Avoiding Disappointment

There's a common lesson that OpenSolaris, Glassfish, OpenOffice.org, Netbeans and the rest have taught me. There is definitely a lot of work involved in taking an existing commercial project and making it open source. I'd thus never do it lightly, nor would I expect it to be possible to always do it quickly. People who think you can just snap your fingers and - presto - the software is open source, are mistaken. But we'll be taking all the software we are able to and opening the source as soon as we can.

That's the sense of what I said to Peter Galli in the interview I gave him last week, which he's reported on eWeek. In an otherwise good report, there's a curious distortion added at the start of it. He says:

Those who hope Sun Microsystems Inc. will open-source all of its software products anytime soon are in for a big disappointment.

As the story goes on to say, exactly the opposite is true. We've already opened more source code than any other company in history, and there's more to come just as soon as we can make it happen. But we're not going to act irresponsibly. We have to make sure we know where every line of code came from. We have to make sure that a community can coalesce around the newly open code. We have to prepare the existing community (our staff) for the huge culture change that's involved. So I did indeed say:

"I am not going to allow us to do it too fast. We are not going to rush any of these things. This is not a token gesture. This is not the alphaWorks of 1999 where you throw it out and see if it sticks"1

So in fact those who hope Sun Microsystems Inc. will open-source all of its software products anytime soon are in for a treat. That's just what we'll be doing. Except, if I have anything to do with it, we'll do it right too, creating or joining2 transparent communities, establishing contribution-led, inclusive governance and using OSI-approved, re-usable licenses. No disappointment involved.


  1. No slur on alphaWorks here, by the way - it was started by good friends of mine while I was at IBM and its purpose was indeed to "see what would stick" so that IBM could then productise the ideas. Heady, pre-open source days. No idea what its mission is today.
  2. I mean that, too. The recently-announced Java DB is a distribution of Apache Derby rather than home brewed, for example.
Comments:

Keep up the good work, Simon, and thanks for clarifying the artice. I guess many people are not familar with the work involved in taking an existing closed project into the open, and have different expectations, so maybe you could blog about the road map. cheers, dalibor topic

Posted by Dalibor Topic on December 22, 2005 at 06:39 AM PST #

Thanks, Dalibor! It varies from project to project - for example, the author search for OpenSolaris took maybe 6 years - but the idea of some case studies is a good one.

Posted by Simon Phipps on December 22, 2005 at 06:49 AM PST #

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