James Governor's Monkchips

“Open Source Community” Is Just Muddled Thinking

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The notion of a single canonical open source community or model is absurd.

Open Source is surely a broad church, if its a church at all. RedMonk likes to help people understand complexity. We also like to cut through the crap. Part of our role is to act like Wittgenstein’s philosophers, helping to untangle knots in understanding caused by a linguistic confusions.

Is anyone else bored with open source harridans banging on about Sun’s lack of support for open source? I find it surprising how many of these are journalists…

So I am going to try and contribute something to the debate. Its important to understand there is no open source community. Rather i there are many open source communities with their own licensing and governance approaches, lexicons, characters, superstars. Its a carnival mash-up, a diverse cornucopia of views attitudes and styles.

There is no essence of open source, only family resemblances between different approaches to development and intellectual property governance.

Like I said last week – we’re not milk, folks. We’re not homogeneous.

There is more to open source than GNU/Linux. There is more to open source than the GPL. Is Mozilla open source? is Eclipse open source? Is FlexWiki open source? MySQL? Gaim?

Don’t other open source communities wonder at the vocal minority of Linux fans talking for them? Its kind of like the family values campaigners driving the FCC’s self-censorship agenda. A few people seem to make all the noise without contributing anything to the debate.

Firefox is an all time smack it out the park open source software success. But you know what; it runs on Windows. Must we pass over it then in silence?

Maybe we need to start thinking about a United States of Open Source Software- the federation is loose at best. See the Republican Party (the Republican Community) – is it really a single community, or a bastard amalgamation of different views loosely connected with some shared ideas (fiscal conservatives, religious right, neoconservatives with a thirst for perpetual war, and libertarians)? So what about the Democratic Community-if it could agree on anything maybe Kerry would be in power right now; probably not really a single community then. Or how about the European Community – there is not an awful lot of homogeneity there. All Europeans are huge fans of Jacques Chirac. Sure yeah…

I once had a conversation with Marc Fleury, founder of JBoss. My initial impression was that he was some kind of intellectual property loony–he told me i couldn’t now charge for a report i wrote called Java On The Cheap, because some of the insights came from a call with JBoss. Now if we had agreed at the start of the call it was under GPL…

Three years later and we’re open sourcing more and more content through the Creative Commons so I guess Marc was just a little ahead of me. In fact I now see JBoss as one of the models for RedMonk to learn from as we drive into Open Source Analysis.

But back to Sun and its relationship with JBoss. To make Marc happy about anything IP related was never going to be easy. But you know how he was press released this week?

“At a time when large proprietary vendors are moving to lock in users, JBoss is more committed than ever to J2EE, the Java community and standards that will ease development and use of Java technology,” said Marc Fleury, chairman and CEO, JBoss, Inc. “With this new agreement, JBoss is putting a stake on J2EE and continuing our collaboration with Sun to ensure the future of Java as a development platform.”

Marc believes in free software in a way that Red Hat and IBM don’t- he has no license franchise to protect.

Is anyone else a little surprised the Apache folks haven’t been a little more vocal in supporting the JCP, what with Geronimo coming down the pike? Has navigating the JCP been painful at times? Surely worse than pulling teeth without anaesthetic. But seeing Axis fork and weaken, with help from JBoss and IBM, is surely a salutary lesson for anyone that says Open Source forking is in no way a problem. Maybe it not a problem for uber geeks that don’t work in enterprise computing production environments, but for those that do, forking is a real concern. Just ask Justin Schaffer, VP and Chief Architect at MLB Advanced Media. The guy works damn hard and he likes to have a life on the weekend, in the knowledge his apps are running on rock solid certified, vendor supported foundations.

Sometimes boring means quality of life. Predictable means quality of life. Experimentation is part of life, and innovation is part of life, but boring and predictable, they have their place. Politics too has its place. you cant have standardization, even de facto, without it.

Radovan from Systinet makes some great points about the realpolitik of forking:

“Simply put, web services stacks are too important. So important that serious J2EE vendor (and actually any other ISV) just cannot rely on unpredictable release cycles, questionable quality (sorry, with all the honest respect, Axis 1.1 has had many big issues), strategy, visions, open APIs, deployment models, and so on. A web services stack is not an XML parser…

“At the same time, if the main reason for the JBoss’s fork was JAX APIs then it is little bit disappointing. It only proves how J2EE guys still underestimate web services seeing them as yet another ‘angle-brackets’ formatter in their sophisticated architectures. For example, spending too much time on forking Axis because of JAX-RPC is improving web services stack for the past, not for the future.”

My point is not to attack Axis. It is certainly not to attack Apache. I am a fan of Apache and have long advocated use of Tomcat rather than J2EE for servlet deployments. But from the outside it looks like Sun has tried to accommodate open source in the Java ecosystem as best it can. Last week ObjectWeb briefed me on JonAS receiving J2EE certification. I was even quoted on its press release. I happen to think certification is a big deal and have done for a long time. But i must admit to surprise at the project’s lukewarm support for the JCP. You’re certified guys – surely credit where its due. Or would that hurt the Red Hat relationship?

