpenSolaris then its Unbreakable Linux.

The un/importance of the GPL
Matt Asay speculated on Apache and the future of open-source licensing, in doing so referring to the GPL as “an alternative way to release proprietary software”. Needless to say that put the cat amongst the pigeons, with Glyn Moody stepping forward to explain why the GNU GPL still matters and Savio Rodrigues contemplating why open source vendors will continue to select the GPL. Meanwhile Benjamin Black reported on the failings of the GPL in the cloud era.

While we’re on the subject of open source licenses, Andrew Binstock argued that the OSI needs to consider licenses with defined limitations, while we pondered the theory of natural selection as it applies to license proliferation in the context of our recent long-form report, CAOS 12 – The Myth of Open Source License Proliferation.

Incidentally, on Tuesday, July 21 at 1:00pm EDT we will be hosting a webinar to discuss some of the findings from the report. Register here.

Best of the rest
# Matt Asay noted that Intel was second largest contributor to Linux in 08, just behind Red Hat.

# The FSF responded to Microsoft’s Mono patent promise, asking for a license for all patents Mono exercises.

# Mike Hogan explained how open source commoditizes itself.

# eWeek reported on how to bring open source software into the enterprise.

# I-CIO reported on how the French government leads the way in open source.

# Microsoft inked a patent agreement with the parent company of NAS vendor Buffalo, that relates to Linux.

# TDWI published a Q&A on “The Maturing Open Source Model”.

# MontaVista launched Android commercialization services offering.

# Bluenog responded to accusations that it has violated the Apache Software License.

# OStatic reported on how Microsoft’s and Amazon’s cloud strategies face open source challenges.

# CohesiveFT has added Ubuntu 9.04 Server Edition and Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 to its Elastic Server platform.

# Carlo Daffara presented the different reasons for company code contributions.

# Forbes reported on why open source software flourishes in downturns.

# Open World Forum unveiled its Program for 2009.

# Accenture published a podcast titled Increase Flexibility at a Faster Pace and Lower Cost with Open Source.

# Dirk Riehle published a call for papers on Empirical Research Free/Libre Open Source Software.

# EOS reported on a “new” movie, called Code Rush, covering the release of the Netscape browser as open source.

Policy matters for open source adoption

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has written an interesting article over at CIO.com about the lack of policies for open source adoption among enterprises.

The article has some interesting input from the likes of Maryland’s Howard County Library, the H. E. Butt Foundation, specialty tool vendor QEP, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Entertainment, HeavyLifters Network, and our very own Jay Lyman.

What becomes clear from the article is there are as many ways of implementing policies around open source adoption and management as there are businesses using open source software. Whether the policies are formally encoded or the collective wisdom of the IT team, Steven reckons there are three main issues that need to be addressed:

“Project stability: Can you trust the project to be there when you need it?

Project support: Can you get support when you need it?

Internal software management: Does your company know what open-source programs it’s using? How it’s developing and deploying them both in-house and to customers?”

Although some of the organizations quoted have strategies in place for making use of open source in place of internal development (“don’t code what you can download” is the mantra at Entertainment) most are taking a very informal stance on internal software management.

I wrote recently about the issue of increasing corporate contributions to open source. It strikes me that perhaps that is getting ahead of the game. For many companies understanding the level of open source software usage as it stands would be a start.

Is social responsibility the key to corporate contributions?

Some time ago I wondered aloud whether free and open source software might one day follow environmentalism from being dismissed as the realm of “sandal-wearing and beard-toting troublemakers or romantic idealists” to being a significant corporate agenda item.

While we are not at that stage yet, there are indications that open source development is being seen as a matter of social responsibility. Via Roberto Galoppini comes the news that the Software Freedom Law Center recently received a call from someone at a socially responsible investment house inquiring about “willingness to contribute to FLOSS” as a social responsibility item.

As Bradley M Kuhn explains: “This fellow was actually investigating the FLOSS credentials of various companies and trying to bring it forward as a criterion when considering how socially responsible their practices are. He seemed genuinely interested in bringing this forward as part of a social agenda for his company. ”

It is interesting to view this call in the context of Jim Whitehurst’s call for corporations to invest more in sharing and reusing their code via open source development. I suspect Jim’s talk of eliminating “waste” in IT software development was not accidental.

That speech prompted Dana Blankenhorn to call for the development of a “Code Recycling Center”. I commented at the time that at a local level such projects are being created, at least at for governments, but that corporate take up might be prompted by some sort of tax incentive.

I was forgetting that, according to the Center for American Progress “corporations and self-employed individuals may already take a deduction for their development expenses for both open source and proprietary commercial software” (the Center proposed in 2006 to extend a tax credit to individuals that create open source software).

Meanwhile, Stefano Maffuli has suggested the creation of a Free Software Fairness Index by which to classify open source businesses on the grounds of social responsibility. This in turn calls to mind Milking the GNU’s suggestion of an “Equitable Open Source” index by which to judge vendors on their patent policy, business model and development model.

As Roberto notes, Sun’s corporate social responsibility report explains that the company’s commitment to open source means that it shares its “technology and resources with communities worldwide to help eliminate the digital divide, create economic opportunity, and foster equal access to technology.”

Meanwhile I previously noted that a proposal was presented to Oracle’s shareholder meeting in 2007 asking the company to detail its commitment to open source and use its patent portfolio to protect open source. While Oracle opposed the proposal it did note that it intended to include information about its open source activities in the next social responsibility report (which it hasn’t yet published).

Back in March I wrote:

“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.”

Clearly we’re not there yet, but the situation I desribed seems more likely today than it did just four months ago.