Software Freedom, Utility and Maintenance Time

Whilst many may long for a truly open source OS that meets all of their needs, the reality has always been that compromise has a role to play whenever it comes to picking your operating system. Despite the availability and increasing ease of installation of purer open source systems, there remains a trade-off to be made. Systems with a high level of software freedom and an intuitively usable interface seem to require high levels of maintenance to keep them alive. Where a system with high software freedom’s been designed to require less maintenance, the usability seems to suffer. Of course, this triangle has a third point to it too: where a system is both easy to use and maintaining it doesn’t consume too much of your time, it’s software freedom that takes the hit.

What sort of system you choose should depend on which of those three factors you prioritise. Read the details about this theory, along with some pointers for recognising systems that value software freedom in Simon’s InfoWorld Article.

How should technologists respond to terrorism?

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris was a horrific crime. It has shocked the world and roused a great deal of public upset, outcry and anger.

Whilst it’s too late to prevent the tragic loss of life caused by the murderers, the office assault was the seed of another, ongoing attack, in which each of us is struggling, though we may be unaware of it.

Acts of terrorism provoke society into attacking itself. Justice and law making systems designed to protect and uphold our freedoms and rights are tricked into restricting and removing those self same rights and freedoms for everybody, in attempts to prevent future attacks and to placate the fierce public desire for action.

An understanding of the openness of the internet and the ways in which we benefit from it gives technologists a unique insight into the value that society gains from remaining open. That’s why Simon’s used his InfoWorld response to the tragedy as an opportunity to call on readers from the technology industry to respond to terrorism by defending openness. Check out his full article on InfoWorld.

Twitter’s open source emoji success

Twitter’s approach to the problem of emoji provides a classic case study in open source best practice:

Many different applications have looked at the success of emoji and the various rights problems associated with the use of existing images and decided that the best work around was either to ignore the rights issues and reuse existing materials anyway or to create whole new image libraries which they would then have control over. Twitter on the other hand, has taken a different, more open approach.

After commissioning a new set of emoji graphics, the company implemented a library for parsing emoji tags and replacing them with read-to-render code strings for various platforms, including HTML. Now there are hundreds of emoji available to add to your tweets. Internally, the project was treated as open source from the off, with GitHub being used as the development repository. Now, both the code and the graphics of the project have been open sourced, using the MIT license for the code and CC-BY for the graphics.

Twitter has successfully managed to implement a feature essential for its global market, get it maintained in conjunction with others, and win broad credit. In order to learn from and repeat their success, its worth looking in a little more detail at how they achieved this: check out Simon’s InfoWorld article “Twitter emoji: 5 lessons for effective open source.”

Big progress in Microsoft’s open source journey

Microsoft’s recent announcement that much of .Net will become open source and that it will support both Linux and Mac OS X is fantastic news. Along with the additional, full-featured, no-cost versions of its developer tools the company is introducing (though they remain proprietary), this represents a large, positive step in Microsoft’s open source journey.

Simon’s spoken and written a number of times about the seven stages of a corporation’s journey into open source and used Microsoft as an illustration of his ideas. This new development puts the company very clearly at the fifth stage of Simon’s scale, which is impressive, but begs the questions “what’s next?”, “how does Microsoft’s open source journey continue to develop from here?”

The answer lies in a holistic view, in which respect for open source extends to every business unit of this famously divided company. While those business units that don’t yet respect open source continue to use tactics such as patent attacks on Linux community members and covert political moves to undermine the Open Document Format, further progress will be slow in coming. Microsoft’s gradual acceptance of the inevitability of open source however, seems to be in full swing. For more detail, check out Simon’s InfoWorld article.

Joyent open-sources core technology

The open-sourcing of its core technology is a bold move from IaaS/PaaS cloud company Joyent. With the potential to be both influential and disruptive in the budding clouds of containers market, Joyent’s move once again demonstrates the companies willingness to do things differently. With its newly open software competing directly with OpenStack and enabling high-performance use of container technology like Docker, Joyent has stepped up to the next level of open source in its business model. For more detail and analysis, check out Simon’s InfoWorld article.

Licenses for Everything

When it comes to software licensing, many seem to have their position all sorted out. Some are convinced that every restriction is wrong and that adding a license is a restriction. Others think that anyone who can stop software being open is in the wrong and that any license which doesn’t stop proprietary use is bad. A third group (particularly associated with 3D printing) is of the opinion that as things made by code are uncopyrightable, the code which makes it ought to be uncopyrightable too. When it comes to understanding open source licensing though, the problem with all these views is their emphasis on ownership.

In open source, the act of putting licenses on everything is never an act of aggression, of meddling or of unwanted control. No ownership is being claimed. Instead the open source license is a pre-emptive giving of permission. When possible problems or questions of ownership arise in the future, the answer is clear already, permission has been given.

Of course there are those who see this “stick a license on everything” approach as unnecessarily bureaucratic, preferring to simply proclaim that everything they produce is in the “public domain”. Unfortunately the concept is not one which is recognised in all parts of the world and continues to lead to legal confusion. By using OSI approved, open source licenses, you can guarantee the freedom to innovate without seeking permission first.

Read more in Simon’s InfoWorld column.

Google’s Supreme Court Petition

Last week Google petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for permission to appeal the Federal Circuit decision to overturn their victory against Oracle. You may remember that Oracle sued for patent and copyright infringement over Google’s use of a small subset of the huge Java class API in Android. Oracle lost in front of a jury in the district court in San Francisco, but then won on appeal.

The case will be a significant landmark for the technology industry regardless of the outcome, but the real impact of any decisions reached will be felt first by Android. The petition itself then suggests that the wider impact of the case is narrower than others might have feared, as its effects only come into play with substantial systems of APIs. Still, in the event of an Oracle win, open-source-licensed APIs would suddenly become much more important and the work of creating developer ecosystems around proprietary APIs would become much more challenging.

The Google petition includes three detailed and thorough arguments for the overturning of the Federal Circuit decision. For a look into what those arguments are and more on the significance of the case, try Simon’s InfoWorld article.


With trolls on the back foot, defences against them thrive

Over the last year the Open Invention Network (OIN) has grown by almost 70%! The community protects open source software from patent aggression by pooling patents and having members commit not to litigate against the software of other members of the group. The last year has seen a lot of interest from Asian companies via the Asian Legal Network and also a massive boost in startup interest, bringing OIN past the 1000 member mark.

This massive growth might seem like an unusual trend, considering the apparent weakening grip of patent tolls due to the recent Alice v CLS Bank ruling by the Supreme Court. Whilst smaller patent trolls have been taking a hit, OIN remains a necessary defence against the threat of big trolls, corporations with giant patent portfolios whose legal firepower would be too much to stand up to alone. The growth of OIN is not only indicative of the need for defence, it’s also good news for existing members, as the larger the network becomes the more effectively it’s able to keep the trolls at bay.

Read Simon’s analysis of OIN’s remarkable growth in his InfoWorld article.

Superclean code puts LibreOffice at the head of the trend

If you’ve been around open source for a while, perhaps your understanding of the quality of open source code is based on older projects like the infamously unstable codebase. Times have changed however and evidence of this can be found in the work of code improvement vendor Coverity. They recently announced that LibreOffice, (four years old this weekend and based on the old OpenOffice code), has a defect density of just 0.08, compared with similar sized open source projects which averages at 0.65 and proprietary code which averages  at 0.71.

LibreOffice is an outlier, an extreme example of clean, defect free code, but it also fits into a larger trend. Since the publication of its 2013 Coverity Scan Open Source Report, Coverity has asserted that open source code quality now outpaces that of proprietary code. While an open source license doesn’t guarantee quality, it does allow for evaluation of quality and encourages collaborative efforts toward improvement. Which is why you can expect to see the trend noticed by Coverity continue over the coming years.

Read Simon’s full article on InfoWorld.

CloudStack success not tied to Citrix

Since the news of Citrix’s recent shake up around its CloudStack business, some have been inclined to predict a host of negative consequences for the Apache project moving into the future. At the other end of the spectrum, Giles Sirett a PMC member in the Apache CloudStack project, claims “they [Citrix] have no ‘role.’ CloudStack is driven mainly by its users.”

To see a change in focus at Citrix as an ending point for CloudStack is to disregard the fact that CloudStack is a user-driven community which brilliantly models what Apache does best: providing a neutral space where many users of a code base can come together to quietly and effectively collaborate. Simply donating the original code to open source, doesn’t mean that Citrix has control over the project as it is today. With it’s impressive user list, CloudStack will continue to thrive whatever Citrix’s involvement.

For more on this topic, check out Simon’s article on InfoWorld.