If you can't beat them, fine them II

There's a little debate going back and forth about the topic I posted about here. For my part, I have no issue with most of what the EU has been able to accomplish with respect to Microsoft abusing its monopoly position. In fact, I give them kudos for stepping up and taking a stand where the DOJ failed to. What scares me is the possibility of a Government being able to assign a value to what it perceives as innovation (or lack thereof). Even if they are correct in this particular case, it just seems like a precarious precedent.

Tory Party promises an Open Source Britain, if elected

Matthew Aslett points out that in reality, politicians are leveraging Open Source in their campaigns. This runs contrary to the potential fantasy the Mr. Enderle cooked up. From the article:

Conservative shadow chancellor, George Osborne, has promised “that an incoming Conservative government would create a level playing field for open source software in the UK, in a move which could save taxpayers more than £600 million a year.”

Incredible scenes, as Glyn Moody has noted.

According to a speech made by Osborne at the Royal Society of Arts:

“What it is about is better and more effective government. The problem is that the cultural change has not taken place in government. There isn’t a level playing field for open source software. As it stands, too many companies are frozen out of government IT contracts, stifling competition and driving up costs.

“Taking into account the experience of companies and public sector bodies, it is estimated that the Government could save at least 5% of its annual IT bill if more open source software was used as part of a more effective procurement strategy. That adds up to over £600m a year. The internet age is transforming politics and has the capacity to transform government. Let’s start being open source right now.”

Osborne also announced the appointment of Mark Thompson, of the Judge Business School at Cambridge University, to advise the Party on how to make Britain the open source leader in Europe.

Now, there is no guarantee that the party will win (they haven’t in well over a decade) and the election might not be until as late as 2010, but the fact that Open Source has now made it into political campaigns is an indication of just how mainstream and accepted it is. If you’re still blindly flighting it (which is different than wholesale agreeing with it), you really are fighting a rising tide.


If you can't beat them, fine them (The EU's wrong policy on Microsoft)

While I’ve agreed with many of the decisions the EU has made with respect to Microsoft, I have to admit that I don’t agree with this one. From the article:

Neelie Kroes, antitrust chief for the European Commission, tried again last week to show Microsoft Corp. who’s boss. She declared that the software giant is overcharging other companies for access to technology that, in her opinion, doesn’t represent “significant innovation,” and threatened another massive fine: perhaps €1 billion or more. Ms. Kroes’s new assertion of power to assess innovation and to regulate its pricing should get the attention of businesses everywhere. When government officials feel comfortable second-guessing markets on such decisions, no business is safe and no property right secure.

Things like this should be decided by the market, not by Governments or courts. When a monopoly abuses its power, that’s one thing. In some situations like that, the court is the only one who has enough leverage to remedy things. I don’t think anyone, be they Open Source proponents or proprietary vendors, want courts and judges deciding what is “significant innovation” and what value should be placed on it. We’ll have to see how this plays out.


Is EnterpriseDB an Open Source Company II

A follow up to this post. The debate continues. It's certainly a somewhat complicated issue with nuances that people interpret differently, especially at the edges. I still think coming up with a solid category name may help to alleviate the debate a bit, but alas have not come up with a name I like. While I can see that a company like EnterpriseDB is not what Matt is calling “open source bona fide”, can they really be considered “proprietary bona fide”? Andy Astor suggested “Open Source-Based” but that doesn't put things across in the clear succinct manner that I'd like. Anyone else have an idea? I'd agree that the discussion and issues being discussed here do matter. As I've said before, consumers in the IT space are getting more educated and more demanding (in a good way) by the day. A new dawn is rising. If you are even considering selling into that space, I hope you realize it matters a whole lot. I look forward to discussing some of these issues at the upcoming OSBC, which I'll be attending and LQ is a sponsor of.

Google offers employees true choice on the desktop

Sure, the fact that “when you start work at Google, you get to choose whether you want a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer” shows how fundamentally Google gets some things. That’s not why I find this article interesting though. There are two very good snippets in the article:

“It strikes me that the fact that this level of choice is so unusual is a fundamental reason why Linux is struggling to make an impact on the desktop.”

