Ada Initiative highlights challenge to get more women in open source

The lack of women involved in open source has unfortunately long been a weakness for open source software and its many, varied communities around the globe. In fact, we found out recently just how significant the problem is, with troubling figures as reported by Valerie Aurora with the Ada Initiative that indicate significantly lower representation of women in open source (2%) compared to the overall IT industry (20%).

Though there are some signs of improvement, with apparent growth in awareness of the issue and thus a more respectful environment, there is still obviously a long way to go before open source can live up to its ideals of transparency, collaboration and openness.

There is also some belief that female participation in open source software and other development and IT work is underestimated by handles, nicknames and identities that might appear male to avoid any sexism. In addition, there is also the fact that while open source software communities are typically true meritocracies, the initial experience for the new developer can be a harsh one, regardless of gender. Still, it is somewhat shameful the representation of women in open source is typically less than what we see in proprietary software and, as alluded to earlier, the rest of IT.

Aurora wisely argues we need more women in open source so that we have more women in startups. We also see other sub-communities of IT and software, such as the new Women Innovate Mobile effort, that similarly aim to involve more women. Given the longstanding nature of this issue, it is disappointing to see open source software and its communities left behind by mobile, other parts of IT and other industries that are more effectively incorporating women and expanding their reach.

The Ada Initiative, named for the first computer programmer who was also a woman, Ada Lovelace, is a nonprofit organization formed to grow female participation in open source software, Wikipedia and open technology in general. In addition to awareness and education, consulting, workshops and other services, the initiative is primarily focused on teaching women skills to help them succeed in open technology and its culture and how men can help. The group is currently raising support as it seeks to boost awareness and help build an open source software world where women are not only more prevalent, but are also more welcome, encouraged and respected for their work, their code and their talents. In order for open source software communities, projects, products and commercial plays to succeed and reach their full potential, the greater open source community and its supporters should be finding ways to incorporate women, wherever they can contribute and improve the effort.

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.

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.

On innovation and participation

Two of the themes that have risen to the surface in the open source blogosphere in recent week are innovation, and the apparent lack of it when it comes to open source; and participation, and the continued lack of it when it comes to corporate contributions to open source projects.

The H recently asked why there is no more new open source, while OStatic asked why open source lags the innovation curve. Meanwhile Ian Skerrett called for increased focus on corporate contributions, citing a similar call from Matt Asay, and gaining support from elsewhere.

It occurred to me – not for the first time – that these issues might be related. I previously noted that in the data management space we are seeing the Apache Hadoop ecosystem the various NoSQL databases being driven by open source corporate contributions that are innovating beyond the realms of the established relational database and establishing new database market segments.

So why haven’t we seen this level of corporate user-driven open source innovation in other market segments? I think the reason lies, in part, the fundamental tensions at the heart of traditional open source-related business strategies.

One of the most often–repeated statements about open source business strategies is the observation made by Marten Mickos, that open source users include those who will spend time to save money, and those who will spend money to save time.

Most traditional open source-related business strategies – be they the provision of support services, subscriptions, dual licensing, or closed source extensions – are based on separating those that are likely to spend money from those that are likely to spend time. It stands to reason, though, that those who are prepared to spend time are more likely to participate and contribute code.

Given that, as I previously noted, is it not somewhat unfair to expect those that have already spent money to save time to also spend time on open source contributions?

Then of course there is the fact that copyright assignment policies, vendor-dominated development projects and cathedral-style development models – all of which have dominated commercial open source business strategies in the last ten years – act as a barrier to corporate participation.

Meanwhile most commercial open source support agreements, even without any of the above barriers, are based on an agreement that modifications to the core code base will not be supported.

It is also true to say that vast majority of the open source-related vendors in the last decade have focused on disrupting established markets, rather than creating new markets. That isn’t to say that they haven’t innovated, but if it is true that open source developers scratch their own itch, then the dominant itch over the last few years has been market disruption.

What makes the Hadoop and NoSQL movements different is that their growth is driven less by the itches of the associated vendors than it is the itches of the users/developers. Indeed we see vendors in these markets being led by existing users/developers in trying to figure out the opportunities for commercialization.

The fact that the rise of these projects has coincided with an increased focus on collaboration and community, as well as commercial interests, has been well documented on this blog.

In short, the dominant business strategies that epitomised the vendor-dominated open source development/distribution projects of open source 3.0 limited the potential for corporate participation in collaborative development and the focus on disrupting existing markets limited the potential for true, market-establishing innovation.