Is JBoss benefiting from the JCP? Sure it is. It is now in a strong position to hollow out WebLogic and WebSphere in some accounts. So is ObjectWeb. To those that throw rocks at Sun and say you must open source Java i ask what’s the problem- you aren’t confident you can compete on the basis of implementation to a spec? That’s one thing you can’t accuse JBoss of. Yesterday someone whose opinion I greatly respect argued Java needed to be open source so IBM could have moved forward more quickly with supporting web services. I actually believe the opposite is true; it was important to insulate XML Web Services from Java – or otherwise no progress could have been made with Microsoft. It’s BPEL4J, not BPEL, that looks like the wrong direction to take.

I am aware i have trodden on a number of land mines in this piece (although I admit I actually waited two days and removed most of my insults before posting). So while i am at it i should point out Unixheads didn’t invent open source. You guys ever hear of Polycenter, built by users, who were naturally furious when DEC sold the code to CA? CICS was originally developed in IBM mainframe shops before being productized by IBM. Open Source really is nothing new; the Internet has just made it much easier. Just one the many reasons i found this op ed piece a bit strange. The argument seems to be we should not call an open source community open source unless its run soley by volunteers. According to this definition Linux is no longer proper open source.

Microsoft is doing some very interesting work in and around open source. It has developed a new approach which i shall call eyeball sourcing, where developers get some of the benefits, but maybe not all, of the OSS development model. Sacrilege to say so, but Jason Matusow is way smarter on open source and licensing and diversity than many OSS gurus. In mobile, a market where its coming from behind, MS shared sourcing allows derivative works. Jason is super, in my view every bit as important to Microsoft as Scoble. They are both focused on opening the company up, in different ways and for different reasons.

Who am i to talk about what is and is not open source? i am just one of those talking heads. I am not a coder its true. But I believe in the Commons. I believe in shared innovation. RedMonk publishes some content under an open license. I have spent the last ten years of my life understanding production environments and the people that run them.

So Sun wants Solaris to compete with Linux. Well that’s what diversity is all about. That’s where innovation comes from; competition. You don’t like the CDDL license? Well don’t adopt it. If Linus now considers it his job to try and kill Solaris, cool. But don’t confuse that urge with the authentic voice of open source. The authentic voice of open source is diverse, open, transparent. It emanates from many niches. It evolves. Its the bazaar. And that means no high priests. if you want that go in the cathedral.

Does Sun want to make money. Sure. Many of us do.

But i use StarOffice for some jobs and it rocks. Did Sun attack open source somehow by acquiring Star? Did Sun make money out of Unix- as a master packager sure it did.

Apache competes with JBoss competes with WebLogic competes with WebSphere competes with Sun Java Enterprise System competes with Microsoft .NET.

Linux competes with Solaris competes with AIX competes with Windows competes with HP-UX.

It’s all good. It’s just not all free.

The anti-Sun voices grow ever more shrill with every new open source contribution it makes. That indicates to me we’ve moved beyond rational debate.

In my opinion something else the “Open Source Community” should think about is there a great big world out there. Lets stop in-fighting. Open Source is far bigger than Linux. Its far bigger than Software. Its far bigger than the IT industry. Its going to affect us all. Music, Science, every walk of life is going to face the open source revolution. Throwing bricks at Sun is a waste of our time in that regard. Stop the internecine warfare and lets start explaining to our mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and others why transparency is good, about why eyeballs matter. I don’t believe in the ownership society, I believe in the contribution society. Its not about what you own but what you contribute.


  1. >There is more to open source than GNU/Linux. There is more to open source than the GPL. Is Mozilla open source? is Eclipse open source? Is FlexWiki open source? MySQL? Gaim?

    Well, let’s take a look at the facts. From Freshmeat’s stats page — http://www.freshmeat.net/stats/ :

    License Branches Percentage
    GPL 26,239 68.01%
    LGPL 2,267 5.88%
    BSD (original) 1,370 3.55%

    None of the other available licenses are in use by more than a thousand projects. So, is there an “open source community”? I say yes, and 74% of it is built up around GNU’s licenses. It’s not all of it, but when the next biggest competitor’s at 3%, you should know who you can’t afford to be making an enemy of when you want to push open source.

    >Don’t other open source communities wonder at the vocal minority of Linux fans talking for them?

    For an article purporting to clear up linguistic confusions, I don’t understand why you jump from talking about the GPL community (which obviously exists, as per the Freshmeat stats) to the Linux community (which is a single project) in this paragraph. This seems to be a tactic Sun are using, to explain why they aren’t helping Linux (Linux is a competitor, none of us expect Sun to help it out) — if you equate the GPL with Linux, then you get out of having to explain how it is that you’re helping the open-source community while avoiding the vast majority of its biomass that’s voted for the GPL.

    > Its kind of like the family values campaigners driving the FCC’s self-censorship agenda. A few people seem to make all the noise without contributing anything to the debate.

    In my humble opinion, the few people making noise without contribution are those telling the open source community that they’re its biggest benefactor, while alienating themselves against 74% of its projects and all the associated mindshare. What gives?

