Red Hat joins Microsoft interop initiative

A post in CBR points out that Red Hat has joined Microsoft's Interop Vendor Alliance. As the article points out though, this seems to be related to JBoss only (remember that JBoss was already working directly with Microsoft on interoperability). There is no mention of any other Red Hat related bits, such as RHEL or RHN. From the article:
While Red Hat has vowed not to pay Microsoft an “innovation tax” via a patent deal with the software giant, it has proven that it is not averse to working on interoperability and has signed up as a member of Microsoft’s Interop Vendor Alliance.
The IVA was formed in November with 25 other software and hardware vendors to ensure that their offerings are able to interoperate with Microsoft's Windows operating system and applications.
IVA members included Novell, of course, as well as other open source vendors including Sun, SugarCRM, XenSource and Centeris, as well as BEA, Business Objects, Citrix, Software AG, and Quest Software.
Missing from the list of open source vendors Microsoft had already struck an interoperability deal with was JBoss, despite their November 2005 integration agreement.
Red Hat’s decision to join the IVA makes sense given that agreement, and appears to be limited, at least at first, to the JBoss middleware stack.

Matt Asay says that the need for a group like this underscores that the market is currently broken in ways. From his post:
The strange thing in this announcement, and in the existence of the VIA, is that we have to talk about interoperability at all. It is precisely because the system is broken – with intellectual property rights driving vendors apart, rather than together – that something like this VIA is even remotely interesting.
But still I wonder if an industry alliance is the way to resolve the problem. Yes, you need scale/network effects to make something like this work. But in a large room filled with vendors who inherently distrust each other, I don’t see much interoperability emerging. Just lots of meetings about interoperability.
If the goal is to get one-on-one interaction, what good does the Alliance provide? Not much, in my view.

Since JBoss and Microsoft were already working together, it's hard to say what additional will be gained by this. It may have simply been to formalize the relationship and get a little PR, which is fine. What I wanted to point out here and what I think is important for some Novell execs to realize is that you don't see anyone freaking out about this… despite the fact that Microsoft is involved. The response by some seemed to be that the only reason the community reacted to the MSFT-NOVL deal the way they did was because it was a deal with Microsoft. Hopefully this points out that was definitively untrue. Working with Microsoft in places that are genuinely mutually beneficial is fine – some would even say it makes sense. After all, interop is absolutely key for customers and customers are really what it's all about in the end.

See you in NYC

My plane leaves in a couple hours (yes, packing would probably be a more judicious use of my time right now than blogging) and if the weather cooperates I should be in NYC by 6PM. A reminder that if you're in the area make sure to check out the LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit. I'll be participating in the “Ask the Experts” session. I hear it's going to be unconference style and the rest of the panel looks awesome. If you are in NYC and would like to connect, feel free to drop me a line.

Free Linux Driver Development Questions and Answers

A quick follow up to this post. It's wonderful to see that Greg's Linux driver announcement got so many responses that he had to write a FAQ. I'd like to highlight one point from the FAQ:
Q: This is a lame publicity stunt, Linux development has always been done this way.
A: Well, the NDA program that we have set up with The Linux Foundation is new. But yes, other than that, this is exactly how Linux kernel development has been done. But it is good to point out exactly how it all works for those who are not familiar with how it works.

When you do this day in and day out for a long time, it's sometimes too easy to forget that things you take for granted are not common knowledge. It's important to take a step or two back every once and a while to get some perspective. Kudos to Greg for doing so.