The increased focus on collaborative development communities, indirect revenue generation, distributed copyright ownership and permissive licensing are more likely to deliver both innovation and corporate participation.

We explain more about our theory of the evolution of commercial open source in Control and Community, the follow-up to our Open Source is Not a Business Model report, which is now available. The report provides more context for the economic motivators and issues involved in the various models, as well as updated research on which vendors are following which strategies, and why, as well as a survey of 286 open source software users to uncover what they make of it all. The report will be freely available to CAOS subscribers. For more details of the CAOS research practice, and to apply for trial access, click here.

Where open source was, and where it is now

Over the years of my observation, coverage and participation in open source software, SourceForge (both the code repository site SourceForge.net and the corporation) has typically served as one key barometer of where things stood. However, this began to change a couple of years ago, when I wrote about how the resources for finding, understanding, assessing open source software were growing. Today, we see that the bulk of open source software — both code and communities — have nothing close to a single home or destination. Today we see that the SourceForge destination has given way to Google Code, GitHub, Eclipse, Codeplex, Wazi, individual forges for projects and vendors and other places where open source software and its communities conduct their business.

So it makes sense that SourceForge the corporation — formerly OSTG, formerly OSDN, formerly VA Software, formerly VA Linux Systems, formerly VA Research — is yet again changing its name. This time, it’s going with Geeknet. While I was sort of scratching my head at first, this also makes sense given the company, whatever you call it, is now focused less on the code and community, but more on reaching a market, in this case, a market of geeks. This is the post-Ohloh company that is now perhaps accepting that its ThinkGeek e-commerce property holds more opportunity than a code hosting service. In fact, the strong ThinkGeek property and new Geeknet name may also be indicative of a realization and departure from community focus given key community figures were recently cut by the company. We’ve also seen a steady decline in prominence for Geeknet’s Slashdot and other media sites, accompanied by tough times for online advertising. Given where open source software is today, not only in the enterprise, but increasingly across industries, devices and markets, it seems it has become difficult to impossible to house it all under one roof.

So where is all of that open source code and community? If we look at recent findings from Black Duck Software, we see that the answer is, basically everywhere. In a survey of 175 customers using open source software over the last 18 months (a variety of customers and applications in mobile, digital media, social media, financial services and enterprise software), Black Duck found that each project contained an average 22% open source software (average size of 700MB of code). Black Duck also estimated that 22% of open source software saved $26m per product or application — an idea we’ll be discussing in depth in a coming CAOS report on the cost benefits of open source software.

Although the fragmentation of open source software repositories and hosts may seem to present some challenges in finding and understanding open source software, we actually believe that the diversity and competition are driving greater collaboration and communication among developers and greater visibility and granular information about projects and developers for users and customers of open source software.

Transparency – the first step towards open source participation for proprietary vendors

Red Hat’s CEO Jim Whitehurst had the following three statements on his final slide at OSBC today:

    Transparency builds trust
    Participation solves problems
    Open source provides an answer

Transparency has become one of the main buzzwords this year and I believe is critically important for traditional proprietary vendors as they attempt to participate with open source in order to reduce costs and benefit from collaborative development projects.

Turn Jim’s statement on its head and it also provides some good advice for those vendors:

    Open source provides an answer
    Participation solves problems
    Transparency builds trust

Sun full of open source and skepticism

Sun continues to take a performance pounding, and the rumors of replacements, layoffs and revamps are beyond swirling and now perpetuating skepticism of the company. It strikes me as odd that Sun, which has embraced open source and is also the defacto leading corporate open source software contributor, is continually dogged by doubts about its transitions and tenures despite well-respected technology and participation in open source. Part of this lies in the company’s continuing dichotomy in strategy — a reference to tepid support for Linux and continued preference for and focus on Solaris. This is a large part of Sun’s ‘handicap,’ IMHO when it comes to Linux and open source. Sun has its own OS, and therefore is in the same category as the dreaded Microsoft for many.

However, Sun has a longstanding, solid history with open source. OpenOffice, OpenSolaris, OpenSparc, Java, etc. While the company has generally benefited from its move to make Java open source under the GPL, its OpenSolaris and Solaris OS under the CDDL have been a somewhat different story. Nevertheless, Sun knows how to do open source right and continues to participate effectively in a variety of open source software communities, projects and enterprise products.

Let’s also not forget that it was Sun that started off this year with a billion dollar bet on open source, MySQL and its database software and business. When Jonathan Schwartz and co. were on the conference call for the acquisition in January, there were many references to Sun’s belief in the LAMP stack (along with the expected reference to the possibility of a SAMP stack that includes Solaris). And therein lies the dichotomy again.

