Tuesday Feb 24, 2009

Responding to Canada

It seems the Government Open Source Tipping Point (GOSTiP, as all government things need an acronym) is proceeding apace as national government after national government learns from the pioneers and dips a toe into the waters of software freedom.

Prior to the British government's announcement they would prefer to use open source and open formats, many of us also noticed the Canadian Government asking questions about "No-Charge Licensed Software" and using their "request for information" process to do so. Like many others we've taken a good, long look at their questions and written a suitably lengthy reply.

Do take a look; if you'd like to re-use any of it, there's also an ODF version. You'll note that we think lumping open source in with shareware, trialware and bait-and-switchware is a mistake; it's not about saving money on licenses, it's about securing key freedoms.  More inside.

UK Government Endorses Open Source and ODF

Tower Bridge

Late today (UK time), the British Government issued a bold new strategy for use of open source software - and open standards - in Great Britain. In Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use, the government's Minister for Digital Engagement (yes, really, and he's on Twitter too) significantly revised the brave but toothless policy of 2004 "that it should seek to use Open Source where it gave the best value for money to the taxpayer in delivering public services". This is fantastic news - the digital tipping point is at hand. (The publication is also progressive in having nominated use of the tag "#ukgovOSS" in comment and coverage so it can be found and aggregated).

Like other fine policies before it, the core of the document asserts that the government

  • will actively and fairly consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones;
  • will consider exit and transition costs as well as the total lifetime cost of ownership;
  • will pick open source where it doesn't cost more;
  • will insist proprietary vendors explain exit, rebid and rebuild costs;
  • will expect proprietary licenses to be transferable throughout government;
  • will expect public sector solutions to be re-usable
In support of this there are some key action items that include:
  • develop clear and open guidance for ensuring that open source and proprietary products are considered equally (action 1);
  • keep and share records of approval and use of open source (action 3)
  • support the use of Open Document Format (action 8);
  • work to ensure that government information is available in open formats, and it will make this a required standard for government websites (action 8);
  • general purpose software developed by or for government will be released on an open source basis (action 9).

This is all to be warmly welcomed and encouraged, and I congratulate the government on this progressive step. The endorsement of ODF is especially welcome, and would have seemed no more than an impossible dream to those of us associated with OpenOffice.org and involved in it at the start of the decade.

I will be very pleased to support and assist in any way that appropriate. In particular, I encourage the CIO Council to consider switching from an assumption of a procurement-driven approach to software acquisition to an adoption-led approach. Doing so does not favour open source; rather, it levels the playing field so that open source solutions can been seen alongside existing approaches. Sadly, if we stick with procurement-driven approaches and try to force-fit open source into them, we will be gamed.

Monday Feb 23, 2009

Hear Me Speak - Free

In the unlikely circumstance that you are longing to hear me speak about the adoption-led market and the emerging new business reality it is driving, and on the assumption you can get to New York on Wednesday March 18, you'll be delighted to hear that I'm on the agenda for CommunityOne East along with friends Tim Bray and Geir Magnusson among many others who you almost certainly will find compelling even if I'm not. CommunityOne is free to attend, unless you want some deep training on March 19 on MySQL for an extra $200.

Thursday Feb 12, 2009

Old Code and Old Licenses

Brussels Cathedral towers and moon

I was in Brussels at the weekend to attend FOSDEM, one of the handful of "real" Free software developer conferences I attend each year (another is LCA which I went to in Hobart two weeks ago). I was once again honoured to be able to briefly speak to the assembled audience as I did two years ago. This time I announced a small license change to some obscure code, written before the GPL was finalised, to fix a problem for Linux.

Why would that interest anyone? Well, the code in question is the original implementation of Sun RPC, which went on to become RFC 1057 and today is a core part of every UNIX-family operating system. Including Debian GNU/Linux.

The way the code was originally licensed was exceptionally liberal. Written in 1984 or earlier (before the GPL existed), it allowed unfettered use of the Sun RPC implementation in any program for any purpose. The only significant restriction imposed, entirely reasonable to most eyes then, was to say that the module itself could not be sold as-is, only as part of a larger work.

