Wednesday Aug 31, 2005

Blastwave.org needs our support

I sent in my donation this morning. If you use Blastwave, crack open that virtual wallet called PayPal and donate. It's nearly painless, I promise.

Thursday Oct 14, 2004

Open Source/Software Patent Affinity

As a software engineer, I have struggled over the years to understand the net impact of software patents. I have wondered what types of conversations occur at small software companies developing new product. Do the engineers expend much effort checking to see if any components infringe? Does the company management or their investors calculate the potential impact of requests for royalty payments by patent holders? A quick search reveals that the risk has not only been recognized but quantified: software patent infringement insurance does exist.

One might guess these issues are having some degree of a cooling effect on the industry; the opposite effect from the intention of the patent system which was designed to encourage innovation, sharing and profit for all. My concerns were recently inflamed by reading a ten year old paper, Software Patents: An Industry at Risk, and by following the news around Sun's righteous though expensive indemnification of Java.

Today however, I just read Tim Bray's Patent Theory essay which has helped clarify my thinking. I agree with him. His idea about the best use of the software patent system and his suggestion that an open source implementation be required to get a patent, parallels exactly my experience at Sun as an inventor and patent holder.

When I innovated a better user experience for web page and database interaction for JavaOne attendees to create their personal schedules, I was encouraged to file a patent. As soon as the filing was completed, some five years ago, I open sourced all the code and posted a demonstration showing how to implement it. Sun protected the invention from being patented by anyone else. The company's intention was to make the technology available to anyone without fear that it would ever be used against them. The patent, 6,728,769, was granted just this April.

I had been feeling guilty about being part of a system that I wasn't sure I believed in. Not anymore. I am confident that Sun has done the right thing with my innovation. Just as they have done with Java itself, they made my tiny contribution available to programmers the world over and protected them from ever worrying that using it may come back to haunt them.

I am proud to work for a company that innovates, shares with the community and does what it can to protect that community within a system that is not perfect. In an ethical world, power must always be tempered by responsibility. From my vantage point, Sun does an admirable job wielding its power responsibly.

Wednesday Jun 23, 2004

Wikis and SnipSnap in particular

When I was introduced to wiki a little over a year ago, I immediately saw it as an enormous leap forward in time and cost savings for web publishing. A few years ago, I led the development of an online editor for the localization of content for the JavaOne conference website. In retrospect it could be defined as a narrowly scoped wiki.

SnipSnap is a very interesting collaboration suite incorperating both wiki and blog functionality implemented in Java. I've been using the SnipSnap software since I first learned about wiki. Recently, I promoted an investigation of its use as a bi-directional communication channel for Sun's customers and their account managers. When we evaluated SnipSnap's ability to serve hundreds of discrete members-only mini-sites on a few machines, we pushed it beyond its design point. We met with Matthias Jungel (Leo) while he was in California for OOPSLA and worked out an agreement to fund the development to scale SnipSnap for this use case. Today, Leo has announced the availability of the latest version which now satisfies our requirements.

I have installed and use 3 instances of SnipSnap on a daily basis.

  • As a documentation wiki on my workstation.
  • Intranet documentation where for example, a FAQ about blogs.sun.com is maintained by Sun's blogging community.
  • My internet playground hoffie.com.
SnipSnap's primary design philosophy is "The Easy Weblog and Wiki Software". They have lived up to that goal. In its default configuration, it runs as a webapp inside an embedded Jetty web sever with a built-in McKoi database. After download and uncompression, you run a single command: run.sh & and you have a database backed wiki/blog server running! So, what are you waiting for? Go get it, you'll like it!
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