There are other factors of course (such as application availability) but the fact is that for many businesses, Windows continues to be the desktop operating system of choice simply because it is currently the desktop operating system of choice.

I don’t think this factor is taken into account often enough. Companies are averse to change, even if that change is good for them. The “no one ever got fired for purchasing $COMPANY” mentality is pervasive in upper level technical management at many companies. We don’t just need to create a better product – we need to overcome hurdles like the one above.

“For many uses Windows may well be the best solution, but its difficult to think of another business asset for which managers would not even consider an alternative when it comes to renewal time.
In this regard businesses are doing themselves a disservice. I am not suggesting that Linux is a better option, but I am once again arguing that businesses owe it to themselves to consider the desktop requirements of their users before making a sweeping decision about desktop requirements.”

This drives home a point that I have thought about before but failed to put so succinctly. Why is it that for most assets, there is a considerable evaluation process and procurement procedure, but when it comes to choosing a platform that will run a considerable part of your operational infrastructure you don’t even think twice about deployment options. A disservice indeed. The question becomes, how do you overcome these obstacles. In many areas, we already are. Desktop Linux is not one of them. Yet.


Is EnterpriseDB an Open Source Company

Sparked by a post mentioned here, there is now a healthy debate going on about whether companies like EnterpriseDB are Open Source or not. Allison is one who says yes, while Matt Asay says no. As usual, CBR has some very good coverage.

I’ve thought about the topic a bit and have come up somewhat in the middle of the two opinions and think a new segment of company may need to be defined. I’d agree with Matt that companies like this are not true 100% Open Source companies. Allision makes a good point when she says the following though:

It seems a bit hypocritical to extoll the greater freedom offered by the BSD license (as its supporters do), and then look askance at companies who use the rights granted to them.

To me it’s clear that companies like EnterpriseDB are also not what I would call true proprietary companies either. Not even close. It’s not just that they base their product on Open Source that makes me feel this way. It’s that they donate to the greater Open Source project they are part of in significant ways. They employee some people full time to work solely on the Open Source code, they donate money and resources and they are a part of that community. While not all of their code is Open Source, they absolutely live and die by their ties and reliance on an Open Source project. Some companies simply extort Open Source for their gain. Those companies to me are in no way Open Source, whether or not they use or support Open Source code. It all comes back to intent here for me.

So, what do we call companies like this? I’m still thinking about that, but I do think that companies that truly benefit the ecosystem they are a part of and really do foster the Open Source project(s) that they work with do deserve a large amount of credit. The distinction between “true” Open Source company and Open Source company is not clear enough. We need a name IMHO. Any ideas?

Whatever you call companies like this, I do think they deserve a shot at being at OSCON.


The LQ Wiki is now an OpenID Consumer

As promised, the LQ Wiki now allows you to log in using OpenID. You can convert an existing account if you have one, or simply login with an OpenID as a completely new user and start editing. I’d like to thank Evan, whose extension made adding this relatively painless. One thing to be aware of if you are thinking about implementing OpenID (you should be) and are planning to use curl. Some versions deal with RFC 2818 – 3.1 Server Identity differently than others. A snippet:

Matching is performed using the matching rules specified by [RFC2459]. If more than one identity of a given type is present in the certificate (e.g., more than one dNSName name, a match in any one of the set is considered acceptable.) Names may contain the wildcard character * which is considered to match any single domain name component or component fragment. E.g., *.a.com matches foo.a.com but not bar.foo.a.com. f*.com matches foo.com but not bar.com.

What does that mean to you? Well, I was using jeremy.lq.myopenid.com to test. In some implementations of curl (7.12.1 in this case), the *.myopenid.com cert works fine for that domain. In other implementations (7.10.6 in this case), you get a error:

certificate subject name ‘*.myopenid.com’ does not match target host name ‘jeremy.lq.myopenid.com’
Just something to be aware of as many of the gratis OpenID providers seem to allow this situation to happen. Hopefully you’ll come across this blog post before banging your head on your desk for 10 minutes wondering why code works in some places and not others.


Is "Open Source" Now Completely Meaningless?