What was liberal is now conservative

Times change. During the 80s, Richard Stallman's Free Software movement established the four freedoms. During the 90s (1994-7), the Debian Free Software Guidelines established a need for the code in their distribution of GNU/Linux to be fully Free software. By the beginning of this decade, Debian maintainers were making a serious effort to audit the millions of lines of code in Debian for true DFSG compliance. And in 2002, they found the old Sun RPC code in core Linux files glibc and portmap.

Reading the history for Debian bug 181493 tells the next part of the story. Inside Sun, the challenge of finding the code in question was Just Too Hard, and the things reached an uneasy impasse.

The issue came back to life last year when the bug was re-asserted as part of the run-up to the Lenny release. I was contacted both by folk at Debian - notably my friend Ean Schuessler - and at Fedora asking if there was anything I could do to accelerate licensing of the old code. Both projects had decided to take a hard line and removing the code from glibc and portmap was going to be a real headache, especially for the stability of glibc.

Challenging

The task of relicensing old code can be pretty time consuming and involves people who are already much in demand.

  • First, the old code is often very old. The people who wrote it are no longer with the company, it is no longer part of a current product, we sometimes can't even be sure it ever came from Sun. We have to find the original code if we're to make any progress at all. Doing so might mean retrieving crates of paper from long-term storage and crawling through them.
  • Second, once the code is located, a legal expert has to look at the origins of the code and maybe once again crawl through retrieved paperwork to find the contracts behind the code. Their job is to determine if Sun actually has the right to change the license at all.
  • Third, someone has to believe it is their job with respect to the code in question to act on Sun's behalf to evaluate the change, authorise it and bind the company officially.
All this is time-consuming and expensive, and without a current code owner inside Sun it's touch-and-go whether anyone can find either the staff time or the budget to run a license change through to completion.

With help both from Ean and friends at Debian and from the Fedora team at Red Hat, we managed to identify some modern OpenSolaris code that matched the code in Linux. This was a key step. It meant we could trace ownership through the comprehensive records for OpenSolaris and start the process moving. By last week, we finally reached the point where we felt comfortable to relicense the Sun code involved.

Relicensed

On Saturday I was able to tell Europe's Free Software developers that the licenses on the RPC code are no longer a barrier to Free software - we'll change the license to Sun's copyrights in the RPC code to a standard 3-clause BSD license, allowing inheritance of that licensing by both Debian and Fedora. I'm delighted to have been able to fix this problem, which arose not because of failure but because of the success of software freedom over many years and becuase of Sun's early commitment to it.

Wednesday Feb 11, 2009

The Third Wave on Video

While I was in Australia I recorded this video with the essence of my talk about the third wave of free and open source software - the adoption-led trend, the freedom to leave, the way it's Stallman's four freedoms that are the root of the value for enterprise use of FOSS and the way Sun's new organisation can deliver the value needed to succeed with open source.

Check out the full page too. I'm checking with them what happened to the Ogg version.

Wednesday Jan 28, 2009

Open Source Drives The New Sun

Full moon rising over cloud

The Register article reporting Ian Murdock's move to Sun's new cloud computing group seems to have irritated Ian and it does indeed seem to be an attempt to gather as many half-understood-half-facts as possible and sensationalize them.

Far from being a "shift in Sun's thinking from the open-source software mindset of two years back and into the nebulous cloud market", the restructure of Sun's business units (happened last November actually) demonstrates Sun moving to the next level with open source, since all three business units - that's the whole company, for those keeping count - are driven by the three viable open source business models:

Payment at the point of value
The Application Platforms group covers infrastructure software like JavaEE (Glassfish) and MySQL and its primary business model is the one I discussed a while back where Sun drives adoption of the software and then sells the means to sustain value as the customer scales deployment.
Open Source Firmware
The Systems group covers storage, servers and the software chiefly associated with them and sells high-value, low price-point systems where the open source software is the operating system or firmware. You could often make the same systems yourself if you wanted; Sun does it better, at lower cost and with full support. Take a look at Open Storage and its use of OpenSolaris, ZFS and DTrace to get the idea.
Cloud Computing/SaaS
The new Cloud Computing group that Ian has joined (leaving his job running developer marketing - he's not been at OpenSolaris for quite some time) plans to run its cloud on open source and sell a reliable, supported, scalable service over the network.