    – Chris.

  2. Chris, that’s got to be straight out of Darrell Huff. In considering community surely what matters is numbers of people, not numbers of projects? A simple glance at either Freshmeat or Sourceforge shows that although those percentages you quote are correct, the projects involved are tiny. When you multiply out by the numbers of people affected by the large projects (Mozilla, Apache, Eclipse for example) it is obvious the open source meta-community is diverse, especially when you aggregate all the near-identical-to-MPL licenses as “MPL-like”. The truth is it’s a diverse community of communities, no matter how much you long for there to be a united revolution against corporations.

  3. You said :

    “Is anyone else a little surprised the Apache folks haven’t been a little more vocal in supporting the JCP, what with Geronimo coming down the pike? Has navigating the JCP been painful at times? Surely worse than pulling teeth without anaesthetic.”

    What exactly are you looking for from us? It’s because of Apache’s work to get JCP 2.5 that ObjectWeb, JBoss and Apache are able to produce open source implementations of J2EE 1.5. Why else do you think it’s possible?

    We continue to work to open up the JCP, via our work on the JCP EC, our representation in expert groups, and our implementations of the JCP specifications, including the source bases for many RIs, such as servlets (Apache Tomcat), portals (Apache Pluto), JAXP and soon JDO v1.x.

    Let us know what else we can do πŸ™‚

    (Apache JCP EC rep)

  4. The assumption that ‘certified == rock solid’ is broken. Software quality and branding have nothing to do with each other.

    JBoss and Jonas were apparently really good at what they are made for even in the old days when they were not certified. Passing a bunch of tests does not show absence of bugs. It just shows that the program passed a bunch of tests.

    It would be great if everyone could, without much fuss, get and run those tests and publish the results, API coverage, etc … but Sun unfortunately does not feel very comfortable with that much transparency yet.

    dalibor topic

  5. Good points. But many users do want certified tests. It may be “just a perception”…. But itΒ’s a very important perception

  6. Oh yes, that’s true. I don’t say that test are not important, or that certification is not a good thing, or that having a set of tests that are ‘official’ is not good. Far from that, that’s all well and very useful indeed.

    If the JCP was a bit more open, then the spectre of forking haunting Javaland would not have to be such a huge problem. Take Axis: if JAXB specification came with a freely available, no-strings-attached test suite, JBoss and IBM could fork it ten times a day if they felt like it, you could still simply run the tests and see if they are selling you a compliant product that matches your JAXB needs, or snake oil. Politics just left the room, suddendly you’d be in charge and have the means to find what suits your needs best. πŸ™‚

  7. No one can question Apache’s contribution to the Java ecology. on the other hand, the relationship with the JCP is more troubled.

  8. “I don’t believe in the ownership society, I believe in the contribution society. Its not about what you own but what you contribute.”

    Lenin couldn’t have said it any better himself. Or was it JFK?

  9. I agree with carly max. the “contribution society” AGAINST the “ownership society” conjures images of oppressive class warfare. that’s not what open-source is about.

    I don’t think an open-source development model is superior in all areas, and if it isn’t, development in those areas will remain proprietary. but that doesn’t mean that the two cannot exist side-by-side.

    you are advocating the idea of the open source community as a community of communities, but then apply the open source community to “every walk of life.” when in actuality, there will always be a proprietary community, and an open community.

    the electricity analogy is fitting…

    no-one OWNS the concept of electricity – free electrons moving across electrically conductive materials. but people OWN the means of producing electricity, and people OWN the means of distributing, and you OWN things that run on electricity.

    people don’t OWN ideas. people CAN own manifestations (goods) of ideas. sometimes people just give away their goods, sometimes they don’t. as much as you may help computer-users solve computer problems on a forum, you may not as readily just give them your computer to solve the problem.

    I’m not arguing AGAINST an open-source community, or even against open-source spreading into many other areas. but the “ideology” is not applicable to everything, or every walk of life, as you say.

    it will have a huge impact and be hugely effective, but the Lenin-style prophecies are too far-fetched.

  10. It should be pointed out that Apache’s Tomcat was heavily worked on by Sun. I have a few friends who were paid developers at Sun who’s sole job was to work on Tomcat 4.x and 5.x. The code was then given to Apache where it continues to be maintained. This is Sun’s reference implementation of the Servlet/JSP container.

    Why is it Sun never gets credit for giving Tomcat to the Open Source community after putting large $$$ behind it?

  11. I have a comment for the initial commenter, Chris.

    You must be an advocate for MS Internet explorer then, if all that matter is the number of people using it.

    The whole point is that there is no “right answer”/”wrong answer” in open source other than opening your source code. What you let people do with it thereafter is the choice of the people who wrote it. The freedom to choose is a beautiful thing, and if you don’t give Sun the right to choose what it thinks is best for itself, then you’re as bad as MicroSoft.

  12. I recently read somewhere: “Open Source development is like science: you publish your results and others build on them”. Zoologists != Physicists != Chemists != Botanists, but they are all scientists.

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