Shoddy Assumptions

I don't know why Joe Brockmeier of ZDNet decided to lambast me on the basis of one line attributed to me without explanation in a muckraking article published in Australia, but whatever his reasons his act of drawing his own conclusions about what I might have meant and then lambasting me on the strength of nothing more than his poor insight reflects badly on him. Unlike his wiser colleague David Berlind, who has a good grasp of the principles involved in a very large open source project (even if he needs a little correction), Joe is well short of the truth when he asserts:

I think it'd be great if IBM did contribute to, but I'm not sure that the project is critical to IBM's plans for making money with Linux. ... In short, this seems like petty politics on Sun's part. I doubt Sun or members of the project expect IBM to suddenly make a priority just because they complain about IBM's lack of involvement. From this perspective, it would seem that Sun is just trying to sling a little mud IBM's way. Perhaps Sun needs someone new to pick fights with, since they made nice with Microsoft last year.

If Joe had bothered to ask, he would have discovered that my comment (which was actually a personal comment to Rodney Gedda over a beer and not intended for publication, but which I nonetheless stand behind once placed in context) did not relate to personal use of OpenOffice by IBM employees. If that was the only use they were making then fair enough, we all use code from the rich open source meta-community and it would obviously be crazy to expect everyone to engage in every project and make contribution back. I don't, for example, expect IBM to make any contribution to the Roller weblog software I am using right now even though I know they have extensive internal deployments.

The comment instead related to the common assumption in the community that IBM's Workplace Client product is based directly on source forked from about two years ago. Many community members believe that, for whatever reason, IBM has not attempted to contribute anything at all back to the community despite a heavy dependence on code from the commons - no code, no marketing, no goodwill, nothing. As I was at the time among a large group of community members (at the Australian conference) for whom this was common knowledge I alluded to it - Gedda sadly did not provide that context and I would have preferred him not to have reported the comment without, but he has and so now the issue is on the table. It would be correct to say IBM would have the right to use the code how they want because it is licensed under SISSL, and I agree with those who suggest that it's time that license was no longer available for the codebase - a subject that has been discussed widely in the community.

The rest of the article reflects the bad-will the blog in which Joe writes has shown towards Sun for some time. Berlind and Cooper have explained his shallowness in connection with the necessary copyright assignments that most open source projects require of contributions. To correct his assertion about Sun's contributions, Sun contributes widely to open source technologies and I believe has indeed contributed to Samba in the past, as well as many, many other technologies. The only reason Sun would not make a contribution would be if Sun had no contribution to make - we don't want to fork anything and we don't want to freeload.

I am sick of seeing so many shallow, mean-spirited articles like this based on an assumption of malice. Sun has been a consistent contributor to the Unix heritage since 1981 and most Unix and Linux users depend daily on code and ideas in which Sun has played a key role (NFS, anyone? X11? Gnome? Mozilla? Even the 'currently active' list is huge). Joe, you say "In short, this seems like petty politics on Sun’s part", You're wrong. This is a tiny part of a community discussion based on real issues. I'd advise you to ask the affected community before you jump to unwarranted conclusions. And next time you try to read my mind, remember you can't trust what's reported in the press and consider actually contacting me first - simon DOT phipps AT sun DOT com.

Update:Turns out IBM is on the record that Workplace is a fork of OO.o - see this eWeek article [Thanks, Stephen!]. And David Berlind just wrote another wise analysis.


Maybe you guys forgot to make your monthly "protection" payment. Er. I mean your advertizing. ;-)

Posted by guest on April 27, 2005 at 09:57 AM PDT #

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