From this you'll see that, far from moving away from open source, Sun has put it at the heart of every business unit. Maybe that would have made for an even more sensational story if the journalist had asked?

Monday Jan 26, 2009

Intellectual Privilege

Hobart at Sunrise

Speaking at conferences like linux.conf.au (where I delivered a keynote last Friday) and OSCON is great fun. It's challenging to speak to an audience that's so diverse that it includes both the creator of the Linux kernel and students who just discovered it exists. It's humbling to know that the intelligence and achievement in the audience dwarfs anything I've ever done. And I admit that sometimes it's frustrating that there's a requirement for political correctness!

There are political correctness landmines littering this domain. For example, using the terms "open source" and "free software" is often taken as an indication of either one's cluefulness or of one's affiliation to a particular world-view. Personally, I consider the two expressions complementary - open source communities collaborate on a free software commons - but there's rarely a chance to explain that before I speak.

An especially frustrating one is the expression "intellectual property". The term is used widely in the business and legal communities, and it becomes second nature to speak of patents, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets collectively in this way. The problem with doing so is that the expression is factually wrong, and a legion of open source developers (you know, the ones working on free software) take the use of the phrase "intellectual property" as a genetic marker for "clueless PHB-type" at best and "evil oppressor of geeks" at worst.

Why is it wrong? Well, none of those things is really "property". In particular, copyright and patents are temporary privileges granted to creative people to encourage them to make their work openly available to society. The "social contract" behind them is "we'll grant you a temporary monopoly on your work so you can profit from it; in return you'll turn it over to the commons at the end of a reasonable period so our know-how and culture can grow."

Using the term "intellectual property" is definitely a problem. It encourages a mindset that treats these temporary privileges as an absolute right. This leads to two harmful behaviours:

  • First, people get addicted to them as "property". They build business models that forget the privilege is temporary. They then press for longer and longer terms for the privilege without agreeing in return to any benefit for the commons and society.
  • Second, they forget that one day they'll need to turn the material over to the commons. Software patents in particular contain little, if anything, that will be of value to the commons - no code, no algorithms, really just a list of ways to detect infringement.

Working on the legacy of this sociopathy is the subject for another time, but I believe we need to change the way we talk about the subject. Both Lakoff and Lewis agree; the words we use to describe things change the way we perceive them. The term we use probably needs to allow us to speak casually of "IP", so that we don't find every conversation to be a minefield of political correctness. Various suggestions have been made, but each of them seems to me to be so slanted to the opposite agenda that there's little chance of practitioners using them.

However, the term "intellectual privilege" seems to work. It's got the right initial letters, which is a huge win! But it also correctly describes the actual nature of the temporary rights we're considering. After having written most of this, I then searched to see if anyone else thought the same and found that someone is actually working on a book, endorsed by Lawrence Lessig, that has that as the title!

I doubt I will get the chance to explain all this before my next conference keynote. So if I don't, accept my apologies. When I said "IP" just now, I meant "intellectual privilege", and I think it's the right phrase for the job.

Monday Nov 10, 2008

Phase 3 of the Sun Model

Liberty Staircase

I wrote recently about the Sun Model for open source business, my high-level overview of how Sun is working with open source.

To summarise:

  1. remove barriers to software adoption between download and deploy;
  2. encourage a large and cohesive community of software deployers;
  3. deliver, for a fee, the means to create value between deploy and scale, for those who need it.

