Tuesday Mar 18, 2008

Thinking about what Open means

Up to London to meet with work colleagues in our public policy programmes team. The meeting was opened by Simon Phipps, who introduced us to his reworking of "Software Market 3.0". Its now called the "Adoption Market" and Simon expresses it best in his own words on his Sun blog. An illustration of how free creates adoption and innovation is that Open Solaris now has 750 projects. He then explored the nature and role of free licences. There is or should be agreement about the nature and purposes of the main types of free licences, although we can all get into the "mine's better than yours" arguments, which while being fun, aren't usually a good use of time. Simon pointed out that a number of the free licences are considering or adopting non-agression clauses.

One fear is that as the free licenses gather momentum, intellectual property owners will seek to defend themselves using trademarks. It may become very difficult to make new trademarks since they're all taken. Once, I was stupid enough to believe someone who told me that IBM had trademarked all the numbers between 1000 and 9999. (It was a long time ago, I am bit more cynical now.)

He also brought us up to date with our work on open document standards, it seems we and more and more users are coming to the belief that users should choose a document's format not product authors. One of the critical issues with a proprietary format, is that the product authors decide when a standard is obsolete, not the document owner/author.

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Friday Mar 14, 2008

MMORPG, making them massive

During the meeting, we considered the opportunities around Project Darkstar. This is a shardless gaming platform operating environment, written in Java, and inspired by Sun's extensive experience in building mission critical enterprise computing platforms.

MMORPGs seem to be even more popular in some of the far-eastern countries than in the west and its possible that by offering a programming platform Sun can create new conversations with game authors. Make no mistake, Darkstar is a game author's offering. One of the more interesting derivations of Darkstar is project wonderland, built on top of 'Looking Glass' an experimental three dimensional desktop, which has led to the creation of a business/collaboration orientated networked virtual world. This allows us to offer lessons from mission critical computing and its efficiency and predictability requirements, not to mention an understanding of the difference between a game world and business collaboration. It should be noted that networked virtual worlds are seen by both the EU Commission and Gartner as important computing platforms of the future.

The Darkstar code has been published under the GPL v2.0 and talking and thinking about the implications for developers with my colleagues led to my considering Bioware's experimentation with post royalty licenses. This interests me because together with the second life license which explicitly ensures that authors own their intellectual property, they both illustrate that the lawyers (or license designers) can ensure that licenses explicitly target both collaborative and and monetisation behaviour and reinforce the business models of the original license authors. The GPL uses sharing as a gatekeeper condition, while as noted above Second Life license protects author's intellectual property, hence encouraging the development of virtual property within the "world". The Bioware Aurora license ensures that purchaser's of the bioware games get the free right to use all community content. Bioware's Aurora license with which they licensed Neverwinter Nights and its kicker modules ensured that any user created content had to be distributed under the Aurora license. This ensured a no-commerce clause, for the binaries, and the requirement to run the modifications using a licensed version of the runtime. This both protected Bioware's license income and meant that external authors created additional demand for the original game, tools and runtime. N.B. These are not distributed separately.

There is a growing economic theory about the "optimum welfare price" of software and/or information, which I have promised Dominc Kay that I will write up. Copyright and monopoly ownership are legal distortions that inhibit this price occurring in a market. It is however generally the case that most inventors/authors intellectual property rights are fully asserted and freedom only licensed. However, the economic theory is for another day.

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Thursday May 04, 2006

Open Source, Friend or Foe

The Register today, has an article, headlined "US in open source backlash" arguing that the US is a late, slow and distressed adopter of open source compared with Europe and Latin America. It reminded me of some of the speeches and conversations I had last week (See my blog here...) in Ipswich.

I bumped into Simon Deighton of MySQL. When I rudely asked him how they had beaten Postgres despite the latter's technical advantage he argued that success as an OSS vendor requires three things, a community {based around the code}, ease of installation {low barriers to entry/use}, and reliable and good enough functionality. He suggested that MySQL beat Postgres through ease of installation. Having thought hard about the list, I think its a good one. I shall certainly think about it for things I look to out there. Others should too.

Zaheda Bhorat of Google spoke about their commitment to Open Source and while much of their engagement is as consumers, they sponsor the summer of code and leverage the extreme programming policy of letting their developers spend one day/week doing what they want! This freedom {together with other aspects of their culture, such as the signed publication of open source, i.e. recognising authorship} they argue makes them a desirable place to work and helps them recruit the best people.

I'd not heard Simon Phipps speak before and he used some of the slides he's posted on the web. He showed how open source creates value summarised by the pithy quote "it's not about altruism". Both publication and contribution is in the coder's best interests. (I'll return to this another day as it impacts on some thinking I've been doing for the last couple of years about the source of wealth and the nature of software & information). He also offers a definition of open based on readability, however, most opensource is licenced and therefore the "right to use" is constrained. Simon has written a White Paper (see here...) offering a simple classification based on how the licence constrains copyright if users change the code. The third leg of his defintion of open relates to how easy it is to become a committer and/or how the original authors control or share the code's development and future. However possibly the most interesting comment is that we're now in "Software Market 3.0" and both expect to pay for software at the point of value and expect to make transparent payments for services related to software. Critically access to the "committers" so that errors can be fixed but a whole bunch of things come with software such as updates, fixes, documentation (including the known errors list), RFC process, consultancy, education etc. Open source allows consumers to negociate these services and pay a fair price for what they require. Simon referred to it as "unbundling the software value proposition". Clever stuff.

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Thursday Apr 27, 2006

Open Source in the Uk

I attended an "Open Source Day" conference at BT's Global R & D centre having arranged for Simon Phipps to speak on behalf of Sun at the event. We took a couple of laptops with Solaris "Nevada" release 35/37 and Simon Cook blogs here..., and now in my sidebar, demonstrated the use of Zones, Net Beans and Glassfish.

It was great to meet so many people; who fell into two camps, those that remember Sun as an open systems company and those that have never known and repeat our competitor propaganda that we're proprietary. It was good to have the opportunity to explain what we do.

Another article posted several days later than occurred and back dated.

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