Project Kenai and Supporting OSI

As part of a series of open source activities around Software Freedom Day, Sun quietly rolled out a cool new open source facility this week. Before I tell you about it, I should mention I've been part of the revived discussion considering open source license proliferation and the Open Source Initiative (OSI). As you may recall, I am keen to fix the problem of the proliferation of open source licenses, even to the extent to asking OSI to regard two Sun-created licenses (SISSL and SPL) as no longer for active use.

License Choice

One of the approaches advocated in that discussion is to run open source hosting facilities that only allow a subset of licenses, making most licenses unavailable to new projects. While the ideology behind the selection may appear sound, I think that's the wrong direction to take. If OSI is to have any relevance in the future, we all need to respect its decisions and strengthen its authority. If we think they were or are now wrong decisions, we need to help OSI put its house in order and not usurp its authority and put ourselves unilaterally in the place of arbiters of what is a "true" open source license.

Project Kenai License Selection

That's why I'm pleased to say that the new community hosting system Sun opened for beta this week, Project Kenai, uses the OSI License (Anti-)Proliferation Committee's report as the basis for license selection for new communities. Expanded list of Kenai licenses

When you create a new hosted project, Kenai offers first of all the "recommended" licenses ("Licenses that are popular and widely used or with strong communities"). If you're looking for a specific license, you can "grow" the list to show the rest of the OSI-approved licenses. Finally the deprecated/retired licenses are available if you specifically request to use them (since OSI doesn't un-approve licenses). Hopefully this approach will cause new projects which don't have a specific license in mind to choose from the small pool of common licenses, while at the same time allowing existing communities to use the licenses they already prefer.

Community Hosting

Project Kenai is pretty interesting in all sorts of other ways, of course, not least that it's a Ruby on Rails application. Tim has some of the technical details on his blog. We created it because we realised that, with Sun involved in upwards of 750 different open source projects, acting as host for some reasonable number of them, we needed to have some hosting infrastructure of our own. It also gave us an opportunity to build a large-scale site using modern techniques, as well as to offer the facility as a service to the open source community at large.

It's more than just a "forge" offering Subversion and Mercurial - it includes infrastructure for social networking within and between communities as well, and the development team is continuing to enhance these. They're not quite ready to open the doors to new projects yet, but if you have a project you would like to host there, please contact me for an invitation to the beta programme and get in on the ground floor. And of course you are invited to explore the system and to join in with existing projects if you want - no invitation is needed to do either of those things. Take a look especially at the new xVM Server project, launched yesterday.


I like! Anti-proliferation without being anti-choice.

Guide users toward a small set of widely-accepted, popular choices, but let them expand the list or specify what they want if it's obscure.

Now, if we could only get other user interfaces to obey the same principles! Even in the latest releases: The StarWriter 3.0 and MS Word 6.0 formats offered on the main save dialog? They're 11-14 years & 5-6 product generations out of date at this point! Work, Illustrator, PhotoShop, GIMP: they all have similar ugliness. Time to apply the "choice without proliferation" principle broadly!

Posted by Jonathan Eunice on September 10, 2008 at 07:31 PM PDT #

ahem ... going to just gives me a "500 Internal Server Error" :-( maybe you know who needs to be kicked\^Winformed.

Posted by Michael Schuster on September 11, 2008 at 12:54 AM PDT #

@Jonathan: The problem there is the lack of an independent arbiter, although OpenOffice,org does prioritise ODF.

@Michael: Must have been transient, it's there now.

Posted by Simon Phipps on September 11, 2008 at 01:47 AM PDT #

@Simon: may haev been an issue with an Sun-internal webcache. got it now. thx

Posted by Michael Schuster on September 11, 2008 at 01:58 AM PDT #

I dunno, Simon. If a product management and design team can't figure out, based on their own work and judgment, that file formats tied to product versions >10 years and >5 versions old are to be deprecated--then something's wrong with the team IMHO.

It is true, however, that the logic and code required to implement first- and then second-order format selections is notably greater than just providing an omnibus first-order list. In some UI realms, it would required abandoning standard widgets for custom ones, which is a PITA, esp. when resources are scarce. So one mongo list endures, presenting users with unwise & ancient choices for years to come. Many UI tweaks will never bubble their way to the top of the priority list; the net user experience suffers this reality every day, across a wide range of fat apps.

In any case, kudos to Kenai folks for getting the multi-level selection concept right.

Posted by Jonathan Eunice on September 11, 2008 at 02:14 AM PDT #

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