I've had a number of comments and questions about that third phase. It can include all kinds of value-creation, depending on the product in question. Here are some examples of delivering value for people who have already deployed and are heading towards scale:

  • For Solaris and OpenSolaris, Sun offers subscriptions that include the updates, support and warrantly that allows deployers to get the maximum up-time and performance for the minimum cost. You can get the same results yourself by hiring experts to do the work for you, but the Sun subscriptions save money and time.
  • For MySQL,there is the same sort of deal with the addition of software features needed only by those between deploy and scale, such as MySQL Enterprise Monitor.
  • For Glassfish, again, there is a subscription offering that's perfect for those who have taken the decision to deploy and now want the greatest value with the least fuss.
  • ... and so on, across the portfolio.
Devlievering value can take many forms, and nothing is absolutely forbidden unless is creates a barrier between download and deployment in any way.

...and hardware too

But it would be a mistake to believe Sun's open source strategy is only about software. As has been frequently explained, Sun is a systems company, and the news last week and today underlines that fact by showing two new ways Sun is offering value for those between deploy and scale:

  • Systems for MySQL

    Recently, the first database servers optimised for MySQL were made available. For MySQL users who have moved beyond initial deployment and are now looking for high performance servers with rock solid support at great price points, these are excellent. They are optional, but I'd wager most people will save money and create more value by graduating to them for some applications.

  • Unified Storage

    Today's huge news is the release of the new Sun Storage 7000 Series. These new storage appliances create value by combining open source software with commodity hardware and very clever programming and hardware design to deliver low cost storage appliances with great performance. And the use of open source means the extra access protocols other storage vendors try to charge for are included free.

There's plenty more to say on this subject.  For Sun, open source is not a matter of warm statements of alignment while we carry on with the same old business or keep our core products proprietary. I hope it's becoming clear that the Sun Model is a directional matter.

Sunday Nov 02, 2008

Public Procurement and FOSS

Alcatraz

I gave an interview to a journalist last week in response to the research that the European Commission's Open Source Observatory publicised in Malaga last week and the corresponding draft procurement guidelines (thanks to Roberto for the pointers to the Malaga news). I was at the conference but a scheduling conflict prevented me attending IDABC's session, which I regret.

Good News

I very much welcome the guidelines; as I have been saying for well over a year now, the first step to encouraging the use of Free/open source software in the public sphere is to facilitate the adoption-led model in addition to the procurement-driven model, at the very least to the extent of encouraging two-phase procurement. As Rishab pointed out (although not with the same words), there are also the issues of substitutability and the freedom to leave, which I believe it's fundamental for a public administration to consider.

Substitutability guarantees citizens access to government without being forced to trade with a single vendor in order to do so, and the freedom to leave ensures public administrations always have the negotiating power to get the best deal for taxpayers. The guidelines begin to address those issues as well - great news.

Concerns

The journalist went on to ask me about all the documented procurement violations. It seems that:

Of a sample of 3615 software tenders that were published between January and August this year, 36 percent request Microsoft software, 20 percent ask for Oracle, 12 percent mention IBM applications, 11 percent request SAP and 10 percent are asking for applications made by Adobe.

That's bad enough, and likely illegal in most cases, but then it also turns out:

According to Gosh, software tenders often have either implicit or explicit bias for software brands or even specific applications. Of a thousand government IT organisations, 33 percent said compatibility with previously acquired software is the most important criterion when selecting new applications. Ghosh: "This implicit vendor-lock in means that a tender, meant to last for only five years, leads to a contractual relation lasting ten, fifteen years or more."

Most concerning of all, however, was that despite this all being completely transparent and public, the Commission is doing nothing about it. They regard the problem as being one that the competitors of the favoured companies should address through the courts. That would be fine if the market was largely functional and there were only rare cases of abuse.

But it's not. The improper procurement activity is endemic, and until that's addressed any competitor attempting to act through the courts is likely to find themselves discriminated against even further. It's never good to sue your customers (as the music industry is finding), and in a market where the customers can specify you out of the running with impunity, it's suicidal. Moreover, it can take years for the courts to make a ruling, which means even more lost opportunity for competing companies - assuming they can survive the wait. Until the European Commission takes adequate corrective actions to address this disease, there is no step in the current software market condition that any competitor is likely to take to address it.

Recourse?

Given the scale of the disadvantage already present, why would any player want to make their position worse? In the report of the interview the Commission representative says: "There are sufficient ways for companies and other organisations to protect their rights." He may be right, but they aren't being used by the FOSS community and the reason is that the abuse is too extensive for anyone to want to make the first move.