Does Sun want to support and see success from Linux? Or does it want to see success from Solaris (and OpenSolaris)? The company may want to have it both ways and while it’s certainly possible and practical to support multiple operating systems in this day and age, Sun needs to make it clear whether it wants to fan the flames or fight the fire that is Linux. Let’s consider Novell. Is it putting much investment or roadmapping into Netware? No, the company is focused on Linux and integration of NetWare and Linux in Open Enterprise Server since it acquired SUSE in 2003. While an acquisition spurred the Linux embrace in Novell’s case, Sun does not necessarily need to buy a Linux vendor (there are fewer of those, too with Xandros’ recent purchase of Linspire).

The bottom line is that many if not most enterprise Linux wins come at the expense of Solaris and other Unix software. Sun would be wise to recognize this and it could go a long way toward clarifying its achievements and objectives with open source and getting its house in order.

IT giants in open source for competition, cash

I spent part of yesterday attending the Open Source Summit at Portland’s Innotech Business and Technology Conference, and moderating a panel on ‘IT Giants and Open Source.’ We had a great discussion about the reasons, roles, responsibilities and rewards for big vendors to be acutely and adequately participating in open source software development and commercialization. Our fabulous panelists were Danese Cooper, open source diva, knitting machine and present to give perspective from Intel, Stuart Cohen of OSDL fame and current leader of startup CSI and Gerrit Huizenga, an IBM Solutions Architect working with Linux in the cloud, who when asked how to pronounce his last name correctly, politely told me, ‘Very carefully’ (Hi-zen-ga).

There was general agreement that large IT vendors, including software giants such as Google, Oracle and even Microsoft, all see a need for involvement in open source. What also emerged as a common theme during our panel was that no big vendor could afford not to be in open source in some way or another. Basically, it’s been competitive necessity and cost effectiveness that has led vendors to open source, and this helps explain why we see open source all over the place. There was also a recognition that we were not talking about what vendors might be doing or when they might be making moves around open source. We were talking about the things these vendors are doing today and where they are looking next to push the ideas and advantages of open source further.

We also talked about the responsibility of vendors, and the basic theme here was that companies better know what they’re doing with open source. Rule number one seemed to be that participation is not optional. This is particularly so when a large vendor wants to try and leverage that open source code and development for commercial gain that, in most cases, is now stretching into the billions for the big players. Panalists contemplating the IT giants and open source also pointed to the enterprise credibility that large companies can give open source software by providing commercial support. It’s true that one of the biggest inhibitors to open source use by businesses is their wariness of using software without a company and commercial support behind it. The commercial support options for open source continue to grow with SIs, OS companies, application vendors and others all providing support for more open source software. However, CSI’s Cohen contends that there is so much new open source software being created, there are not enough commercial support providers to keep up. This could mean that commercial support for open source will continue to be a challenge, but it also highlights the opportunity in supporting open source.

Another big topic was interoperability, which was my term and was pretty much broken down to mean standards in the view of our panelists. Unfortunately, there was strong agreement that today’s standards procedures and practices (ISO approval of OOXML perhaps still fresh in their minds) are not adequately promoting the kind of transparancy and collaboration needed. There was, however, somewhat of a bright spot in this discussion, and that was the recurring theme of customer demand for interoperability and truly open standards. The market is making vendors, from Red Hat to Microsoft, work harder to support and interoperate with each others’ technologies, both open source and proprietary, through truly open standards.

We discussed open source mergers and acquisitions from the view of the large vendors, and while Cooper called valuations from deals such as Citrix-XenSource ($500m) and Sun-MySQL ($1bn) signs of a bubble, Cohen contended that the value of an open source software operation is actually the same as a traditional one: the customers and relationships. I would argue that the high open source pricetags in recent M&A highlight how significant of a competitive factor these open source projects and vendors can be, forcing larger players to do some bidding and make aggressive moves.

Taking an audience question on how big software companies such as Microsoft and Oracle are viewing competition from open source, IBM’s Huizenga highlighted how all proprietary software companies are seeing more and more of their traditional revenue bases challenged by open source. This competition, highlighted in a recent study, comes with a growing audience of open source users, developers and yes, enterprises that do not pay anyone for any software, support or services, yet extend the reach of open source. Huizenga later highlighted the ongoing opportunity in open source software, referencing how IBM’s investements in Linux, far less than what would be invested in proprietary development, continue to pay off hansomely.