Wednesday Jan 20, 2010


The news is in that the EU has finally approved Oracle's purchase of Sun, and while there are some more hurdles to cross I think James' response is very fitting so I'll reproduce it here too.

I doubt there will be an official wake given what happened when James tried to arrange one before, so we'll need to have drinks ourselves.

Wednesday Sep 02, 2009

Sun's Bloggers' License

As a follow-up to my posting on Monday about the new co-ownership license Sun has offered to all the bloggers on, I thought it would be good to post a link to the FAQ site and to the license itself (PDF). One interesting extra dimension is that the option to enter into the license is also open to former employees whose blogs are still on display (which is the policy for former employees, unlike some employers I could mention).

I think this is a great and wise step for Sun to have taken. I hope other companies with staff who blog will take the same step.

Monday Aug 31, 2009

Mine, all mine (& theirs too)

Sunset Over The Sierra

One of our design principles for over the years has been to allow everything and let good sense and existing rules prevent mishaps - at least until it's clear we need a new rule of some kind. It's been almost entirely effective, and the few cases where it hasn't have been quickly addressed by the Sun blogger community on an internal mailing list that almost every blogger subscribes to. Self-policing definitely beats supervision. Another design principle has been to encourage people to be themselves, and mix up the technical and the personal in their blogging. The resulting blogs have often been compelling and we've grown an unmatched bench of authentic, respected voices.

Of course, those principles leave unanswered questions. One of the questions Sun's present context has raised is, "who owns the blog content?" It's not obvious, since the postings include a mix of personal and Sun content, are posted on a Sun property but often in personal time, and so on. To make it crystal clear, Sun has created a licensing option for every employee that simply shares ownership of everything that's posted equally between Sun and the blogger. That allows Sun to continue to host in perpetuity and it allows employees to sort out their own uses for their content. I want to write a book for example, and other want to move their blog to their own domain.

The new license was rolled out today, to accompany the handy new function to export all blog content for use with (for example) WordPress. From now on, every Sun blogger has (if they choose to accept the new license) a clear, documented set of rights to their blogging content. Huge thanks to the team of people that made it happen, especially my favourite lawyer, Tiki Dare, who completely "gets" this stuff and without whose quiet and largely unsung help the open source community would be much the poorer.

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 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.

Thursday Oct 30, 2008

The Sun Model

Jetting away

As time has gone by, a clear "Sun Model" for open source business has been emerging, at least to my eyes. The summary of it is:

  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.

Each software team at Sun interprets this model in a slightly different way, but the model holds pretty much everywhere and works regardless of the license for the code. As a business model, it doesn't have much to say about the nature of the development community, but I believe dysfunction in that area is a barrier to adoption so it's always an issue if dysfunction exists.

This model is the natural progression of the concept of monetising at the point of value, and I hope to explore it more over the coming weeks. Feel free to ask questions below about the things needing clarification.

Sunday Jul 20, 2008

Holistic Role

I'm in Portland, Oregon this weekend for an interesting meeting, but I'll not be able to stay on for OSCON this year because a change of my role at Sun necessitates attending a meeting in California that's a direct conflict with OSCON. It's not an especially closely-kept secret but I've now moved from Sun's software group and taken the Chief Open Source Officer role over to a newly-formed team reporting more directly to the CEO and working on Sun's relationships with communities globally.

The new team comprises some of Sun's best experts in open standards, open IPR and open source. It's called the Sun Open Technologies Practice, and in particular manages the Sun standards and open source websites. It allows us to take a more holistic approach to Sun's engagement in open standards and open source, especially in the area of influencing open standards bodies to have IPR policies that allow - or even encourage - open source implementation.

I'll let the new members of my team use their own channels to say they have joined, but suffice to say I'm excited by the challenging new opportunities this presents around the world.

