Monday Dec 03, 2007

Getting Paid to Develop

Beaver photo (c) S Phipps

We've got an exciting development bubbling that I hope to be able to announce in full detail at FOSS.IN in Bangalore on Friday when I speak there.

Just to give you a glimpse of what's happening, Sun will be announcing a multi-year award program in support of fostering innovation and advancing open source within our open source communities. We'll be providing a substantial prize purse and working with the communities involved to develop the approach that works best.

I'm announcing it in India because that's where I expect the greatest open source community growth to come from in the near future - the FOSS.IN programme committee relaunched their CfP a while back with this in mind. If we can play a part in catalyzing the emergence of India as a key international open source power-house, the effect on the software industry will be huge. Not to exclude others in the region of course, so much is going on there.

This year's participants include OpenSolaris, GlassFish, OpenJDK, OpenSPARC, NetBeans, and OpenOffice.org. This is a great opportunity for members of these open source communities to take their passion and creativity and push the innovation boundaries - and get paid in the process!

Update: I've added more detail as well as information responding to questions in the comments here to a new posting.

Update Jan 2008: Details of the individual programmes are now available.

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.

Monday Jul 02, 2007

A Niche The Size Of A Canyon

Yosemite, Tunnel View

I admit it's been a while since I had to use a source code management system for real - over 10 years in fact. So I was intrigued to read what Stephen O'Grady recently published about distributed source code management (DSCM) in one of his signature Q&As. He makes a number of interesting observations, but I was interested by the omission of a whole thread of analysis around the assertion Mark Shuttleworth makes that merging is the key to source code management.

Sun has a long history with DSCM, and the tool used internally by many teams (Teamware) is in fact the predecessor of Bitkeeper written by the same author, Larry McVoy. The development of both Solaris and the Java platform uses Teamware and the distributed approach is a fundamental factor in the development culture of both products.

When we open sourced Solaris and seeded the OpenSolaris community, it was very much an act of opening an existing distributed community to public participation rather than the creation of a new community. That's why it was obvious to that community to want a DSCM to maintain the source code in OpenSolaris. Since Teamware was (and is) a proprietary tool, they selected an open source system for community use.

Stephen seems to suggest that in some way centralised SCM like Subversion is a natural choice for open source, but I would suggest that needs more thought. A DSCM is in some ways a group of inter-related CSCMs with added capabilities that reflect the nature of a diverse ecosystem. Yes, a team of developers needs a source code management system. But an ecosystem - with upstream builds and downstream distros, with multiple platform versions, with experimental features - also needs to be able to handle the reconciliation of changes as easily as possible.

So I'd suggest that while CSCMs may be ideal for the team-based development found in smaller open source projects, DSCM is for ecosystems and thus is the natural choice for open source communities. In other words, it's a trend.

Monday Jun 04, 2007

LiveMink: Alan Hargreaves and the telnetd bug

While I was in Australia last month I went to the Sydney OpenSolaris User Group, one of the oldest OSUGs. As part of the evening's casual conversation, I interviewed Alan Hargreaves. Alan was one of the first engineers in the OpenSolaris community to work on the telnetd bug that was zero-dayed onto the Solaris 10 community, and in this interview he describes a frantic day spent working on the defect. Some key quotes:

  • "This bug was a putback to kereberise telnetd"
  • "It didn't exist in OpenSolaris within about six hours of being reported"
  • "The actual fix was submitted by someone on one of the OpenSolaris discussion forums"
  • "It seems to me in this case closed source made the code less secure and open source fixed the problem"

Listen on!

LiveMink—[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(12' 00")

Wednesday Mar 21, 2007

I Just Voted

I just voted in the OpenSolaris OGB Election. It was pretty easy and only took me about 2 minutes. I'll not tell you the order I ranked my votes, but I was influenced by the fact I had spoken to thirteen of the candidates, all of whom were ranked higher in my voting list as a result of my having had the chance to hear how they think first hand. I'd like to thank all of them for taking the time to speak with me. I was sorry the others didn't feel inclined to talk, but of course that's their choice. A reply would have been nice though (only Casper did, of the five).

In my voting I favoured diversity, ranked higher on a willingness to work with others of all persuasions, on an openness to friendly discussion and on a lack of elitism. I also voted "yes" to ratifying the draft Constitution because I think we have to start somewhere.

OGB Bootstrapping

On that subject, I promised the OGB I'd write a little about the rationale behind the Constitution and electoral roll. The current OGB doesn't pretend to have all the answers. Once it realised the scale of the issues, it sought to bootstrap the community, both in terms of the Constitution and of the initial electors, in a reasonable and fair way while recognising its own imperfection.

The initial electorate was a big problem. We decided the best plan was to have a group of voters identified by the selection of their peers. We sought a large enough electorate to make voting diverse, but the very fact some communities failed to select any Core Contributors even after repeated reminders guaranteed that it would be flawed. I am sad that some people felt disenfranchised, and hope we caught all the most serious errors over the last week or so. Plenty needs fixing, and that was inevitable and unavoidable. Nonetheless, we have a diverse electorate large enough to dilute most biases. It's good enough for bootstrapping.

