OpenSPARC Governance

Ripening

Governance is an area that I consider underappreciated within open source. Licensing gets a lot of attention in open source circles, but governance in my view is every bit as important. So the news from Sun that has my attention today is that the OpenSPARC community is getting a governing board to bootstrap its governance process. I am honoured to be one of the founding members.

The task it has will be quite different to the task we've had on the OpenSolaris interim board, where the governance proposal is now in release-candidate state. Each community needs rules so participants can know what to expect, but those rules will reflect the expectations of the stakeholders.

Already thriving after only a short time, OpenSPARC is quite different to the other open source initiatives at Sun. It's hardware, to start with (although that's something of a grey area since it's all defined by software). That means that the usual world of rapid iteration you'd expect around open source code does not apply and there's little role for a version control system to which participants contribute. Publishing changed source is likely to be more important than that.

Then the participant community is different. To create derivative works, you have to have access to some place that makes chips. Just look at the map on the web site - you'll see a heavy hit rate from China and from Austin, Texas. That should give you an idea who is interested. There's already a company making an embeddable version of the design, and they've published their sources too as required by the GPL.

More than that, the community also has stakeholders who aren't making derivative works. Using the know-how in the chip source to add support for it to the Linux kernel has been an important use that continues to be important, most recently with Gentoo adding support for the UltraSPARC T1. In addition, universities across the world are investigating how to use OpenSPARC to support their curriculum by analysing actual, live commercial designs.

All this says that the governance process for OpenSPARC is going to be an interesting challenge to create. There is a lot to do: we have to serve a very diverse set of stakeholders (which I tend to think is a great thing for the health of the project). We have to understand this community's needs, produce a model for governance that best meets them, get it ratified and then finally implemented with the OpenSPARC community. We expect the whole process to take about a year. To do the job, we have, quite appropriately, an unusually diverse board (it's an interesting mix: an analyst, a commercial company, a university, a deeply respected SPARC guy and me), One thing is for sure; this job is never dull!

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