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28 February 2005

Corwin's Razor and the OASIS IPR Policy

In the heyday of POSIX in the very early 1990s, two ugly burdens were bogging down the people in the working groups that were actually present to do the technical specification work.  One such requirement was placed on the IEEE work from outside.  ISO had a say in how it would approve the IEEE standards for ISO standardization and placed considerable additional work on the IEEE groups.  The relevant ISO working group wasn't going to help with all the additional work requirements.  The Chair of the IEEE Real-time working group observed, "If they're not willing to put their money where their mouth is, they're not a customer."   We grabbed it and Corwin's Razor was born. 

Let me be clear on a few things before I go further:

  • I don't believe software patents are particularly useful.  The ability to create in software is easy, as well as the ability to move from idea to prototype to production.  It is much easier than delivering pharmaceuticals through the system with long production and testing requirements, or going from drafting table to widget from an assembly line, or a chemical process from lab prototype to scaled manufacturing.  A patent's protection is likely less relevant in a world that changes faster for the most part than the length of time it takes a patent application to crawl through the system. 
  • I believe the USPTO is going to hit a wall in the not too distant future.  The lag time in the process (18 to 24 months) means you can do all the right things with respect to patent analysis (and even filing for your own) and ship a product blindly not knowing whether or not you're infringing another person's work.  Throwing the burden of proof onto the U.S. federal court system after the fact only exacerbates the legal and economic problems.
  • I believe the economics of the situation states standards exist to encourage multiple implementations, while patents exist to protect a single implementation, so by definition these two things serve different diametrically opposed parts of the economics spectrum.  (Yes, I'm beginning to sound like a broken record on this point.)
  • I believe standards organizations themselves have historically avoided patents as best possible.  That doesn't mean that they can avoid patents.  Non-participants can show up at any time with patent claims and hamstring a working group's efforts or worse yet the ratified standard.  Or collections of vendors might develop patent pools of patents that indirectly relate to a technology space, while they collectively develop a standard directly relating to the space in a standards organization.  (I'm thinking VCR machine patents versus tape format specifications.  And yes, I choose the example deliberately. It didn't go through a standards org, and I owned a Betamax machine.)  It may mean there are interesting business negotiations and barriers to entry outside of the standards organization, but the standards organization is basically unable to be involved in the external activities of its members.  Nor should it be involved in such external activities.

So I read the new OASIS IPR policy, the transition policy, and the FAQ.  And the old IPR policy as well to appreciate the difficult work that was done.  And I read the protest letter signed by many people that are spokespeople within the OSS community-at-large, many of whom I deeply respect.  I googled around re-reading several articles (InternetNews, ZDNet) and blogs on the subject (and found a great standards blog to explore). 

First, looking at the new OASIS IPR Policy: it's pretty good.  It demonstrates a remarkable grasp of the ugly patent situation in which standards organizations are finding themselves with respect to the work of their membership.  It demonstrates a clear evolution of thought, and bears witness to the fact they have looked at their previous policy and the situations other standards organizations have faced and they have cleanly documented a policy, giving the broadest possibility for discussion.

Standards are about technology diplomacy.  The goal of individual participating members is to expand their area of economic influence, while defending sovereign territory, and the balance point between those two positions is always difficult.  The result is a specification document, but the process is a discussion and a negotiation each and every time at every level.  The new OASIS IPR policy provides that space for discussion. 

The new policy is very clever however in how it approaches the problem of dealing with patents.  It forces the individual technical committee to have the discussion about patents before they do work, and thereby obligates them to the course chosen by all. 
It protects participants from scope creep that might expose other patents, so those participants should be more willing to have the royalty free discussion up front knowing they aren't writing blank checks on their patent investments.  It obligates members to declare patent applications as well as awarded patents, so the group can see things coming.  It obligates a member that withdraws to continue with their licensing requirements preventing patent abuse (from the occasional pathological people that would join a group to see where it's going, disengage, and attempt to patent ahead) and members from "changing their mind" and trying to disengage.   If the group chooses to opt for RAND-only licensing, this tells the outside world of non-members something about this standard. 