Tuesday Feb 26, 2008

MySQL Joins Sun Today

As you have no doubt noticed by now, the Sun acquisition of MySQL completed today and MySQL is now a part of Sun Microsystems - Jonathan has a welcome letter. I actually knew Mårten Mikos, and David Axmark already from our shared activities campaigning against the European patent directive a while back, but over the last two months I have been reacquainted with them as well as meeting a huge number of MySQL staff. They are a great company with a strong engineering and community culture and I think they will be a great fit in Sun.

There's still a whole lot more work to do though. One important task is to introduce everyone at MySQL - staff, community and customers - to everyone at Sun, and a key part of that is the World Tour that's getting started - Kaj Arnö has more. You can also hear Barton George from the Sun Open Source group interviewing Mårten and Zack Urlocker.

Monday Jan 21, 2008

Strategically Ignoring Customers

Interesting to see the Microsoft folks making a big deal out of the fact that companies are implementing OOXML features in their software products. I'd hesitate to join them being thrilled at IBM's new-found support for their strategy. Truth is, when there's a monopolist in the market it's impossible to ignore the consequences of even their worst ideas, let alone their good ones. Responding to the needs of locked-in customers who will find themselves using OOXML is a different deal to strategic support.

A much more crucial question, though, is why the folks at Microsoft are so surprised. If you know your customers have a requirement, surely you respond to it? The real question this situation brings to my mind is not "why are IBM implementing OOXML features". It's "why won't Microsoft implement support for ODF at least to the same level as RTF built-in to Office?" Given they have a number of very significant and visible customers demanding that support, it seems to me they are the ones with the explaining to do, not IBM, Google, or anyone else.

Tuesday Dec 11, 2007

About Sun's Million Dollar Grants for FOSS

Tiger in Bannerghatta

I just left India after speaking at FOSS.IN where I announced details of the Sun Open Source Community Innovation Awards in the context of a talk [20Mb PDF] about the challenges the Free/open source community-of-communities faces from success and growth. There's no question that India is a 'waking tiger'. The energy and enthusiasm I have found here has been without peer on my travels - apart, perhaps, from that of Brazil.

I have been considering with interest the reaction to my posting last week foreshadowing the awards. The awards were widely applauded, although as I'd expected there was also no shortage of people wanting to attack the program. I feel that some of the adverse reactions illustrate only the biases of their authors, and others were the result of of incomplete information. So I'd like to clarify a few points.

Programme Structure

The press release for the Open Source Community Innovation Awards uses the word "prize". As anyone that has tried to construct a similar program will know that to pay grants in this manner, laws surrounding prize-bearing competitions in the USA and elsewhere may be applicable. We've actually made no detailed decisions about how the $1 million US fund will be distributed beyond believing it will be divided equally between the communities.

Instead, the six communities involved will each devise schemes that fit their members and bring the proposals to us, for us to knock them into a shape that complies with the laws in the places the communities want to address. We are wanting to recognise and reward innovation, which we fully expect to come mainly from existing community members including the many already employed to work on software (though not Sun employees since Sun is the sponsor of the awards). It's about sharing the wealth.

Yes, this may incent some people to join communities, but frankly I'm well aware that developers are motivated more by their own goals with the software than by this sort of award. And I'm therefore astonished to come across the notion that Sun is looking to attract "cheap labour" with these awards. In my opinion, people that subscribe to that kind of view of open source fundamentally don't understand what community development is all about - they're either confused, or trying to confuse somebody else, to borrow a phrase.

I hope that the communities will devise a variety of programmes that include "innovator of the year"-type awards, "feature bounty" schemes, "internship"-style project sponsorship and other styles. The awards will be annual and if they work out well I hope we'll be able to expand their reach. For the first year, we've picked a small group of communities that Sun knows well since the legal and administrative details turn out to be pretty complicated. However, by their very nature, open source communities are networks of interests. OpenSolaris, for example, includes work in a range of communities including GNOME,, Mozilla and many others. The 2008/9 scheme will learn from the experience of the 2007/8 scheme and hopefully be even better - we all have to start somewhere!

Global Reach

The communities are welcome - encouraged - to apply the fund globally. The fact I announced the scheme in India doesn't imply it's targeted only there. However, I have personally seen that places like India, China, Brazil and Malaysia (which I also visited on this trip) have an enthusiasm and energy about FOSS that is raw and fresh, and I fully expect so see the people of this region well represented on the list of beneficiaries next year.

The next step will be for the communities involved to form proposals for their individual use of the $175k US or so they will be distributing. If you're a member of one of those communities, expect to see details of how this will be done coming from your leaders soon. I'm expecting to be able to join them in announcing the schemes early next year. If you've other questions, please ask in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

This scheme has proved surprisingly challenging to put together, and only goes so far in rewarding FOSS developers. I still think the best way to do that is to hire them, and indeed Sun does that to the tune of more than $200m US each year. But this scheme (and the others like it) is a useful addition and I hope the innovative features that result from it will greatly enrich the world of Free software and the open source communities that develop it.

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

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 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 Oct 03, 2007 Tipping Point?

Slipstreaming Gull

I've been engaged with the community for a number of years, and I'm as aware as anyone that it has had some historic issues with its contribution processes. However, all the signs I see suggest those have been or are being addressed - most notably via the Engineering Steering Committee, but with a number of other important changes (including huge improvements in responsiveness on patch integration in response to earlier complaints). I hear there's more to come, too - Jim Parkinson, the VP who employs all Sun's contributors to, has a blog on the blocks about a new Advisory Board.

The result has been a fresh start over the last six months, with both IBM and Red Flag 2000 choosing to participate for the first time alongside Sun, Novell and others, and with a fresh road map and new ideas. I'm sure there remain issues to address, but what with all this improvement as well as the strength of the ODF community, is on the up-tick. As I said on the panel at OOoCon, we're reaching a tipping point for ODF and that is making the opposing forces sit up at think.

In the midst of all this, I see my friend Michael Meeks has been challenging Sun in a creative way - it even made Slashdot today. I remember the days when Michael used to enthusiastically encourage community members to sign the contributor agreement, as recently as last December...

Thing is, there's way more to it than Michael is discussing. It seemed to me that Michael has been looking for an excuse to publicly challenge Sun for ages, and finally found his excuse in some well-meaning actions by his employee Kohei. There are two independent issues here that Michael appears to be intentionally confusing in order to make his competitor look bad.

Community Norms

The first is an attack on community norms. It's tempting to use a real-life example but here's a work of my imagination. Let's detach the Novell-Sun competitive issue and work by analogy. Imagine you decide you want to work on Apache Roller, their great new blog server project. You create a fantastic new capability that, when people see it, they realise it needs to be part of Roller - just like you hoped.

You tell them "look, I'd love to contribute it. I have put it under the Apache v2 license. Please accept my contribution." They say to you "well, that's great, but it's a community norm that we ask people to sign Apache's contributor agreement" (yes, that is an Apache requirement in this sort of case). You say "no way Jose" and the Roller guys say "well, we can't accept your contribution until you do". This goes on for a while and it's clear you're not going to budge. All the same, the users make it clear that the feature you are implementing (which is just like one we all saw in WordPress) is just going to have to get implemented.

Finally, some other guys on Roller decide they are going to reluctantly do an independent implementation of the same function. It will use none of your code, and probably work rather differently, but it will make sure Roller gets that feature that Wordpress has too. It's a waste of everyone's time, but Apache has those rules to protect all the members as well as their own administrative functions.

Despite Michael's framing, this is the same situation he describes. An existing community, with existing and well-understood norms, is approached by an enthusiastic developer who breaks the community rules and refuses to accept the correction he receives. The rules were not made to thwart Kohei - they have been there for years.

Contributor Agreements

The second issue is the subject of contributor agreements. They are very common - the FSF has one, so does Apache, and so do projects like MySQL and even, I believe, some of Novell's own projects. There are several reasons to have them:

  • They act as an assertion of originality. By saying you grant rights to another party, you implicitly but demonstrably assert you have the rights to begin with. That means the community can have greater confidence that there are no submerged rights issues waiting for the future.
  • They allow the copyright steward to act on behalf of the community in the event of any license violation. FSF has done this before now, and Sun is more than ready to defend the projects where it is steward in this way.
  • They allow maintenance of the license in the future. Without aggregated copyright, a switch from v1 to v2 of a license (for example) involves locating every single contributor and getting their agreement to the change. If any of them decline or even ignore the request, the code will need re-implementing. It took Mozilla two years to complete this when they re-licensed. The only cases where this isn't necessary are those that have what I call "class A licenses" (like MIT or BSD - more in my white paper).
  • More controversially, it allows dual-licensing to parties (such as corporations) who are too worried about open source to work only under an open source license but are willing to work through a mediator.
  • In many cases (including some very well-known open source projects) it also allows the original donor to offer commercial offerings, thus ensuring the project continues to have engagement funded by its major participants.

The Sun Contributor Agreement is in my view the best there is. Sadly the community doesn't appear to be using the latest, much-improved version - maybe that's the problem? We've been evolving it to have some very desirable community attributes:

  • It does not require the contributor to surrender their copyright. They share their rights instead and retain the freedom to do whatever they want with the code contribution.
  • It has several layers of agreement, so that if one proves to be unenforceable in some jurisdiction, there are other layers to ensure the community still has aggregated rights.
  • There is an "open source covenant" - Sun promises that any contributions that get used will always remain as Free software wherever else they may end up, so that proprietary-only forks are impossible.

It's a shame Michael has chosen now - a turning point in and a moment when Sun has radically improved the SCA in response to broad feedback from many communities - as a time to mount a fresh challenge to Sun that by implication also harms And when you distill out all the details, that's what this turns out to be even by Michael's admission - a competitive issue, not a community one.

Update Oct-17: Someone pointed out to me that Novell demands copyright assignment on Evolution and on Mono, and what's more the agreement they require involves giving Novell the copyright, not sharing it, and includes the same language Michael criticises as inadequate about subsequent open source licensing. What gives, guys? You criticise Sun for doing the same thing Novell requires of contributors? Right in the area where you work?

Thursday Jul 19, 2007

BSC Is Miscellaneous

Purple On Green

Judging by the statistics I watch for my blog, the majority of my readers may well never visit the home page for Sun's bloggers. But it may be worth a visit today becuase we've just introduced two features that help you benefit from the miscellaneousness of the site.

One is the tag cloud. We've had tagging as an option on for quite a while now, but today the team has turned on a master tag cloud for the whole site. Use it to look for themes and trends across the whole corpus of Sun bloggers.

The other is the New Bloggers list (over in the right-hand column). We have thousands of bloggers here and when new ones emerge they often have trouble getting noticed. They'll now be featured for a while so they can be spotted.

These are both features that make use of the "miscellaneousness" of the site, to use a term from David Weinberger's excellent book Everything Is Miscellaneous. He argues that in the participation age, it is best to impose order as late as possible rather than to try to include a pre-conceived notion of order in the structure of the data. The book is well worth adding to your reading list.

Update: Spooky. Seems Tim was recommending the book the same instant I was...

Monday Apr 09, 2007

LiveMink: Ian Murdock's New Job

After a missed episode last week (sorry, I was just burned out from the travel and started the Easter break early), LiveMink is back this week with the first of two interviews with Ian Murdock. The second interview is longer and ranges much further, but this one is a good place to start.

As you're doubtless aware, Ian has joined Sun to head up the operating systems strategy for the company, and brings with him a rich history of involvement in the area, not least with the semi-eponymous Debian. In this interview I caught him in the cafeteria at Sun Menlo Park just before his first big staff meeting and asked him about the job he was about to start, his views on OpenSolaris and more. Listen on!

LiveMink—[MP3]—[Ogg]—[iTunes]&mdash(9' 12")


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


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