I'm delighted by the fact the new procurement guidelines exist, but personally I want to see direct action to establish them - it can't be left up to those already disadvantaged. I wonder if anyone has the stomach for it?

Thursday Sep 25, 2008

OpenOffice.org Power Tools

Splash-screen from OOo v3, designed by Jacek Adamkiewicz

You may have seen that version 3 of OpenOffice.org is nearly ready for release - I am now running release candidate 2 and finding it ideal for work. Along with the new release, there's an important change emerging in OpenOffice.org development. For the last 18 months or so, the team has avoided adding significant new features to the core code, focussing instead in performance and usability improvements as well as on preparing a full, native Aqua port of OpenOffice.org to Mac OS X. That hasn't meant that innovation has stopped, however. Instead, the developers have been able to devise valuable new functions for OpenOffice.org without having to mess around inside the (undeniably complex) core code.

The result has been the emergence of many add-ons for all parts of OpenOffice.org and all supported platforms, by virtue of the Add-On Manager and the powerful platform-neutral UNO API offered by OpenOffice.org. After a discussion with Allison Randal on identi.ca about which tools to use, I thought I'd spend a little time while I wait here at the airport describing the add-ons I find are essential.

  1. Presenter Console

    My absolute favourite add-on is the Presenter Console. This adds a new display mode to Impress so that, when using an external monitor (i.e. a projector) the laptop screen differs from the external display. While the audience sees the slides being presented, the presenter sees the slide sequence, speaker notes and a timer and is able to navigate directly to slides if necessary. It's a familiar function with some other packages but it revolutionises Impress as a presentation tool and I have been using it constantly since it first appeared.
  2. PDF Importer

    Next favourite is the PDF Import Extension. As the name implies, this enables OpenOffice.org to import PDF files so that the text they contain can be edited. It's not perfect, not least because it imports into the layout tool (Draw) but it has proven so useful time and time again when I have been supplied with a "dead" PDF file from which I have needed to derive some "live" text.
  3. Presentation Minimiser

    The Presentation Minimiser can be a real problem-solver. I use photographs extensively in my presentations, and the resulting ODT files can be absolutely huge. This add-on does its best to make the file the minimum size possible by removing unused templates, rescaling graphics and doing other tricks to eliminate wastage. Having it on-hand is essential for me when I need to e-mail presentations to other people.
  4. Template Packs

    One of the common criticisms of OpenOffice.org when compared with other packages was that it didn't include templates to allow people to build appealing presentations. Sun included commercially-created templates in StarOffice, but has now paid the originators for permission to make the two template packs freely available to all OpenOffice.org users. Template Pack 1 will be familiar to many StarOffice users; Template Pack 2 includes a range of newer templates and is my favourite. The packs are also available in a range of languages in addition to English.

There are plenty of other add-ons available and which I'm gradually trying, but these are the ones that have become part of my work style. Individually, each of these add-ons has been very helpful for me. Together, they represent a set of power tools I'd not be able to get by without any more.

Wednesday Sep 24, 2008

LiveMink: The Thirsty Bear Tapes, 2 of 2

If you survived the knockabout discussion in Tuesday's podcast, you'll want to give this second episode a chance. It was recorded during JavaOne this spring at the Sun Open Source Party ("unBOF") in the Thirsty Bear pub in San Francisco. It features Redmonk founder James Governor, Joe Hildebrand of Jabber (acquired by Cisco since the recording), Ross Turk of SourceForge, Silona Bonewald of the League of Technical Voters (among other things) and myself. We discuss all sorts of random stuff in a random way - hope you like it!

[MP3 | Ogg]

Monday Sep 22, 2008

LiveMink: The Thirsty Bear Tapes, 1 of 2

Since today is a travel day for me and I'm unlikely to find a chance to blog, I thought you might be interested to hear this podcast recorded during JavaOne this spring at the Sun Open Source Party in the Thirsty Bear pub in San Francisco. It features a round-table discussion with uber-journalist David Berlind, Redmonk founder James Governor and his colleague Michael Coté and myself in a raucous and opinionated discussion about whatever came to mind. There's another episode coming soon.

