Monday Sep 01, 2008

Happy Birthday To GNU

Stephen Fry

Today marks the start of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of GNU. It took a long time to get a working operating system, and a new paradigm to get it adopted, but the tenacious idealism of RMS has bourne fruit.

Like Barton, I am especially delighted that the Java platform has gone from being a case study in closedness to being the chosen technology for hosting the birthday video by polymathic British actor Stephen Fry.

Wednesday Aug 29, 2007

The Wrong End of the Paint Stick

John Loiacono

One of my better managers at Sun was John Loiacono - I worked for him around the start of the decade. Later, when I was working for then-CTO of software John Fowler, Loiacono was a figurehead for the release of OpenSolaris under the CDDL. By then he'd become way too busy to talk at any length to the likes of me, although he was as charming as ever on the odd occasions we met. And so, I never really got to discuss Free software with him before he left for Adobe.

Reading his recent blog posting, Innovate or Integrate, I start to wish I had. Despite claiming open source credentials, John explains why he thinks it has no place in Adobe's creative products business. From what the blog says - "Yes, clearly it's cheaper, but does it really save money in the end?" - it's clear this part of Adobe thinks of Free/Open Source software purely as a commodity and a way of cutting corners. That it's ultimately only about saving money. They seem to confuse Free with free, liberty with payment. In the process Adobe is missing a huge opportunity.

The thing is, the user-integrated/supplier-integrated distinction in the blog is a false dichotomy. The blog compares their products with existing Free graphics software - presumably things like The Gimp, Inkscape, Nvu and so on. It concludes their lack of integration makes them fatally inferior and thus the Free software from all open source communities is flawed. But that's missing the whole point.

As Stallman points out, software freedom is not about avoiding payment, it is about preserving and exercising liberty. I don't accept that pursuing profit and respecting software freedom are unrelated, much less that they run counter to each other. Profit and liberty are not orthogonal. I also profoundly believe that competing against software freedom provides (at best) a short-term advantage. For a company like Adobe, to compete against software freedom is to ignore the inexorable progress of disruptive technologies and the Innovator's Dilemma.

Those Free programs aren't integrated and offer lower function than Adobe's product today, but through Adobe's neglect that will change. They'll find each other, start to define interfaces and integrations with each other, begin to penetrate the "good-enough" band on the chart. Worse, being outside their domain, Adobe will refuse to use the integration they define. This happened while Sun was neglecting Free Java implementations, for example. The Java Libre communities agreed interfaces to make VMs and JITs pluggable and today can plug and play VMs with relative ease - apart from HotSpot.

So what could Adobe do? Well, by opening up their source code, licensing it under the GPL, they would team with the open source communities gathered around the various Free software commons. It's not impossible - they do it elsewhere in their business (albeit with a different motive and competitor). Instead of competing against Free graphics software, their programs would become the leading Free graphics suite. It would have the tight integration the blog speaks of, but it would also deliver the freedoms that the software world is coming to expect, stimulating a new developer community emboldened by the guarantees of freedom. And perhaps most importantly, their software would likely become available on platforms Adobe is currently unwilling to touch. They would take a leadership position that their main competitor would be unable to assail.

OK, there are plenty of difficult unanswered questions about business models, community governance and so on (which I'd love to explore, by the way, they are not insurmountable). But the point is, the dichotomy Adobe paints is of its own making. It is not inherent in either Free software or in the open source communities which create it. And by trying to protect their short-term revenue, Adobe avoid affinity with some high-energy developers while pushing their customer base to increasingly attractive Free - and free - alternatives.

Wednesday Mar 28, 2007

GPLv3 Third Draft

Quince flowers

The third draft of the GPLv3 came out this morning. There's a lot of text there, and obviously I've not had time to read it all yet (especially the long explanatory document). I took a quick look at the 'redline' over breakfast and there are some welcome enhancements, such as the explicit explanation about software-as-a-service:

To “convey” a work means any kind of propagation that enables other parties to make or receive copies, excluding sublicensing. Mere inter- action with a user through a computer network, with no transfer of a copy, is not conveying.

The language concerning DRM has also changed substantially and now sits in section 6 and relates to the use of the code in "User Products", which could really change the implications of that mechanism:

A “User Product” is either (1) a “consumer product”, which means any tangible personal property which is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes, or (2) anything designed or sold for incorporation into a dwelling.

There's been a substantial rework to the stuff about exceptions in section 7. In its previous form, this section provided a basis for various different license to be mixed, but the new version seems to provide less opportunity for that. I wish we could work out mechanisms to allow the various FOSS communities to mix their work more easily.

I'm also not clear on the implications of the new language added to section 11 to affect patents, which is intended to close the loophole Microsoft and Novell used to get round the GPLv2. I need to read it several times before coming to a conclusion.

Over and above the actual license terms, there's a big change to the time-line. I'd been expecting the final draft; this is now an extra interim draft, and we'll not see the final version until the summer. And there are several signs that we'll see more frequent updates to the license - there are indications that the DRM stuff might be extended to different kinds of devices, for example. All very interesting, I know there will be a lot of discussion about this inside Sun over the next few weeks.

Monday Feb 26, 2007

LiveMink: Freedom Task Force

At FOSDEM last weekend, I met up with Shane Coughlan, a long-time Free software advocate and now full-time staff for the Free Software Foundation Europe. Shane told me all about the new initiative FSFE is starting, the Freedom Task Force, which aims to provide a legal focus for Free software in Europe. Listen on!


Friday Feb 23, 2007

Sun and FSF

I'm at FOSDEM in Brussels this weekend, Europe's largest and most important gathering of Free software developers. I can't think of a better venue at which to announce that Sun has become a Patron of the Free Software Foundation.

Both organisations have been promoting software freedom in different ways for more than two decades, albeit in different ways and with different objectives. With the announcement that the Java platform will be licensed under the GPL, it seemed obvious that the connection should become stronger. This news is the start of a new phase of our collaboration and I'm delighted to have been involved in making this happen with my colleagues and our friends at the FSF. What a great way to celebrate Sun's 25th birthday.

Thursday Nov 30, 2006

Will Sun Use GPLv3?

Some people have been throwing rocks at the GPLv3 process from outside, and others have been accusing Sun of joining the rock throwers by opting for GPL v2 for the Java platform. Here's why I disagree with both.[Read More]

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


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