Nat is building the OSCON schedule, and asks: Is “Open Source” Now Completely Meaningless? From the post:

I’ve found some very strange companies claiming to be open source.

Can you really call yourself open source if you haven’t opened the source? I don’t think so. There’s a flood of “open source” companies selling things that work on open source but which aren’t open source themselves. I think these are proprietary products, not open source. That’s been the attitude that helped me select talks for OSCON–I only want open source products talked about. My rule of thumb is that the audience should be able to download, compile, and use the software that is talked about.

He then goes into what are definitely some edge boundary cases, of which EnterpriseDB is a good example. I agree with his conclusion that in the end EnterpriseDB and companies like that are good for Open Source and should be included in an event like OSCON. A lot of it comes down to intent. You see, being “Open Source” is the in thing right now. That means some companies are using Open Source as a dumping ground. Donating old code is fine, if there is some real value and a chance that a legitimate project might thrive around the code. Donating old code because it is completely useless and you just want to get into this Open Source thing, that’s not. It’s easy to tell the difference. At this point, we even have some companies simply lying or using the words Open Source arbitrarily. Open Source means slightly different things to different people to be sure, but twisting the definition way out of whack to suit you is not something you should do. You end up with situations like this. Now intent is something that is hard to ascertain in some situations, but I can’t think of a better yardstick. You’ll always have the idealists who think something is or isn’t acceptable vs. the pragmatists. Free Software vs. Open Source isn’t going away soon. We’re all in the same larger camp though, and intent is one of the few things I can see us all agreeing on.


The Free Desktop

Bryce Harrington has posted an insightful commentary on running free software communities. A couple highlights:
It's easy to just copy what the proprietary guys do. After all, we like to think they're doing scientific market research and usability studies to uncover user needs. Or at the very least, users grow accustomed to the way the proprietary apps work, so if you make a good clone, you can get into the “well, at least you won't have to bother learning anything new” niche. That's actually a pretty good niche to be in, but at best it's a nibbling-from-below strategy.
However, in my view FLOSS has a secret power for achieving exactly what users need built right into the model. I'd credit a large share of Inkscape's success to simply being utter whores at taking advantage of this.
Basically, the best way to get what user's want and need into your application is for the developers to BE users.
Users have a gut-feel for what they want and need, and gut-feels are tough to express in requirements documents, bug trackers, and surveys. You know when you're developing some thingee for your own personal use what corners can be skipped, and what ones are worth polishing; you know what compromises can be made, and can immediately notice the value of some unexpected potential as the code's developed.
The reason open source has this special power is because of its openness, transparency, and (usually) ease of getting involved. Proprietary companies by their very nature are characterized as secretive and controlling, and do not consider individual users as able to contribute anything of value to their product but money.
FLOSS projects have a different value model than proprietary ones. Value in FLOSS comes not from users spending money, but on users and developers who are contributing enhancements (code, docs, translations, word-spreading, etc.)

So to the point – how can the free desktop succeed? Just cloning OSX or Windows isn't going to be compelling enough. Competing on a feature matrix against proprietary companies is hard since they can pull some new feature out of hiding at any point.
No, the key to success with FLOSS is its core attribute – it's openness to community-scale collaboration. Focus on energizing a strong community and empowering new users to bring their new ideas and energy in. Give them lots of room to experiment, and assist them with paving a good foundation for them to build atop. Give them invitations rather than rules, and infrastructure rather than bureaucracy. Make it easier for people with little technical skill to participate, and treat them as first class citizens when they do.
Don't think of the free desktop simply as an alternative to proprietary desktops. Instead think of it as a platform for large scale open collaboration. For us technical users sharing code, it's already hands down the best collaboration platform; the next step is to work to make it just as good for non-technical users, who are driven to collaborate on everything from clipart, encyclopedia articles, music, schedules, designs, fonts, education, games, politics, and so on. Take the rules, tools, architectures, and lessons we've gained in software collaboration and recast them for “data development”, and I think the free desktop's success will be impossible to stop.

He's absolutely right on multiple points. It's critical that you make it as easy as possible for people to get involved. Part of that comes from making it clear that you don't need to be a ninja coder to be helpful to a project. Be an evangelist, write some documentation, contribute to the projects wiki or submit good bug reports. A user that can post high quality bug reports that include all needed info and clear instructions on how to reproduce the bug are worth their weight in gold, even if they are technically unable to provide a patch. Getting community involvement is something you'll see in almost all of the so called winners. As Bryce mentions, it's sometimes easy for large projects to become insular. That can be, and in fact has been, extremely poisonous to a project and needs to be something the project leaders are cognizant of.
His point about cloning proprietary software is also extremely apropos. Sure, in some cases it's necessary or even desirable. But, it should not be the default action. Working to our strengths (and we have many) will get us much further. If you are considering starting a new software project and will be in charge of the community, you should read the linked article… digest it… then read it again. Community is that important.
BTW Bryce, I couldn't find a link to your RSS feed anywhere on your site or in the HTML source. If you don't know how blosxom lays things out, you might not even realize you had a feed.

Rob Enderle; Linux: Cuba and the Communist Connection – Promoting "Fear"

(via Matt Aslett): I haven’t blogged about Rob Enderle for quite some time, but he may have outdone himself here. In this post, Enderle warns that the Cuban adoption of Linux could lead to it being considered anti-American. It doesn’t stop there though:

Linux, which isn’t really a product in my mind, as it co-defines the Open Source movement, is a brand. This brand has attributes that have been created over time and generally, at least for those that use it, represents something positive.

For some it represents the freedom to look at and mess with code, for others it represents “free” as in free beer, and for some it represents a strong weapon against capitalism, particularly with regard to software. I’m sure we could add some additional attributes, but the one that concerns me is this new concept that it is anti-American.

Can you imagine the NSA IT manager trying to get funding for a Linux based project right now? We are dropping into an extended election where the war in Iraq, terrorism, and nationalism are likely to be major battlegrounds. On the economic front, China remains a huge concern and in many battles it too is likely to come up, particularly as these battles are fought in areas where unions are strong.

If I’m running against an incumbent (who probably has no clue about software at all) and I know some organization under them deployed Linux and that it is being positioned as anti-U.S., might I not use that in the election? “Ladies and gentlemen I promise that under my administration we will not implement products like Linux that put the nation at risk, which contribute critical technology to the terrorists, and embolden our enemies.” In politics all you need is a grain of truth. In fact, sometimes I wonder if you even need a “grain.”

So he contents that using Linux could lose you an election. If that is not the ultimate “what if” scenario stretch, it has to be close. By that yardstick, Microsoft is responsible for nearly all spam, since it is cracked Windows zombies that is the main source. Quick, someone use that in an election. The basic premise here is so absurd that it’s hard to even argue against it in a rational manner. One statement I do take more serious issue with is:

One of the big problems with Linux, as I see it, is that certain topics (basically anything that may imply that Linux isn’t the best thing for every possible use) is off the table, because that discussion creates FUD.

I don’t see anyone saying Linux is the best thing for every possible use. I’ll go one better – it isn’t. There is no silver bullet in life, no panacea. That includes Linux. I have found that in a large variety of places, from embedded to big iron, Linux has made sense for a variety of reasons from security to stability to scalability. Does that mean that Linux is the only answer or even always the best answer? Of course not.

He ends with:

Linux will likely survive this latest internally created challenge but, at some point, someone better take ownership of the Linux brand or others will position it and supporters will probably not like how it is positioned.
What do you think Linux users should do about this? Who should own the Linux brand? And do you agree that Linux should not be used as a political weapon against anyone?

Linux isn’t a “brand”. Red Hat is a brand, as is Novell or IBM. It is however a trademark and that trademark does have a licensor. There is even a shiny “Report Abuse” link right on the homepage. That being said I don’t think the first question people asked when the US went to war with Iraq was: “What OS are they running”. After seeing Rob speak at DLS, I came away with a sort of new found respect for him. He slang little FUD and was a bit more cogent then in most of the items I had read previous to hearing him. I was so surprised, I even blogged about it. I don’t know what happened since then, but he seems to have fallen back off the deep end.