[MP3 | Ogg]

Update: Episode 2 now online.

Friday Sep 19, 2008

Students and Software Freedom

It's Software Freedom Day, and among the many other volunteers around the world, Sun-sponsored students have been working hard on their campuses to prepare for the opportunity to cry Freedom! One of the questions that came up was why students should care about software freedom; here's the answer Lowell Sachs and I came up with.


The growing popularity of free and open source software offers advantages and opportunities to students (as well as developers, users, and budding entrepreneurs) all along the adoption curve. Many will already recognize that the future for society is one of digital liberty, where every user of digital technology is a possible creator, and where all creators in the digital medium are, by definition, users. The open source model fits in perfectly with this emerging reality. In fact, the remarkable success of open source is the result of a feature that is at once a key characteristic of the program and a fundamental pursuit of people everywhere... freedom.

Software Freedom

Many people, if asked to name the main appeal of open source software would reflexively point to the fact that it is free of charge, and thus a good way to save money. However, it is a different kind of ‘free’ that lies at the heart of the open source movement -- the freedom to acquire, adapt, tinker, develop and deploy code (applications) without the restrictions traditionally associated with proprietary offerings. All the best virtues of open source software are really derivatives of this kind of ‘free’ (as in liberty) rather than simply ‘free’ as in price … although the savings are certainly a nice draw as well.

On the academic front, open source software can serve as a real boon to the student looking to sharpen his or her skills or excel in a class. Those looking to build a career in IT will find open source software the perfect virtual laboratory to build skills or explore new ideas without the constraints and prohibitions that come with proprietary programs. Break it down, build it up, throw in something new. Hit a brick wall?... No problem. Try a different approach. It's yours to play with.

This freedom can come in as handy for those working on a supervised project as it will for those trying to seize a share of a new market. Looking for a little enlightenment outside of lectures? Open source software is there as well. It empowers independent learning by letting you tinker with the code on your own schedule and your own system -- no professor necessary.

Entrepreneurs

Looking for an application that does what you actually need it to do? Gone are the days of having to hope that a large corporate player will develop and offer for sale a program that you want, only to discover that it is at a price you can't afford. And when you find it doesn't quite live up to the hype? No longer will people have to wait for expensive and imprecise updates or patches to fix their applications. When source code is shared and distributed freely under an open source license, anyone is allowed to use, modify and reproduce that code on a non-discriminatory basis.

With open source software you get to decide what to create and when to release it. Then your friends and peers can fine tune and improve upon it with the fruits of all this labor being offered back out to the general community... at no cost. Where will the next YouTube come from, or FaceBook or Wikipedia? It may just come from you. And now you don't need tons of capital and corporate infrastructure to launch that next great innovation. All you need is inspiration.

Transparency With Privacy

The emergence of open source promises a world marked by several digital freedoms -- the freedom to participate, collaborate, create, use and deploy. Open source communities can enable students to connect with each other and collaborate across the boundaries of geography and culture in a way that benefits all of society. Part of this emerging reality is a shift from the old model of security with secrecy, where lack of access to a program's source code often (ironically) spawned vulnerabilities and restricted choice, toward a new paradigm of transparency coupled with privacy, where communities can flourish while assuring quality and protection to their members.

It is a world of expanded opportunity, increased flexibility, and continual innovation. Keep your money - Release your ideas - Build a business - Launch a community - Start a movement! The barriers to entry (and exit) are down, new horizons are emerging, and the climate for innovation is more welcoming than it has ever been. Jump in!

Thursday Sep 18, 2008

Software Freedom Day Podcast

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of discussing Free software and Software Freedom Day with co-ordinator Pia Waugh, John Sullivan of the FSF and Jono Bacon of Canonical. The podcast has some rather nasty background noises caused by the telephone system, but some interesting conversation. Software Freedom Day is this Saturday, do join in - there are local events all over the world, including many sponsored by Sun!

[ MP3 | Ogg ]

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Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.

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