One blogger raised the idea of a default to royalty-free with the tech committee having the RAND discussion after the fact if it becomes necessary.  If the default was royalty free, none of the members with the ability to make the greatest R&D investment would participate because they would be asked to write blank checks against their intellectual property strategy.  The membership of OASIS would move on.  Likewise, if a group can change from a royalty free option to a royalty bearing RAND option after the fact, then there is more risk of "large corporate  interests" manipulating the system to advantage after the work begins on the standard. 

Now for the protest letter.  Sorry, my friends, but it is just wrong.  The customer of a standards organization is its members. The standards organization is a market oriented discussion forum where like-minded expert and experienced participants come together to agree on a specification that will enable multiple implementations of something.  In a perfect world it expands the overall market for a technology by creating a commodity of one component of that technology market.  This is why there are so many different standards organizations spanning the multifaceted marketplace.  If you're a member of OASIS, then join the discussion, debate the question, and vote.  If you're not a member, you aren't a customer, and you don't actually have a say.  That is the way standards works. 

The interesting thing is that standards are a conversation.  There is a debate.  And in the end it is a vote the decides the consensus process in a standards group.  A measure of the consensus process, however, is the ability to compromise. The heavy-handed demands of the protest letter fly in the face of the discussion and the debate and an ability to compromise.  For those of you who signed the letter that may have visited committee meetings to demand your position, you may have noticed the room dynamic was inhospitable.  That's because you were demanding.  You appear unwilling to debate and more importantly, unwilling to compromise.  That too is the way standards works. 

Because standards and patents don't mix well economically, most successful standards, and by successful I mean broadly adopted and implemented, were based on well understood existing practise and experience and don't contain patents.  Those standards that do end up encumbered get worked around with competing unencumbered designs and implementations (gzip, Ogg), replaced overtime with unencumbered standards, or ignored.  This posting is read by you because of the foundation of standards from the IETF and W3C that allowed the Internet and the WWW to thrive and grow. 
 

Another great quote from that period of POSIX standardization was delivered by Roger Martin (then of NIST, now Director of Standards at AOL) when he said, "Standards committees that choose to make themselves irrelevant get what they deserve."

Hopefully this blows over and OASIS can get on with the business of developing standards, most of which won't be royalty encumbered (so will become more broadly adopted), but some of which might be encumbered and less successful, because that's the consensus of the people doing the work

 

February 28, 2005 at 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

News feed from ConsortumInfo.org

I'm trying the live feed for standards-related news from consortiuminfo.org.  Comments and feedback are obviously welcome. 

February 28, 2005 at 08:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

25 February 2005

OSDL Summit: Presentations are published

The OSDL has published most presentation slides from the Enterprise Linux Summit.  You will find them backing the titles of the talks.   

February 25, 2005 at 02:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

18 February 2005

A patent is merely the ticket to the license negotiation

Thanks to the Consortium.org news feed for pointing to an eWeek article on the BSA concerned over the EU mandate around open standards.  It comes down to the following quote in the article:

The BSA's main objection to the EIF is that it requires a standard to be "irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis" and impose no constraints on "re-use." Such restrictions don't allow standards that, for example, rely on patents for which a royalty may be charged, according to Müller. Most standards organizations, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the International Organization for Standardization, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the International Telecommunication Union, allow standards to include patented technology as long as the patent owner licenses the patent claims on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms, he said.

The problem here is that two special interest groups are clashing over the wrong thing. 

  • There are people that believe standards must not contain patents that aren't royalty free and available to all, or they can't be considered an "open" standard.  The lobbying effort is driven by open source software advocates concerned there may be standards they want to implement in the future encumbered by patents whose licensing terms are incompatible with some of the licensing terms they would choose in their open source software license. 
  • The BSA is concerned their member's use of software patents to protect their products will be restricted if the policy passes requiring the definition of standard to mandate royalty free patents.

The term "open standard" has historical significance much older than the recent patent debate, and the term "open" typically meant open participation by all interested parties.  The lobbiests for the new definition need to understand that their norm re-engineering attempts may not go over well with those of us involved in the standards industry long before the current open source versus patents situation arose, even with those of us that strongly support open source development and licensing.  Getting the EU to anchor the terminology in the policy merely gaurantees the debate and eventual moderation of language. 

As observed earlier, patents and standards serve different conflicting needs in the economic spectrum.   Yes, all real standards organizations have a patent policy, but that's because those organizations and their members need a way to deal with the situation of discovering a patent in the middle of a developing specification after it arises.  Every company that thinks they're going to "get rich" by ensuring their solution is the standard loses.  When they think by placing a patent in the middle of the specification they will have the toll booth on the bridge when the specification becomes the standard, they're naive.  Economics works.  The ecosystem looks after itself.  One of two things happens:

  • The (now angry) developers of the standard go back to the drawing board and that standard with its patent toll exists for as short a period of time as possible, and may even wither immediately on the vine.  (While Microsoft actually went out of its way to try to do the right thing in the SenderID debate last Summer, the standards community's response was direct and undeniable when they even thought they were at risk.) 
  • The patent holder gets mauled by the developers of the standard.  (There was a wonderful situation a few years ago where Northern Telecom attempted a strong arm tactic with patents against a particular VITA effort and the VITA members organized legally outside of the standards organization and won.) 

Yes, a patent used fairly is a wonderful thing, but it is merely a ticket to the negotiation for a license.  Think about what happens when someone gets greedy with a patent.  (The definition of greedy here means they don't license but end up in litigation.) They can lose the patent directly in the court proceedings when they sue, OR they can win the judgement and if the "price" is too high get mired in an appeals process where they are further at risk and deeper out of pocket.  Think Eolas.  Presumably at some time during the proceedings money was offered for an out of court settlement (and it would have anchored the patent for a while longer.)  Maybe the money offered was too low, or maybe Eolas got greedy.

A few years ago, someone claimed they had the fundamental patent on web service delivery.  All I could think of at the time is that I hoped they sold quickly and comfortably, because they would have immediately run into the legal beagles from Sun, Microsoft, and IBM.

The open source community should look to what was learned in the standards world.  While patents are potential problems, economics works.  Some are worried that patents are destroying the standards world.  That's sort of like worrying that open source is going to commoditize the value out of some finite stack of software. 

 

February 18, 2005 at 03:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

17 February 2005

LinuxWorld: Fear & Loathing in Linux World: Commoditization, Commercialization and the Customer

I caught Mårten Mickos's keynote yesterday at LinuxWorld, before a last run through the trade show floor and out.  He's always a trend setter.  First, it wasn't a 45 minute infomercial for MySQL AB, but rather a talk about how to think about an open source based business.  Second, he said some brilliant things.  Here's a smattering:

The first community that arrives in an open source project are those that are willing to spend time to save money.  The second community are those that are willing to spend money to save time

He observed that the license is a balancing point between your community and customers.  It isn't just finding the compelling reason to buy something, but you have to ensure you don't create a compelling reason for the community to abandon the project.   

You can protect your open source business with:

  • copyrights
  • trademarks
  • trade secret
  • superior service
  • product stewardship

While he didn't think there were trade secrets in MySQL (i.e. the code base), I would ask the lawyers amongst us to let us know if his customer list, and things the MySQL engineering team knows won't work (what they left out of the code) don't constitute things still protected as trade secrets.

He observed that the open source world is helping standardize licenses.  Approximately 70% of the 88,000 projects on SourceForge.net use the GPL.  If you had 88,000 proprietary products, you would likely have 88,000 different EULA. 

A vendor associated with an open source project provides stewardship, and a road map. 
He finished up on the forward looking note that he believes (as so many of us do) that open source is not eating it's way up the stack to commoditize all value out of software, but rather only a small fraction of the world's software needs have been met so far.  A wonderful keynote. 

 

February 17, 2005 at 11:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

16 February 2005

LinuxWorld: HP and Odd Keynote Digressions on Patents

In an otherwise pro forma LinuxWorld keynote (well scripted standard messages: Linux started on the edge of the corporate network, Linux is now proving itself in more key areas, Linux is enterprise ready, these two customers have bet their businesses on Linux and are happy with the ROI, ROA, TCO), Martin Fink wandered off into an odd digression on software patents. 

I think we all agree with his statements.  We do live in a world where the USPTO exists, and software patents (regardless of one's opinions about their validity) are a reality, and everyone has the right to protect their inventions as they see fit.  So what?   In the open source world, developers have always supported the right of the developer to choose their license.  His statement that patents are the only way to protect one's inventions is a little narrow.  Patenting is one way.  So is publication, because you want to actually protect your business not simply the invention.  So instead of an odd digression, maybe he could have given the audience a real discussion on the HP intellectual property strategy.  Let us know how HP chooses to patent somethings and publish others.  Let us know the avenues for publication you use, or the costs involved.  Give us a real picture.   Of course as the #4 patent filer in this year's list, they might be one of those companies that simply patents everything.  (Using a ball park fee of $15,000/patent filing for the legal fees, they only spent US$26.6M last year.)

Mr. Fink also used the opportunity to announce their release of code under the GPL for their part of the virtualization software in the Xen project.  Bonus points to the reader for reading all the way to the end of the Xen page to read the credits: "Work on Xen has been supported by UK EPSRC grant GR/S01894, Intel Research, HP Labs and ..."

February 16, 2005 at 04:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

15 February 2005

O'Reilly's Make is finally here

Off topic: I bought the first issue of O'Reilly's Make on the LinuxWorld show floor.  I haven't had much time with it, but I think I might try building a gauss rifle this weekend.  And of course what more needs to be said about yak shaving

February 15, 2005 at 08:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It's Official: I've Joined Optaros

I left Microsoft after five years in early December.  I became a consultant (again) which is a fine moniker that can hide many things.  But as was pointed out today, you really carry the title of ex-FormerEmployer until such time as you join a new endeavour.  Today, it's official.  I am Chief Open Source Officer at Optaros, Inc.  Think of it as a community focused Chief Technology Officer. 

I'll be interested to see what happens to my writing voice on the blog.  I've noticed over history that the most original voice I've used came at times when I was unempl^H^H^H^H^H^H working as a consultant.  (This should not be confused with the strength of the writing skill.  I have become a better writer over the years.  Really)  But markets are conversations, and one of the reasons I came to Optaros was to have the conversation.  Time will tell. 

February 15, 2005 at 07:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

13 February 2005

Patents versus Standards

From consortium.org, Oasis (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) is modifying it's patent policy in good and interesting ways.  It continues to be a interesting discussion.  Formal standards exist to promote multiple implementations (as opposed to a proprietary specification that exists to encourage the use of a single implementation.)  Patents as opposed to standards exist to protect a single implementation.  These two bodies of policy/law serve different parts of the economic spectrum. 

The Consortium.org news feed is an excellent news tracker for this space. 

February 13, 2005 at 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

10 February 2005

LSB Redux

The was a great LSB article published a few days ago by ZDNet.  As well as covering the background really well, it presents the problem in a nutshell.  It's unclear if that was the intention.  Scarey quotes:

  • "Pressure from enterprises could also be essential. Some large companies, such as Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), have already announced they will only deploy LSB-compliant software, and those kinds of announcements could be the spur that ISVs need."
  • "There is lots of momentum around the LSB, with many key players in the industry supporting it, but still not enough active involvement from ISVs certifying their applications," says Dirk Hohndel, director of Linux and open source strategy at Intel, who is a member of the FSG's board of directors.   Partly, this is because ISVs have baseless fears about the cost and complexity around an LSB certification, Hohndel says. [Ed. — Not sure how baseless they are.]
  • For application makers it comes down to a financial decision, according to Red Hat's [analyst relations manager Nick] Carr. "For many ISVs, the issue is of choosing a de facto standard versus a de jure standard. If the LSB is maturing from one release to the next, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 is already established as a de facto standard, they might just choose to port their applications to something that is a known standard," he says.
  • ISVs may be wary of fragmentation, but so far, LSB compliance hasn't come at the top of their list of priorities, says Carr. "They generally rank other issues, such as the development tool-chain, product support, features, and the overall ecosystem -- the presence of other ISVs and OEMs - first." This isn't as big a problem as it seems, he says, because Red Hat's close adherence to the specification guarantees a certain degree of LSB application support.

Red Hat certainly doesn't want to give up market share, so quickly positions themselves as the same only better.  Some might remember the incredible UNIX 95 branding program announcements a decade ago where the UNIX vendors of the day that first branded (IBM, and Sun certainly, maybe NCR?) all had marketing quotes in the primary OpenGroup press release on UNIX branding where they sang the praises of their AIX and Solaris brands without ever mentioning the "U" word they had just worked so hard to obtain.  Irony is a wonderful wonderful thing.

The ISVs can't be "forced" to warrant their applications.  I describe that problem last week, and in more detail relating to the UNIX app branding programs of yore in an old somewhat wordy ACM paper.  (My apologies if you read it.  To quote Voltaire, I didn't have time to write it shorter.)  If you crawl the FSG/Opengroup application certification policy, program, the Trade Mark License Agreement, etc. you won't find that forced insanity.  However, an application brand apparently warrants that you run on an LSB certified implementation of your choice, an LSB certified implementation of the certifying agency's choice, and the LSB sample implementation.  It's unclear to me what value this has to whom. 

Don't get me wrong.  The LSB and implementation certification is essential for expanding the deployment of Linux in the enterprise.  Everything Jim Zemlim says about standards and customer buying habits is true.  But forcing app branding is the wrong place to put pressure.  This is NOT the same situation as the Windows branding programs Microsoft put together.  That was a very different set of programs with a different set of goals under the control of a single vendor.  The economics of this situation is very different.  We do need to find a solution here.

Links:

 

February 10, 2005 at 09:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

08 February 2005

Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track

My apologies that this is a little off topic.  A new Feynman book is coming.  His daughter has edited and assembled his letters.  A small example is in the print edition of the March 2005 Discover magazine (Vol. 26, No. 3), with the promise of the book out in April 2005.  Can't wait.

February 8, 2005 at 10:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Microsoft Trying to Release More Source Code

Excellent news as always.  The opportunity for Microsoft is still huge in this space.  They have the opportunity to lead in the community (and I don't mean lead the community) if only they would take it.  This is actual product code, so it's stickier to release into community than non-product code like WiX, WTL, and FlexWiki.  Go Shawn.  Go Jason.

Small editorial note on the article:  Microsoft took the C# and CLI specifications to ECMA (and the ECMA technical committee subsequently took the finished ECMA standards to ISO).  Rotor (aka the Shared Source CLI) was a working implementation of the ECMA standards on XP, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X. 

Links:

February 8, 2005 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

06 February 2005

Linus, and Career Path, and the Summer of Love

An InformationWeek blog entry by Larry Greenemeier appeared during last week's OSDL Enterprise Linux Summit entitled "Open Source is Not a Career Path” covering part of a great panel discussion.  (I blogged it poorly as a set of audience questions, partial answers and notable quotes.)  The InformationWeek blog entry is missing in action at this point (I needed to reach for the Google cache.)  The storm of responses from the /. post as well as the InformationWeek post was pretty impressive.

What most impressed me was how off context the initial IW piece seemed to be.  The audience question was “What advice would the panel have on an OSS career path for a new developer?”  The initial response from Linus was “It's not a career path; it's a learning experience.”  Without putting words in the man's mouth, I read the intent of the answer (and other panelist answers) more in the light of the open source development model represents a software engineering practice, and positioning their responses in a career oriented way.  Saying open source is a career path would be like saying software engineering is a career path. 

The responses around motivation and passion were pretty normal.  Think about the advice most people give around any career choice: do what you're passionate about.  Do what you care about.  Do what you love to do.  Developers that don't care about a particular area of an OSS project (and care might mean a corporate pay check) aren't likely to show up and work on it.  The original author's glib “Only the truly passionate need apply” demonstrated a perfect lack of understanding in an otherwise accurately reported piece (if somewhat lacking in context.) Then the storm of responses.   

So many people want to turn open source into a counter-culture debate.  The press, IBM marketing, and Microsoft's norm entrepeneurs reach for the best counter-culture icon they have in the Summer of Love, and “Peace, Love, and Linux”.  Unfortunately, as an icon, it just doesn't fit.  Most of the open source developers I've known for the past 15 years are also some of the most free market oriented people I know. They also happen to be very passionate about what they do, and that's all any of us can hope for in life.

Links:

 

February 6, 2005 at 05:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

02 February 2005

OSDL Summit: Wrap-up

I caught two last sessions today.  First was IBM's Gerrit Heizenga and "The Relative Maturity of OSS Projects", followed by the ever entertaining Bdale Garbee (HP) talking about "Helping Enterprise Architects Make the Transition". 

It was interesting to see the positioning differences between the two talks based on the speakers' employers.  Gerrit's talk was focused on the nuts and bolts of how to think about approaching new community projects, talking about what sorts of things might be interesting for you as an enterprise to evaluate.  His use of some dangling examples was causing a certain amount of teeth grinding with another vendor in the room.  Bdale's talk was more focused on helping architects from a philosophical position look at their needs and understand how to think about community.  Bdale's talk was good because it turned the view inside out, helping architects look through what is perceived as the "risks" of open source, and instead evaluate their world from the options, choice, and opportunities OSS provides. 

It has been a great little conference.  It seems to fall some where comfortably between the very CIO focussed feel of the Open Source Business Conference, and the developer centric community world of O'Reilly's OSCon.  For the track I've been following it was very nuts and bolts focused at the enterprise management level, providing a framework and roadmap for how to think about open source in the enterprise.  For a first time event it's been great.  (The official gate was 327.)   

Links:

February 2, 2005 at 10:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

OSDL Summit: Tim Golden on creating OSS stacks

Day 3: First talk of the day was Tim Golden from Bank of America talking about "Successful Open Source Software Stack Creation".  A good talk on his 16 steps to developing a platform stack.  A very methodical and flexible set of best practices that was well laid out.

Link:

February 2, 2005 at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

OSDL Summit: Brian Behlendorf on OSS Development

This was my last real session of the day.  (Okay yesterday.  It's late.  I'm a little behind.)  It was billed as "Applying OSS Practices to Corporate Software Development".  But I cannot do this justice.  When you've hung out at these events enough, you start to get the feeling in the first few minutes of any talk that you know where the talk's going and you could probably do a passable job delivering it.  This was a genuinely fresh talk.  And it was Brian so you know it was brilliantly delivered.  Rather than me trying to cover the talk, and waiting for the slides to get the official show template and published out, Brian has graciously allowed me to put his slides up here.  He does ask your forgiveness for a couple of the slides as once again he was developing a talk at 5am the day he was due to give it.  Enjoy. 

Links:

February 2, 2005 at 03:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

OSDL Summit: Linus, Andrew, Mitch and Brian

A wonderful panel:  Linus Torvalds, Andrew Morton, Mitch Kapor, and Brian Behlendorf, moderated by Stuart Cohen.  It was billed as "An Open Conversation with Linus and Other OSS Notables". 

One can never cover these things properly.  I don't touch type nearly fast enough, and hopefully someone has actually recorded this one.  But in the mean time here are some of the more interesting questions, answers, and quotes.  My apologies to the participants, if I slipped a word here or there, or incompletely covered the answers.

Things started with a discussion around the perception propagated in the press of "no one in charge" compared to a monolithic central development org. 
Brian: "Is Microsoft criticizing us for not having a single point of failure?"

On Software Patents:
Linus: Noted software patents aren't particularly useful and that hopefully the vendors are starting to realize this too.
Mitch:  Raised concerns for the number of bad patents and the failure to
effectively weed them out in the review process, rather than letting the courts
figure it out.  He used the analogy that we're building to a patent Bhopal and likened the situation to intellectual property Weapons of Mass Destruction.  [srw - my naive opinion is he's contrasting two things that aren't directly related, as in "patents bad;  OSS good", but the discussion was fast and furious at this point.]
Stuart: Supported the great first steps of IBM and Sun. 

Audience Question: What's the vision for OSS 5 years out?
Linus: "I am the anti-visionary.  Visions are dangerous."  He was concerned with looking beyond the ground in front of you.    "It's a lot more important to know where I am
today rather than dream about where I might be in the future. "
Mitch: OSS is an irresistible force.  Immovable objects will be encountered and the outcome can't be predicted.  Beyond the software space: he looks forward to what's next in the world for collaborative development processes.  He used the Wikipedia example (while acknowledging it as a controversial one) "We are at the beginning, not the end. "
Brian: His is a vision of open networks of collaboration.  He observed that it's easiest to see the collaboration play out in software and network standards, and likened OSS development versus traditional closed development to market economies versus planned economies.