We did not have the breadth of vision to solve all the tricky issues in OpenSolaris that need to be covered by a Constitution, nor the personal knowledge of community members to perfectly identify the electoral college. I've heard one of the candidates harshly criticise this fact and imply he had all the answers, but I disagreed and still do. No-one does. I still believe it's smarter to iterate and to leave properly elected OGBs to iterate. Trying to solve everything up-front usually fails.

The new OGB needs to build on the Constitution and amend it, especially to address the community structure properly. It also needs to fix the electoral college to reflect the community that will exist once the project/community issues are fixed. I would also suggest to them that they expect the OGB that follows them to need to do further fixing and regard themselves as a phase of the bootstrap. Amending a Constitution in the light of experience has precedents, after all.

Tuesday Mar 20, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: Jim Grisanzio

Jim Grisanzio

Right from the start of OpenSolaris, today's candidate has been a respected, moderate and firm influence despite his non-technical background. Having worked with him for many years I know these characteristics come from deep within, and I think that comes across in several of the answers to the questions.

Do persevere despite the poor quality of the audio connection, which took quite a bit of setting up and was pretty dodgy even when it worked. This is the last interview I have in the queue for election candidates by the way, I suggest you go ahead and vote if you were waiting for the end of the series, noting perhaps who didn't want to be interviewed.

This candidate interview is with Jim Grisanzio, who joined my via a relay of phone connections from his office in Tokyo, Japan. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(18' 39")

Monday Mar 19, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: Stephen Lau

Stephen Lau

I'll be ending this series soon so the remaining candidates should contact me if they want to be included (Casper Dik just told me he has a throat infection and can't participate, I've not heard from the others despite two e-mails). I'm hearing that people are listening to the series and getting a helpful insight into the different candidates, which is good - the 24 or so hours of recording and editing haven't been in vain!

Today's candidate interview is with Stephen Lau, who joined me by phone from his office in California. He replied quite early in the process but was prevented from participating until now by a throat infection (lot of it about). Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(15' 05")

Sunday Mar 18, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: Shawn Walker

It's the start of the second week of voting, and there are still hundreds of people who haven't voted, so I think it's worth continuing to publish interviews. Some of the candidates seem rather shy, but hopefully most of them will be willing to speak with me in time for voters to hear everyone's voice and views.

This interview is with Shawn Walker, who joined me via VoIP from Kansas on his return from Australia. His story about moving to Solaris from GNU/Linux is worth listening to even if you're not voting in the election. I've tried post-processing this interview with The Levelator, let me know if you like the audio quality it produces. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(19' 53")

Saturday Mar 17, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: Michelle Olson

We're half-way through the OGB Elections and I'm half-way through doing interviews with the candidates - let's hope I can find them all before too long.

This interview is with Michelle Olson, who spoke with me by phone from California. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(8' 50")

Friday Mar 16, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: John McLaughlin

He's not been involved with the OpenSolaris community much, but today's candidate interview is with someone who has a big influence on the Solaris market by publication of System News. I've not met him before and so enjoyed the introduction. Turns out he has an extensive and practical background in both Solaris and user groups.

This interview is with John McLaughlin, who joined me by VoIP from Florida. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(13' 35")

LiveMink OGB Special: Jörg Schilling

Many Unix and Unix-alike OS users owe a huge debt of gratitude to this candidate for his open source software. Without cdrecord, we'd be living in a greatly impoverished world concerning CD and DVD support. His high-energy, forthright and sometimes controversial approach makes him an interesting and often compelling community member.

This interview is with Jörg Schilling, who spoke via the phone from Berlin in Germany. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(12' 58")

Thursday Mar 15, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: Rich Teer

Rich Teer

One of the nicest people I have had the chance to meet since getting involved with OpenSolaris is the author of the seminal work on Solaris System Programming, Rich Teer. Rich is a current member of the OGB having become one when the CAB was fully chartered last year, and he is one of two OGB members standing for election (Casper Dik of Sun is the other).

This interview is with with Rich Teer. He spoke to me by phone from Canada. He mentions his new business venture in the interview, My Online Home Inventory, which runs on Solaris. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(13' 35")

Tuesday Mar 13, 2007

LiveMink OGB Special: Alan DuBoff

It's the middle of the first week of voting and we still have plenty of candidates to hear from, but I'm happy to have spoken to so many so far.

The candidate in this interview is Alan DuBoff, who spoke to my by phone from his office in California. You can see him pictured to the right working at his smithy, forging I-know-not-what. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(12' 41")

LiveMink OGB Special: Ben Rockwood

Ben Rockwood, Videographer

You'll hear in this interview both the delights of working from home (I called at bath-time) and the perils of using VoIP (it took three attempts with Skype as you'll hear from the different levels and the static in various places). And we went on a little too long because of it - apologies.

The OGB candidate I'm speaking to in this interview is Ben Rockwood. Listen on!

[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]—(21' 12")

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

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