Novell-Microsoft pact not about interoperability, says Open Source leader

Don Marti recently posted an outstanding interview with Jeremy Allison. One item covered in the article was rumors that some companies have been paying Microsoft for patent licensing to cover their use of Open Source, even previous to the recent Novell deal. From the interview:
LinuxWorld: One of the persistent rumors that’s going around is that certain large IT customers have already been paying Microsoft for patent licensing to cover their use of Linux, Samba and other free software projects. And the Novell deal — isn’t it just taking that and doing the same kind of thing wholesale?
Allison: Yes, that’s true, actually. I mean I have had people come up to me and essentially off the record admit that they had been threatened by Microsoft and had got patent cross license and had essentially taken out a license for Microsoft patents on the free software that they were using, which they then cannot redistribute. I think that would be the restriction. I would have to look quite carefully. So, essentially that’s not allowed. But they’re not telling anyone about it. They’re completely doing it off the record.
The problem with the Novell deal is — Novell gave Microsoft what Microsoft dearly wanted, which is a public admission that they think that Linux violates the Microsoft patent. So, that’s the difference between this and the sort of off-the-record quiet deals. This one is public. This one is Novell admitting, “yes, we think that Linux violates Microsoft patents.” Now, of course, Novell has come out and said, “no, that’s not what we said at all. We don’t think that.” To which, of course, Microsoft publicly humiliated them and said, “oh, yes, that’s really what you were saying.” It’s kind of funny. They couldn’t even wait until the press conference was over to start threatening users with a Linux system.
LinuxWorld: Watching Novell management being subjected to this was like watching a child eating a bug for money. It’s embarrassing.
Allison: It is humiliating. I was horrified to say. It was humiliating. Yes. It really is like, “Go on. Eat a bug. Go on. Go on. Here’s some money. Eat a bug.” Yes, sad but true.

This isn't something I've heard a lot about, but you have to hope it's untrue. If we're talking about public companies, I don't think shareholders would look too kindly on paying potentially large sums of money to Microsoft under the table for highly questionable reasons. We'll have to see if any concrete evidence of this surfaces. If it does, I'd expect a lawsuit.
The interview covers a variety of topics including Jeremy stepping down from Novell, his recent work on CIFS, some patent talk, additional Microsoft coverage and even some talk on burritos. Additionally there is also some really good GPLv3 commentary including some common misconceptions (one of which I had fallen prey to). The interview concludes with:
Allison: No problem. I’m looking forward to seeing you in New York.
Of course, he's talking about the LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit where I'll be in the “Ask the Experts” segment along with Jeremy Allison and a host of other great people including Donald Becker and Evan Prodromou. If you'll be near NYC on Feb 14-15 make sure to stop in. I'm looking forward to the Summit and it's really an honor to have my name associated with each and every person on the “Ask the Experts” panel. See you all in a couple days.

IBM aims to lower cost of using Linux, Apple PCs

This article contains an announcement that I think may be interesting. The one problem is that I can't actually figure out exactly what it is. From the article:
IBM said on Sunday it will offer an open desktop software system for businesses that puts the cost of managing Apple or Linux computers on a more equal footing with Microsoft's Windows software, improving the economics of Windows alternatives.
The product – which the company calls its “Open Client Offering” – pulls together software IBM has developed in-house and with partners Novell Inc and Red Hat Inc to answer questions over the cost-effectiveness of managing Linux or Apple desktop PCs alongside Windows PCs.
International Business Machines Corp said the new software makes it feasible for big businesses to offer their employees a choice of running Windows, Linux or Apple Macintosh software on desktop PCs, using the same underlying software code. This cuts the costs of managing Linux or Apple relative to Windows.

What I'm unsure of it what “same underlying software code” actually means. Also from the article:
“We worked with the open source community and found a way to write software once that will work regardless of operating system. It will run on Windows, Macintosh or Linux,” said Scott Handy, IBM's vice president of Linux and open source.
As an alternative to Microsoft, IBM will offer its own Open Document Format (ODF) software for tasks like word processing, spreadsheets or presentations, along with Lotus collaboration, instant messaging and blog tools, and the Firefox Web browser, which is the biggest rival to Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Fantastic that IBM continues to support ODF, but I'm still lost. Is this something based on emulation or Virtualization? A custom selected collection of Java apps or some kind of Java desktop? A slick management tool? After a bit of poking around I found this official IBM presentation, which answers some questions but I'm still not 100% clear. It seems that this is some kind of portal based on Rich Internet Applications, Web Services, the Eclipse framework and J2EE. I look forward to a less marketing driven explanation :) If anyone finds something along these lines (or is familiar with the product), I'd appreciate a pointer.
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SCALE Wrap-up

Sitting in LAX at the moment, waiting on the arrival of a delayed flight. This marks the end of another fantastic SCALE. Ilan and crew once again did a remarkable job. The speakers were superb and I again learned quite a bit and got a few good laughs out of the presentations. The slides and audio should be up on the SCALE site soon and I highly recommend you check them out. I actually made it out of the hotel this year, even if it was only for a quick walk to a local restaurant with Jono and Dave. The after conference was once again lively and it was great to be able to both catch up with some people who I haven't seen in a while and meet some really good people for the first time. I'd say a good time was had by all, although by the end of day two quite a few people seemed fairly worn out. Time to start making plans for SCALE 6 as this is a conference I'll certainly make a point of attending each year.

Arrived in LA for SCALE 5x

I arrived a bit late, but safely, in LA and am about to go downstairs to pick up my conference badge. A reminder that if you'll be anywhere near LA this weekend, SCALE is definitely worth checking out.

The Contradictory Nature of OOXML (Part II)

[Ongoing coverage of this story] Andy continues his excellent coverage of the OOXML ISO process. From his post:
In that first blog entry, I concluded that Microsoft had won the first point in the contest over whether its document format would become a global standard or not. With the deadline past, who would be found to have won the next?
Well the results are in, and an unprecedented nineteen* countries have responded during the contradictions phase – most or all lodging formal contradictions with Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC), the ISO/IEC body that is managing the Fast Track process under which OOXML (now Ecma 376) has been submitted. This may not only be the largest number of countries that have ever submitted contradictions in the ISO/IEC process, but nineteen responses is greater than the total number of national bodies that often bother to vote on a proposed standard at all.
[*Update: make that twenty]
When it is recalled that any national body responding would first have had to wade through the entire 6,039 pages of the specification itself, and then compose, debate and approve its response in only 30 days, this result is nothing less than astonishing. Truly, I think that this demonstrates the degree to which the world has come to appreciate the importance of ensuring the long-term accessibility of its historical record, as well as the inadvisability of entrusting that heritage to a single vendor or software program.

There is further coverage of what actually constitutes a “contradiction” here. I'd say this level of response, especially in such a short time frame, is quite telling. It remains to be seen how Microsoft will respond, but the writing is on the wall. World Governments have learned that being beholden to a single vendor is just bad practice. Additional information on the numbers and what they mean.
In related news:
But while this global drama has been playing out, I've learned that a third US state is considering requiring use of open document formats by government agencies (Massachusetts and Minnesota are the other two to date). That state is Texas, where a bill has been introduced to require that only “open document formats” should be permitted. The bill is designated SB 446, and was filed on February 5 (the full text is reproduced at the end of this blog entry).
How does the Texas bill define an open document format? As stated in the bill, such a format would need to be based upon Extensible Markup Language, would need to have been previously approved, and would be required to meet the following criteria:
(1) interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications;
(2) published without restrictions or royalties;
(3) fully and independently implemented by multiple software providers on multiple platforms without any intellectual property reservations for necessary technology; and
(4) controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.

While a couple of those requirements are a bit nebulous, number 3 is not and would currently be a death knell for OOXML. We'll have to follow this bill and see how it does as it makes its way through the process. It should also be interesting to see if any additional states follow the lead of these three.
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What if Hardware Vendors are Trapped Too?

chromatic has a very good post on his blog about hardware vendors providing open drivers and specs. This is a topic I've covered before. In the post he goes through a variety of reasons you'll often see from vendors and gives a counterpoint. His conclusion sums it up very well though:
Unfortunately, the best choice is not to buy such hardware, when possible. (It’s often a question of pragmatism versus expedience, where short-term benefits mask long-term problems.)
That’s often not possible, especially when buying specialized hardware or devices with difficult-to-replace components, such as laptops.
However, it's clear that the normal approach – that is, complaining in small groups and rewarding vendors with your business anyway – is not working. Nor does reverse engineering drivers address the root of the problem. It's valuable in that it mitigates the damage, but it does little to prevent further problems.
Acknowledging vendors with the courage to deal with their customers respectfully and honestly may help. Free and open source software advocates can do a much better job of praising honest efforts to work with communities – and to encourage other companies to do so in a mutually beneficial way.
The ultimate long-term answer is continued work to produce actual and lasting reform of legal systems that reward information hoarding to dangerous extremes. This change will only occur with focused and directed action from the people affected. This means you. Have you shared your concerns about software patents with your legal representative lately? (However, if you like software patents and DRM that prevents fair use, then now is a time for very quiet reflection.)
It’s unfortunate that the acts of a few dedicated individuals and companies have so punished both vendors and their customers. Instead of casting aspersions on each other, perhaps working together for common interests will both increase the market for high-quality hardware from trustworthy vendors and provide free and open source communities with open and redistributable drivers and specifications.

He's right: we should do a better job of dealing with vendors with the courage to deal with their customers respectfully and honestly. Fixing a very broken legal system is also certainly the long term answer. The question becomes, what is the best way to make this happen in an expeditious manner. There's probably no one specific answer, but focused and directed action also seems like the best course to me. If you have a few free moments today, why not take action yourself. What you do is up to you, but do something. In the end, it's up to all of us.

How To Tell The Open Source Winners From The Losers

That's the questions asked in this InformationWeek article. The article covers a variety of topics and is worth reading, but I'll cover a couple highlights.
There are 139,834 open source projects under way on SourceForge, the popular open source hosting site. Five years from now, only a handful of those projects will be remembered for making lasting contributions–most will remain in niches, unnoticed by the rest of the world. For every Linux, Apache, or MySQL, dozens of other open source efforts fizzle out.
That's a dilemma for the many companies that are expanding their use of open source. Corporate developers and other IT professionals must get better at divining the winners and ignoring the losers. The wrong picks can lead companies down a rat hole of support problems and obsolete software.

I find that last sentence to be an interesting one. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen companies in trouble because a proprietary vendor either went out of business or stopped releasing a product. With Open Source, at least you always have options. Also, a couple notes on SourceForge. The majority of really huge (ie. the actual components of the LAMP stack), don't use SF these days. Some vary popular projects still do, but after those I've always broken the rest of the tail into a couple categories. There are the new apps that are legitimately getting off the ground and the apps that legitimately are abandoned or junk. There is another interesting group though. The apps that are genuinely useful and work quite well, but are very specific in nature. The ones that address a really small niche or control an obscure piece of hardware. While the downloads on these may not be huge, in their own context I'd consider them huge successes. That's a category of apps you just don't see in the proprietary world.
No Community, No Project
Many think of an open source “community” as a passel of unpaid developers who code because they love it, but that's not the driving force behind most of the work. In general, only a small group is allowed to modify or submit changes to source code. Other developers submit code to these core developers. But most important for companies assessing the health of a project is the size–and motivation–of the group of users hammering away on the code and identifying what's wrong with it, and how the project responds to that input.
An active community is part of what set Apache apart in the mid-1990s from other freeware, of which IT managers were rightfully wary, says Apache founder Brian Behlendorf. Instead of a site packed with free code, at potential business users found the code as it was being developed, with comments being exchanged on recent work. “It was easy to ask questions, to sign up for the mailing list, to see the long conversational threads on support questions,” he says.
Behlendorf is describing the transparency that still marks any vibrant open source project. A community needs to be measured by its activity and transparency as much as its size. The reasons for decisions must be clear, with threads of discussion in forums leading up to them, and negative and positive comments getting their airing. That's one of open source's most powerful ingredients.

Community is absolutely vital to a sucessful Open Source apps. I don't think enough can be said about that. A lot of how the community runs though, comes down to one of the other points they make:
MySQL, Linux, and other successful open source projects all have this in common: a Linus Torvalds sort of figure, a benevolent dictator with the humility to see the value in other people's work. At JBoss, it was Marc Fleury. At MySQL, it's a pair of developers, Monty Widenius and David Axmark, who produced the early versions of MySQL and selected the smooth Marten Mickos as CEO. Ross Mason is the undisputed development leader of Mule, an enterprise service bus gaining traction at financial institutions. Mason's also the founder of MuleSource, the company behind it. At Samba, founded in 1992 to provide file and print capabilities across Windows, Unix, and Linux, it's the diplomatic yet decisive Jeremy Allison.
While it's possible to make it without one of these benevolent dictators it's much much more difficult. In the end it's really almost a component of the community. One that not only keeps things running smoothly, but also provides guidance and long term vision. A well respected leader is also able to diffuse the tenuous situations that well inevitably rise up.
Innovation, Luck and Timing are also huge pieces to the puzzle, as the article points out. While I don't agree with everything in the article, in the end I do think their 9 point checklist for “How To Spot A Successful Open Source Project” are fairly accurate, at least in the Commercial Open Source space:
A thriving community, Disruptive goals, A benevolent dictator, Transparency, Civility, Documentation, Employed developers, A clear license, Commercial support
While your company should look further than that list and should always download the actual code and throughly evaluate the product, the above is a good anecdotal starting point. How does the Open Source software you're evaluating stack up?