Audience Question: Can the participants comment on the relation of open source and open standards?
Brian:  They are two sides of the same coin.  Support for the LSB and IETF are
fundamentally important. He also observed that an OSS de facto technology is better than a proprietary de facto technology because of the available access.
Linus:  He raised concerns that open standards are often imperfectly formed (when developed too early) and if there are only proprietary implementations, there may not be the incentive to "fix" such a poor standard.

Audience Question: When corporations participate in community, do they work on things that advantage their companies?  How does it all work?
Linus:  It has allowed companies to further their own agenda.  It is driving Linux in real ways.  You have to have motivation.  It doesn't come from the project internally but comes from the external needs and improvements.  The problem is you have to have the infrastructure to manage the resources that show up.  He believes the management infrastructure has evolved well over the 15 years as Linux has evolved.  There have been surprisingly few politics.  "The bad engineers don't matter and the good engineers don't play politics."  He doesn't ever remember seeing a company "position" their code.
Andrew:  "We just subvert them."  They become more loyal to the code than their employer.  He observed that it is essentially the "customer" sending in the code and that the things they need they write.
Brian:  You have to assume that everyone brings their own agenda.  The hobbyist can take the biggest risk in development without the fear of being fired.  If you're a community leader, you need to foster a diversity of motivations and employers and biases. You can generally see malevolent contributions coming.

Audience Question: What advice would the panel have on an OSS career path for a new developer. 
Linus: "It's not a career path.  It's a learning experience." Its the motivation question.  You need to have a motivation to the project.  The question isn't "What would you like me to do?"  It is "What do you want to do?"
Mitch:  Observed there is a quality of work environment in an OSS "job" in its peer interaction and expected quality of the work itself. 
Brian:  Tackled the question as more of the traits of an OSS developer.  To be successful you must decisive.  You must communicate clearly.  There's not much room for prima donnas.  You need to be able to defend your decisions appropriately. He believes traditional closed software companies have a higher tolerance for the "bad" traits displayed by developers, i.e. the lack of communications skills etc.

Closing remarks (what does the OSS world "need"?):
Mitch:  "From 35,000 feet, if it's not broken, don't fix it."
Brian:  Finding ways to turn users into developers would be great.  Be willing to run some experiments and take some risk.  Recognize the freedom of choice that comes with participation and use.  Find an open source developer and learn about the process.  Make it personal.  Re-humanize the process of software development.
Andrew:  Raised concerns that the process of adoption of open source is inefficient.  Companies are continually having to re-invent answers to questions of "how do we evaluate open source,  how do we join the community, how do we understand the legal implications?"  The educational process needs to be solved. 
Linus:  Co-operation is the motivation.  It is sometimes more fun to compete and great software happens in that mix.  It is great to say we want to co-operate on the desktop, but "let's not co-operate too much.  Let's leave some room for our differences."

An awesome panel.  My apologies again for not quite covering it.

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February 2, 2005 at 02:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

01 February 2005

OSDL Summit: Terence Sherlock (HP) on Linux Readiness

I hung out for most of the talk (Linux Readiness for Enterprise Deployment Core to Edge) in this first session of the day.  The thing that struck me was it seemed an HP take on the IBM Steve Mills LinuxWorld keynote of two years ago.  At that time, in New York City, in front of a room full of Wall Street CIOs, Steve Mills gave a deliberately boring keynote.  I don't mean that in a bad way: that was the message.  This is no longer bleeding edge technology, but is business ready.  (He's a very dynamic speaker but the talk was one example after another of replaced all these servers with these Linux servers, even IBM runs its business on Linux, and AIX will one day get replaced - but not for ten years.)  That's the flavour of this morning's session.  Several analyst based slides of data on growth, stability, and futures.  Lot's of Christensen-based observations (but shallow).  You can bet your business.  Linux will be ready for the core enterprise servers real-soon-now, but not quite yet replacing the [HP] UNIX big iron core.  A feel good about Linux in the enterprise message.

On the futures side, talk was focused on "ripping out Microsoft Office and replacing it with Linux" not happening yet.  That is a Linux focus, and to be fair this was a Linux talk.  The more relevant observation is when will people start "ripping out Microsoft Office and replacing it with OpenOffice on Windows."  I've been living on OO for a few months now and am really really happy.  And I can dump Microsoft Word format for people that need it.  And PDF.  And [readable] HTML.

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February 1, 2005 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack