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James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

Archive for the ‘licenses’ Category

Apple App Store vs FSF

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There was a post a few days ago on the FSF site about the GNU Go app situation

http://www.fsf.org/news/blogs/licensing/more-about-the-app-store-gpl-enforcement

Basically the GNU Go app is GPL, which is not compatible with the terms of service of Apple’s App Store. This is the wrap-up on the FSF post:

That’s the problem in a nutshell: Apple’s Terms of Service impose restrictive limits on use and distribution for any software distributed through the App Store, and the GPL doesn’t allow that. This specific case involves other issues, but this is the one that’s most unique and deserves explanation.

We would’ve liked to see Apple do the right thing and remove these limits, but it looks like that’s not going to happen. Apple has removed GNU Go from the App Store, continuing their longstanding habit of preventing users from doing anything that Apple doesn’t want them to do. As we said in our initial announcement, this is disappointing but unsurprising; Apple made this choice a long time ago. We just need to make sure everybody else gets the message: if you value your independence and creativity, you should be aware that Apple doesn’t. Take your computing elsewhere.

I am a firm believer in the FOSS, but this is nonsense from the FSF. This position is micro-focused and blinded to the larger picture. The App store provides both free (zero-cost) and paid downloads. App developers are able to provide open source or proprietary apps. Developers have the freedom to choose. What the FSF wants Apple to do is to remove the mechanisms in place that protect the distribution of proprietary apps. My guess is that the proprietary apps account for over 98% of all iPhone and iPad apps.The FSF wants Apple to abandon those developers (>98%) in favor of the developers who believe in the Free Software philosophy (<2%).

The FSF’s position is that, by rights, software is fundamentally free and that intellectual property is bad. The FSF doesn’t like the fact that people create proprietary software. They don’t even like shareware. They think anyone creating software should give it away for free and provide the source code too. The FSF values your creativity – they value it so much they think you don’t have the rights to own your creation.

Written by James

May 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Apple, licenses, open source

Confused about open source Dual-Licensing?

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Recently a couple of analysts have shown confusion about dual-licensing of open source software.

A Matt Aslett (451 Group)  survey shows that he was asking which business model open source companies are using ‘open-core licensing strategy’, ‘single open source license’, or ‘dual-licensing’. This make it looks like dual-licensing is an alternative to the other options.

During Brian Prentice’s (Gartner)  session at OSBC last week he inter-changed the terms ‘open-core’ and ‘dual-licensing’ were the same thing.

In reality dual-licensing is not open-core or an alternative to it. Dual-licensing is the provision of the same software under two licenses, an open source one (usually GPL), and a commercial one. Dual-licensing can be applied to open source software regardless whether the company also offers proprietary software or not. So you can have an open-core model with or without dual-licensing. You can also have a pure-play open source model with or without dual-licensing.

Written by James

March 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Microsoft snagged again by bad open source governance

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Microsoft has been caught in two GPL violations recently.

First Microsoft had to release their Hyper-V drivers as GPL because they inadvertently violated the GPL.

Now they have to put the Windows 7 DVD/USB Download Tool into open source because they again inadvertently violated the GPL. This case is particularly interesting because the GPL code in question came from their own open source hosting site – Codeplex.

If Microsoft had a good open source governance program in place this would not happen. Therefore we have to deduce that Microsoft does not have a program, or at least a well-implemented one, in place. This is very odd to me as there are tools you can use to help with this (from Palaminda, Black Duck, and OpenLogic).

At Pentaho I use Palamida’s IPAmplify product. It does a great job at identifying all of the open source components that we embed – and since we have an open source platform there is a lot of them. It also checks our source code to identify source that has been copied from open source projects without the proper attribution. It has identified several cases where internal developers and community members have used code segments from third parties and not treated that IP cleanly. Once the cases are identified it is easy to fix them with appropriate headers or packaging – but find them would be impossible without an open source governance tool like IPAmplify.

I don’t believe that Microsoft has no governance program in place, my guess is that their program is not applied consistently, or that their tooling has blind-spots and/or is not updated frequently enough.

Written by James

November 17, 2009 at 3:21 pm

The Free Software movement limits its own future

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Bradley M. Kuhn posted recently that “Open Core” Is the New Shareware

In it he trots out all of the usual misconceptions that the free software advocates frequently do about the open core model. But I give him credit for being direct about his Free Software allegiance (not purporting an open source one), and for describing what he imagines to be an ideal Free Software company.

The first move we have to make is simply give up the idea that the best technology companies are created by VC money. This may be true if your goal is to create proprietary companies, but the best Free Software companies are the small ones, 5-10 employees, that do consulting work and license all their improvements back to a shared codebase. From low-level technology like Linux and GCC to higher-level technology like Joomla all show that this project structure yields popular and vibrant codebases.

This identifies something that, to me, is the biggest flaw in the ideology of the Free Software movement – an end game that is unsustainable and unattainable.

As I have written before (in this post Misunderstanding open source #3: applying ‘Free Software’ religion to open source business models). I think it is important to imagine a future where the majority of software is free/open source software (FOSS). If that is something you think is desirable (and there are a lot of people who don’t), I think it is important to also imagine how we get there.

I assume that if Kuhn thinks that 5-10 person companies are the ideal ones to represent free software, then his ‘future’ for free software is a collection of 5-10 person companies stewarding all of the planet’s software. This implies little or no involvement from large software vendors or services companies like IBM, Oracle/Sun, and Microsoft. Not even medium sized or small companies can participate, only microscopic companies. Ask yourself this: in this future, can the software and support needs of most organizations and governments of the world be handled by this group of 5-10 person companies? Clearly not, this is ridiculous. Large organizations and companies require the products and support of much larger software providers. They require things like pre-sales support, RFPs, and service level agreements. They require 24×7 support worldwide. In this version of the future the open source vendors that exist cannot meet the needs of the mainstream markets. As a result the large proprietary software vendors survive happily, because the open source vendors do not provide a viable alternative. This is clearly at odds with the desires of the free software movement. They want to eliminate proprietary software and proprietary software companies, yet their behaviour ensures the survival of those things.

Aha! (you might exclaim) what about the example of Linux that Kuhn provides. Ok, lets examine that. Firstly you cannot use the original creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, as a shining example of the virtue of free software because he frequently is critical of the free software ideology, he is not a free software advocate. Certainly you can point out that Linux is steered by a foundation and not by a corporation. But look at the board of directors of the Linux Foundation. As of today they are Larry Augustin CEO of SugarCRM (an dubious open core company, according to some), James Bottomley (Novell), Alan Clark (Novell), Wim Coekaerts (VP Engineering at Oracle), Masahiro Date (general manager of Fujitsu), Frank Fanzilli, Doug Fisher (VP Intel), Dan Frye (VP IBM), Bdale Garbee (Chief Technologist Hewlett-Packard), Tim Golden (Bank of America), Hisashi Hashimoto (Hitachi), Brian Pawlowski (NetApp), Chris Schlaeger (AMD), Tsugikazu Shibata (NEC), Eric Thomas (Texas Instruments), Christy Wyatt (VP Motorola). The mighty and free Linux is steered by a big software/hardware cartel – Novell (Microsoft’s Linux partner), Oracle, IBM, HP, Hitachi – and a chipset cartel – Intel/AM/TI/Motorola. I am not saying that this is a bad thing, in fact it is a good thing. What I’m saying is that using Linux as a ‘free software’ example is a big stretch.

The open core companies are trying to disrupt entrenched proprietary software markets. The free software movement dislikes proprietary software. They have a common enemy in proprietary software. The open core companies would welcome the free software movement as an ally, however the free software advocates choose open core as an enemy. What they don’t realize is that many potential open source companies are choosing between proprietary and open core – 100% open source is not an option. By inciting community members, as Kuhn does, to fork open core projects, he is creating an anti-open core environment that might persuade new start-ups to go proprietary rather than open core. The open core model is preferable to proprietary, but listening to the opinions of the free software advocates you don’t hear that message at all.

The path from a proprietary world to an open source one is a long one. It started over 20 years ago, and it will take another 20 years to get to the end. Maybe at the end the open core model will be a historical footnote. But along the road the open core model is a useful stepping stone that allows otherwise proprietary software companies to become at least partially open, on the way to full openness.

Written by James

October 19, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Microsoft not changing Open Source strategy with GPL drivers

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The recent release of some drivers under a GPL V2  license has got some people jumping up and down with excitement that Microsoft is changing its open source strategy.

Given that Microsoft was violating the GPL by not putting the drivers into open source the truth seems a little rosy.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/23/microsoft_hyperv_gpl_violation/

My guess is that, when faced with the situation, they only had a few choices:

1) Withdraw the drivers – and withdraw from that market.

2) Fight the GPL in court. This would directly contradict Microsoft’s stated position and generate a huge amount of negative press.

3) Put the drivers out under GPL V2, and turn it into a PR win. There is probably not much code, and no patented code in the drivers, but they would have checked this first.

Given these three options I think they chose the one that was the least painful. Hardly a change in strategy.

Written by James

July 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I will be on BlogTalkRadio – Frugal Friday Show this Friday (May 29th)

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This coming Friday I will be on the Frugal Friday Show – http://www.frugalfridayshow.com talking about open source-related stuff.

The show is hosted by Ken Hess (an author and consultant and Linux blogger on DaniWeb) and Jason Perlow who is a blogger on ZDNet

The show starts at 6:30 Eastern and I’ll be on at 7pm. I am looking forward to it, should be fun.

You can listen online – http://www.blogtalkradio.com/frugalfriday

Written by James

May 27, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Is the General Public License (GPL) futile or unneccessary?

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In a recent post – The Economic Case Against the GPL Eric Raymond contents that the GPL is either futile or unnecessary. Here are my thoughts.

The core of the GPL is very simple and elegant. It is a work of art in licensing terms. Put simply it says  “I am making my work available to you with a wide set of freedoms, and I only ask that these same freedoms are given to anyone you distribute your work to.” This creates an intellectualy property ‘lock-out’ (as opposed to a lock-in). It does not stop you from selling your work, but it does stop you from keeping your intellectual property to yourself.

So the first question is – is this futile? I think the answer to this is no. The lock-out is effective. In fact many commercial open source businesses use a dual – license strategy : they offering technology under a GPL license for no cost and selling the same technology under a commercial license. This would not be a viable model if the GPL was futile or inaffective.

The second question – is this unnecessary? Can software that is open and transparent with similar freedoms, but without the intellectual property lock-out be successful? The Apache Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, and JBoss are certainly successful. So maybe this is the case.

As Raymond says the GPL is effective for community forming and as a ‘badge’. But the Apache license is just as effective at this in my mind.

The GPL is certainly not futile, but there is a case for saying it is unnecessary. As always, we will have to wait and see what plays out in the long term.

Written by James

April 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Posted in licenses, open source

Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy – I Think

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Maybe this isn’t news to anyone but I think I finally understand Microsoft’s strategy when it comes to open source. If I’m right, I’m quite impressed (with them, not me). The net of this is that Microsoft would like you to (in order of preference):

  1. Pay for and use Microsoft software
  2. Use open source software and have a Microsoft licensing agreement (e.g. Linux under the Novell deal)
  3. Use open source software that violates Microsoft patents so they can force you to make license payments (e.g. TomTom)
  4. Use their competitor’s software
  5. Use open source that does not violate their patents

For #4 and #5, I think they would prefer you pay for competitor software than use unencumbered open source because you are still in the world of vendor lock-in, where traditional marketing and sales tactics are effective. If you are using unencumbered open source software you are below their radar and you are difficult for them to reach.

I patched this together from these isolated facts and incidents:

Halloween Emails – 1998

In 1998 a series of internal emails were leaked from Microsoft (the Halloween emails). It is clear from these emails that Microsoft understood how open source worked, that it was a threat, and that attempts to market against it were counter-productive. In the next few years Microsoft does little or nothing to fight against open source.

Source – The Halloween Documents (Eric Raymond, catb.org)

Lack of Patents < 2001

Microsoft did not make a lot of patent applications prior to 2001. It ended up making a lot of payments to other software companies to resolve IP claims because of this. Bill Gates resolves to remedy this.

Source: Gates wants patent power (Ina Fried, CNET)

Strategy Revealed – 2002

From an internal memo at HP:

“Basically, Microsoft is going to use the legal system to shut down open-source software. Microsoft could attack open-source software for patent infringements against (computer makers), Linux distributors, and, least likely, open-source developers,” Gary Campbell, vice president of strategic architecture.

At that time the open source projects specifically mentioned were: Samba, Apache HTTP, and Sendmail.

Source – HP memo: Microsoft planned open-source patent fight (Stephen Shankland, CNET)

Cross Licensing Initiative – 2004

In order to meet its patent portfolio goals Microsoft embarks on a cross-licensing initiative.

“If we are able to strike cross-licensing deals with the top 30 technology companies, that alone would provide us access to a vast majority of the patents in areas we care about”, David Kaefer, Microsoft’s director of intellectual property licensing.

This was done to protect Microsoft from IP claims made against it by proprietary companies, but it plays into their open source strategy.

Source – Microsoft–License To Deal (Ina Fried, CNET)

Microsoft Shared Source – 2005

Around 2005 Microsoft started to make some of it’s source code available under a ‘shared source’ program. Jason Matusow (director of the program) claimed this was to try to replicate the advantages of open source. It sounds good but under this program you are allowed to view their source, but you are not allowed to use the source. This text is from Microsoft’s Developer Center is rather ominous:

You are warned that when you build a run-time image based on an OS design that contains shared source code, your run-time image might contain private code that cannot be released in a product under the terms of the Microsoft EULA

So by making their source code available they make it very tempting for developers to use it as a source of code samples. But doing so leaves you open to legal problems that are best resolved by making license payments to Microsoft.

Codeplex – 2006

In order to encourage developers to inadvertently full into the shared source trap, Microsoft launches Codeplex.

Source – Microsoft to Launch Code-Sharing Site (Martin LaMonica, CNET)

Microsoft Novell Partnership – 2006

This agreement is particularly interesting. The deal protects Novell’s customers from legal action by Microsoft for any IP infringements that exist in Linux. Effectively Novell customers are pay Microsoft (through Novell) for the right to use software that includes functionality covered by Microsoft’s patents.

Source – Microsoft Statement on Novell Agreement (Microsoft.com)

The Linux Attack – 2007

Microsoft claims that Linux violates 235 of its patents. However Microsoft won’t reveal which of it’s thousands of patents at the problematic ones.

Many open source participants ask Microsoft for the list, saying that they will re-write the offending code so that the violate is removed. They miss the point. Microsoft wants the violations to remain in place. Microsoft wants users of Linux to pay a license fee to Microsoft to cover the use of their patents. That is, everyone except Novell’s customers, who have pre-paid for that same license (they pay Novell, Novell pays Microsoft).

Source – Microsoft Takes on the Free World (Roger Parloff, Fortune)

The TomTom Takedown – 2009

The recent TomTom case is a good example of the patent attack. Microsoft revealed two of its patent cards – #5,579,517 and #5,758,352 around the FAT filesystem – and slapped it on TomTom for using a Linux distribution that includes FAT-based code. The result of this case is that TomTom now pays license fees to Microsoft for the use of that code.

Source – Microsoft and TomTom settle patent dispute (Ryan Paul, ars technica)

So now we know 2 of Microsoft’s alleged 235 Linux-related patents. Now that Microsoft has revealed these patent cards it would clearly be in the interests of the open source movement for all the code that could violate the FAT patents to be removed or re-written in such a way as to avoid the IP issue (if possible). Long-time open source advocate Larry Augustin takes this position also.

Source – Linux, Microsoft and Patents: It’s Time to Get the FAT Out (Larry Augustin’s Weblog)

Summary

Since identifying open source as a threat 10 years ago Microsoft has consistently done two things: increased its patent portfolio, and gained revenue from licensing that portfolio to others.

Microsoft has  clearly decided that it cannot directly fight or defeat open source. But it can further increase license revenue by attacking users of open source with claims of IP infringement.

Individual open source developers are too small to target with attacks such as this. But any large company using open source internally or in a product or service should be concerned by this. The open source movement as a whole needs to pay attention to IP issues.

There are many people in the open source movement who hold a “we don’t believe in intellectual property” stance. They may, one day, find themselves sending a monthly payment to Microsoft for privilege of continuing to hold that belief.

Written by James

April 21, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Beekeeper Model for Commercial Open Source (V2 draft 2)

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Written by James

April 14, 2009 at 4:21 am

Reduce Software Costs with a Dual-Vendor Strategy

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Recently some of the big vendors have raised their prices, like Oracle’s 15-20% hike a few months ago. This obviously comes at the worst possible time for their customers. While talking to Fred Gallagher of Ingres at the Pentaho partner summit last week I was reminded of something I learned last year when I was on a panel at an open source seminar for finance industry CIOs. Many of the CIOs talked about the dual-vendor strategy they use to maintain leverage against hikes in maintenance costs.

Basically they have a policy of having relationships with two vendors for all major systems: operating systems, databases, application servers etc. This way if one of the vendors tries to force price increases the CIO can threaten to move applications over to the other vendor to reduce their dependency (and costs). Of course, dual-vendor strategy or not, anyone can threaten to change vendor at any time. But without an existing dual-vendor strategy there are obvious costs involved in switching. When the dual-vendor strategy is in place the threat is real, without it the threat is fairly weak.

For example lets say my ERP system runs on Windows and Oracle, and my CRM system runs on Red Hat Linux and Ingres. However my ERP system is capable of running on Linux and Ingres. When Microsoft or Oracle raise prices on me I threaten to move my ERP system to Linux and Ingres, and in order not to lose the business entirely the sales rep gives me a discount such that I avoid the price increase.

The CIOs I talked to recommended a strategy of using a commercial open source product as the second vendor. These vendors scare the enterprise sales reps. Choosing an unsupported open source alternative opens the CIOs to increased risk and lowers the threat of the dual-vendor strategy.

There are lots of choices when it comes to running in dual-vendor mode, for example.

  • Operating System: Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Ubuntu with Canonical support
  • Database: MySQL Enterprise, Ingres with Enterprise Support
  • Application Server: JBoss Enterprise WebServer w/JBoss Network
  • ESBus/SOA: Mule Enterprise Edition, JBoss Enterprise SOA w/JBoss Network
  • Portal: JBoss Enterprise Portal w/JBoss Network
  • ERP: Compiere, OpenBravo
  • CRM: SugarCRM
  • Content Management System: Alfresco with Enterprise Network
  • Business Intelligence: Pentaho

Written by James

April 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm