· · Open Source
· This is getting a little weird. Twice in the last couple of years, Linus Torvalds has gone out of his way to diss Solaris, the OS technology and Sun corporately. Now, anyone who’s spent time on a mailing list with Linus knows that his opinions are sharp-edged and rarely withheld. But now we have a pure attack piece from Amanda McPherson, identified as “the marketing director of the Linux Foundation” ... [7 comments]
· I just made my annual donation to NeoOffice. If you want to deal with MS Office and OpenOffice.org and ODF documents on the Mac and you don’t want to buy any overpriced opaque binaries, it’s your best bet. The new news is that that the latest NeoOffice (2.2.2) startup is irritatingly slow on my 2GHz MacBook. Which, you see, is good news, because previous combinations of older NeoOffices and older Macs started up painfully, agonizingly, slow. For those of us who live on the Web, at this point in history it’s hard to feel much love for office-doc processing software; but of its kind, Neo is really not bad. [1 comment]
· IBM’s Project Zero looks refreshing and sane; I wonder if the people still struggling in the WSDL swamp will be allowed to take the Zero Option. Of course, there’s this, from the About Project Zero page: “Commercial means that this is not an open source project.” [Emphasis theirs]. But... uh... isn’t... what about... oh, never mind. [2 comments]
· Perhaps a little more all-over-the-map even than is usual: GPLv3 clarity, Functional Pearls, raina bird-writer, Java credits, framework programmers, and hacking my Canon ... [4 comments]
Lightroom and Open Source
· Over the last few years, I’ve become something of an open-source triumphalist, drifting to the conclusion that (on the engineering side) it’s the best way to build software and (on the business side) it’s a better way to monetize it. I have to confess that Adobe Lightroom has kind of shaken my convictions. Certain elements of its UI and design (for example, the crop/rotate tool, and the nondestructive editing paradigm) are qualitative steps forward in the state of the art. Furthermore, I can’t think of a single good business reason for Adobe to open-source it. I guess the conclusion is obvious: for the foreseeable future, both models of software building and marketing are going to march along; neither is doomed. [7 comments]
· Wow, he’s working here, as of today. This was cooked on the extra double secret hush-hush; congrats to those involved on the leakage control ... [3 comments]
The Open-Source Process
· I have the good fortune to work for the world’s largest creator of Open-Source software. Big companies being what they are, this means that There Is A Process. Recently, I went through it, and I thought the story might be of mild interest to those who are trying to figure out how to make a living at the intersection of the profit motive and OSS culture ... [6 comments]
· Simon Phipps pointed me at Protest the Microsoft-Novell Patent Agreement, saying “The emotion is remarkable”, and he’s right, it is. The more I thought about that deal the less I worried about it. Sure, software patents being what they are, GNU/Linux, like every nontrivial chunk of code, doubtless infringes lots. So who’s Microsoft gonna sue? Any large-scale Linux user is also a large-scale Microsoft customer; that would be bad for business. They could go after Red Hat or Canonical, but that’d end up hurting their customers, helping Sun, and anyhow you could no more squish Linux that way than you can squeeze water in your fist. “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence” they say, and it’s true too; so maybe some Redmond strategist thought the vague FUD cloud would actually move the needle. Well, it has; but perhaps not quite as planned.
· Unifying theme: none. Item: Excellent Rails-vs.-Django study. No axe to grind, apparently. No obvious winner, which is news given the Rails hype. Item: Dana Blankenhorn’s Means and ends in open source; very thought-provoking. My guess is that the immense licensing fees driving the bloated sales infrastructures at Oracle, SAP, and friends are small in relation to the whole software acquire/deploy/maintain monetary pie, so the size of the whole industry isn’t likely to change that much. Item: Irving Wladawsky-Berger, grand IBM technology poo-bah, speculates about the future of the 3-D Web in An Unusual Meeting. Speaking as one who’s made two concerted efforts to build a 3-D representation of the Web, I sure hope he’s right. Item: I can read Takashi’s cat’s mind. He’s 100% focused on how he can get in between Takashi and the computer. (Takashi’s amusing post is about “Engineer's 2.0 day-life in the midafternoon”.) Item: From Clay Shirky, Social Facts, Expertise, Citizendium, and Carr; a careful, level-headed thought piece on what it means to be an expert, in the context of Wikipedia and Citizendium. Item: From “jbischke” at Learn Out Loud, a handy list of The Top 10 Arguments Against DRM; we already knew most of this stuff, but it’s useful to have it pulled together, well-argued and in one place. Item: Everyone’s blogging Test your musical skills in 6 minutes!; I only got 72.2%, sigh. [11 comments]
· Check out Jason Matusow’s Your Input Requested, on the reaction to the recent Microsoft-Novell deal. Jason notes the push-back and seems to be saying that some of it is reasonable and they’re willing to fine-tune. But there’s this one sentence that leaps off the screen at me: We are not interested in providing carte blanche clearance on patents to any commercial activity - that is a separate discussion to be had on a per-instance basis. Oh really. At one level that’s a tautology, but placed like this in the immediate context of the Novell deal, it’s more than a little threatening. It’s hard for me to imagine Microsoft firing a barrage of litigation, or even of royalty demands, at a bunch of Linux developers or integrators or packagers—that would be a nuclear first strike and who knows who’d be left standing—but then strange things happen in this world. Maybe the nonspecific saber-rattling is the real point, just trying to create enough not-unreasonable doubt in the minds of high-tech legal departments to put a little drag on OSS business momentum. Of course, they don’t say what the patents that apply in this context are, but that’s not unique Microsoft evil, it’s just the evil way that these things are usually done. [Update: Ballmer confirms: “the fact that that product uses our patented intellectual property is a problem for our shareholders.” And “anybody who has got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability”] [3 comments]
· You know, I’ve really had trouble figuring out Nick Carr. I’m a confirmed subscriber, because a lot of his writing is excellent; but then, some of it seems to come from troll territory. I have a theory; and some words on Open Source. [Update: Carr responds at length.] ...
Open Source and Money
· Simon Phipps made a speech at OSBC (he claims that, whatever was reported, this is what he meant). Ben Rockwood, who’s a really smart guy, is eloquently revolted by OSBC in general and Simon’s message in particular. [Ed. note: I have a bunch of technothings to write about which I’ve been putting off till midsummer braindeadness abates, but this is too urgent.] ...
· Well, the reaction to the statement on an OSS license for the Sun Java SE implementation has not exactly been a chorus of huzzahs; it’s ranged from “You don’t really mean it” to “You should have done it years ago” to “lamerz suxx0r neener neener”. The people working through the license and community issues need to be aware they’ll be dealing with unrelenting hostility from their audience. There’s lots of history here, most of which I don’t know, but nobody seems surprised at all this. I have to say, though, the contrast between all that nastiness and the big happy community glow at last week’s Java One was pretty stark; who are Java’s friends again? That aside, I’m still pretty startled about the reaction to the DLJ announcement. I would have thought that making it a little less painful for GNU/Linux users to install Java would generally be regarded as a good (not huge, but good) thing—I know that Simon Phipps, Mark Shuttleworth, Rich Sands, and a bunch of other people worked damn hard on it—but instead (see Simon), it provoked a load of vitriolic trash talk. I’m disappointed.
· In the opening session at NetBeans day, Jonathan Schwartz said a few words and then brought Rich Green, our new software supremo, up on stage. After saying some nice things about Rich, Jonathan proposed that they do a Q&A, with Jonathan asking the questions, saying a “I’ll simulate a developer”. His first question was “So Rich, are you going to open-source Java?” Rich started with “Well, why not?” But then he gave what I thought was a really transparent brain-dump on the internal debate here at Sun, which is along the lines of “Open source good, compatibility essential”. So it’s going to take a lot of work to figure out the story around compatibility and community, and that’s going to require plenty of input from outside Sun. But then Rich said it again: “Why not?”
· I’ve been kind of quiet, and that’s because the Java One people lowered the boom on me, told me that if I didn’t get the slides for my session in they were going to cancel it. So I’ve been spending quality time with Open Office, in particular the NeoOffice flavor. They’ve got an alpha of their version of OO.o 2 up, and it’s a vast improvement over 1.2, with a bunch of useful sidebar navigators and better view-switching. Also, it’s all-ODF. There’s some interesting business model innovation; although Neo is GPL’ed, you have to sign up and pay to join the Early Access program if you want to use the 2.0 alpha pre-release. I didn’t hit a single bug with the alpha in two days of hard editing; I assume the Neo boys are slaving away over performance, because it’s pretty slow at the moment.
OSBC San Francisco 2006
· I spent the last two days at OSBC West. The attendees were overwhelmingly Open-Source vendors, with a sprinkling of venture caps and journalists. The buzz was palpable, even if the mix was a little odd; good suits contrasting with T-shirts; IRC channels and Slashdot visible on laptop screens. There were so many journalists there that Sun PR managed to set me up ten (!) briefings over the course of the two days, so I didn’t get to hear many of the talks. Nicholas Carr looked at electrical-industry history, covering some of the same same territory that Jonathan Schwartz has been over, but going a lot deeper and drawing a pretty convincing analogy, I thought. I caught a few minutes of Mitch Kapor talking up Wikipedia; he’s a good strong-voiced clear-headed advocate. The press briefings went OK except for when Paul Krill, who’s really an excellent tech writer, accidentally hit one of my hot buttons by asking whether bloggers are really reliable, given that they don’t have professional fact-checking and editing support. Given that I’m still mad at the Washington Post for egregious uncorrected lying, I kind of snarled at Paul, which was unfortunate as it was a reasonable question. I was on two panels; one, on LAMP, was interesting (Zend’s Doron Gerstel and ActiveGrid’s Peter Yared: “PHP rules!” Me: “LAMP’s growing fast, resistance is silly”). The other, on Open Source and Open Standards, was kind of boring, with Microsoft’s excellent Jason Matusow furiously reframing and recasting, and nobody else getting quite irritated enough to start the polemics, which may have amounted to cheating the audience. Oh, another thing about OSBC: the food is really excellent.
· Over at O’Reilly, John Mark Walker writes There Is No Open Source Community, and Nicholas Carr, who enjoys decrying, well, anything popular, chimes in with The Amorality of Open Source. They both paint a picture of misguided innocents who believe in some starry-eyed vision of post-capitalist intellectual collectivism, but are actually pawns in the hands of larger economic forces. They’re both really wrong. Granted: Open Source is not a nation or a corporation or a political party or a religion. (While there are “movement people”, organized into the skeptical-of-each-other Open Source and Free Software sects, they are a tiny—albeit noisy—minority.) Absent those things, what is left? A collection of people who like working on software and look for opportunities, preferably but not necessarily paid, to do so. If that isn’t a “community”, what is? And furthermore, I would recommend that Walker and Carr spend some time hanging out in the IRC channels and pizza parties and conferences and mailing lists and wikis where the Open-Source people actually, you know, are. They would discover, now what’s the word I’m looking for... people who actively seek out their own kind, who share jargon and jokes and tools and thought leaders and enemies. The word I’m looking for is “community”. And anyone who thinks that this community would go away if Sun and IBM and Novell and so on were to stop funding it is nuts. Open Source Software is its own reward; that, and hanging out with people who share our passions. We don’ need no steenkin’ economics. Or ideologies either.
Open Source Who?
· I was in this high-level meeting and we were focusing on accessibility; a lot of good work has been done by Free/Open-Source software people in this space, but the story still isn’t as good as it needs to be. So I got up on my pulpit and ranted away about how we need to do more evangelism and get the word out that accessibility is everyone’s issue and should be on everyone’s agenda. One of the businesspeople said “Well yes, but management at Sun and Novell and IBM are all on board and will put resources in, so aren’t we OK?” I was silenced for a moment; among other things because the statement wasn’t obviously nuts. I mean, it’s nice that the economic mainstream takes F/OSS seriously, and I’m real happy to be working for a company that’s in the middle of that. But I’m used to a world where F/OSS priorities are about what the geeks are interested in working on, not what management is willing to fund. And this could be serious. Way back when, I suspect that management wouldn’t have been that interested in a MINIX replacement for the 386, or a patchy Web server, or programming languages named after jewels and snakes. I’m optimistic that the good ideas will get worked on anyhow, because few forces are stronger than a good engineer in the grip of a good idea. But still, the world is changing (as always) out from under us.
Speaking of Ecosystems
· As noted previously Drupal had a little trouble, and the community rallied around: individuals to the tune of over $10,000 and my employer with a server. So, I note that to build out their infrastructure, Drupal is going to use the community donations to buy Dell boxes. Um, let’s see here; IBM and Sun invest in Open Source, big-time. HP’s there too. Dell... uh, Dell? Ecosystem? Community? There’s something wrong with this picture. [Update: It turns out that Dell has been taking good care of these guys, and that’s a good argument. But I’d still like to bring them into the ecosystem. As for those pricing issues, there’s something really wrong with that picture.]
Iron for Drupal
· What happened was, I read the Slashdot story about Drupal’s server meltdown, and winced sympathetically; I have so been there. I keep hearing good things about Drupal, so I pinged my manager Hal Stern and asked “Think we could dig up a server for some good guys having a bad day?” He talked to John Fowler, Supreme Opteron Overlord, (hey Sun.com, that page is out of date), and on Tuesday Drupal got a V20z. Holy cow, John found a good one, that sucker’s got two high-end Opterons and 4G of memory, hosting Drupal will probably leave it enough cycles to simulate galaxies in the background. Amusing sidenote: Dries Buytaert of Drupal wrote wondering “under what terms we’d get such machinery from Sun” and Hal wrote back saying a mention on the site would be nice, “and no offense, but the legal cost of any more ‘terms’ than above exceeds our cost of the hardware.” As usual, I can’t resist the opportunity to generalize: ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is an ecosystem. Drupal has a problem, the community notices, Slashdot broadcasts, we help them out, a nice piece of infrastructure is strengthened, the tide rises and all our boats float a little higher. Is this a great business to be in or what?
On Being Open
· I was in a meeting today and the discussion turned to Open Source vs. Open Standards; the relationship is complicated and people who care about one or both of these things have to be careful and clear in what they say. Except for Office Suites. There, you have one choice that is neither open-source nor built around open standards (Microsoft Office), and several other choices that are both (StarOffice or OpenOffice or KOffice, all built on the OASIS Open Document format). For documents that are high-value, or long-lived, or you hold in stewardship for your stakeholders, the choice seems like a no-brainer to me. Also, I observe that the community of hackers (I mean that in the good sense) has started to notice that you can do interesting things with office documents; assuming they’re in an open format, of course.
Office Doc Format News
· A couple of low-key news items in the Office Document XML space, worth highlighting because I think this area is significant, as do some important people. First off, the people standardizing this stuff over at OASIS (and soon, ISO) published a second draft, and, without any fanfare, they changed the name from “OpenOffice.org XML Format” to “OpenDocument”, which is shorter, better, and not tied to any particular implementation. There’s action on the Microsoft front too; check the microsoft.public.office.xml and microsoft.public.xml newsgroups, where there are flurries of questions digging through the knotty corners of WordML and ExcelML; you never really understand a dialect until you have to write a program to generate it. I’m sure the details will come out despite some current irritation, but this is a reason why Microsoft should cast a friendly eye at the boring, bureaucratic, painful standardization process.
· From one Jem Berkes, of whom I’ve never previously heard, a nice, compact tour through all the reasons you might want to base your work on the OpenOffice.org software rather than the alternative. There’s nothing groundbreaking or surprising, just some obvious points that need to be made and here are made well.
When Secrets Make Sense
· Recently I wrote a short piece making a strong and general claim that the same forces that are pushing data towards XML are pushing software towards Open Source. There was an interesting and well-written pushback from Microsoft’s Joe Marini. I think that, as Joe says, there are places in software where secrets make business sense; but we disagree as to where they are ...
· At the just-concluded XML 2004 conference, I claimed in my closing keynote that XML and Open Source are the parallel outcomes of a single trend. I don’t think that the argument is that subtle or difficult ...
Politeness and Cluelessness
· I was just getting ready to knock off when Jonathan posted a piece with all sorts of thoughtful remarks about the Java constituencies (note plural), and a passing reference to “binary extremes” in reference to these remarks by Richard Epstein, in the Financial Times no less. James Governor has already given Epstein a few well-deserved whacks, and I’ve been trying to think of something more creative to say than “This clueless windbag doesn’t know what he’s writing about.” Among other things, he offers blue-sky speculation (aka FUD) about what might go wrong with the GPL but hasn’t yet. Then he confuses committers with committees, in fact using the phrase “central committee” to suggest the smell of Commies under the bed. Ludicrously, he asserts that “Open Source... cannot scale up to meet its own successes.” Uh, well, Linux, Apache, gcc, OpenOffice, Mozilla... feh. Crucially, he apparently hasn’t noticed that Open Source is fun to do, and an excellent peer-group status enhancer; fun and peer-group status being approximately the two most powerful stimuli known to Homo Sapiens. Jonathan offers clues (check out the trailing hyperlink) but I think I’ll just stay with “doesn’t know what he’s writing about.”
· Because of the way ongoing works I need fairly short headlines, which is a pity, because for this piece I wanted to use The European Commission Makes Extremely Smart Moves Concerning Open XML-Based Office Document Formats and Browbeats Vendors Deftly; As a Result the Open Office XML Format Will Probably Become an ISO Standard ...
Office Source Code
· I’ve been trying to think of something intelligent and new to say about Microsoft’s recent Office source code maneuver, but Simon Phipps took care of it. Anyhow, when it comes to Office software, I’m less interested in its code (source or object) which should be disposable and replaceable, than I am in its output. Some call them “office documents”; I prefer “intellectual heritage”, “racial memory”, “crystallized thought”, “priceless treasure”, that kind of thing. They need to be taken care of better than they are, I think, and others agree.
The FYO Point
· Today’s must-read: Bryan Cantrill’s huge (in import, it’s not that long, and it’s illustrated) piece The Economics of Software. Sample quote: “Open source software has all of the properties of a loss-leader — minus the loss, of course.”
15 Science Street
· Rue de la Science to be exact, in Brussels; a nondescript address in the endless sprawl of European Union infrastructure. What happened was, a few days before I started at Sun on March 15, they called up and said “Would you like to go to Brussels for a March 23 presentation on XML Office Document Formats?” OpenOffice.org vs. Microsoft, naturally ...
Views of Freedom
· The recent release of MT3.0 has provoked a whole lot of smart commentary around the net over the past few days: for example see Simon Phipps (here and here) and Alan Burlison. But the one that hit me hardest is Mark Pilgrim’s Freedom 0. This piece has been criticized (correctly) as disconnected from the way consumer software works (summary: users pay for features). And indeed, Mark doesn’t think about this the way a consumer would: how many of them run eleven sites? Instead, he thinks about this like a CIO does . “Freedom 0” is all about predictability and risk reduction; CIO territory, big-time. Mark carries the argument to extremes because that’s the kind of writer he is, but it’s an argument everyone in the software business should be thinking about.
Fawcette Doesn’t Get It
· Jim Fawcette (head honcho at the eponymous publisher) has a regular column which he typically uses to diss some big tech name or another; recent volleys were aimed at Google, Java, and Microsoft. If you’re going to be a grinch, being even-handed about it is a good thing. The most recent outing, an extended fulmination on Open Source, gets so many things wrong, though, that I have to push back a bit ...
By Tim Bray
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