An End To API Gaslighting?

The Supreme Court decision in Oracle vs Google ends a decade-long nightmare for open source developers.

Sunlight or gaslight?*

The decision of the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to reverse the erroneous conclusion of the US Federal Circuit appeals court (CAFC) that Google’s use of the Java SE API in Android was a copyright infringement comes as a great relief to open source programmers everywhere. Software developers have always assumed that merely including a function prototype in their code does not require copyright permission as it’s just a fact about the implementation.

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Supporting AlmaLinux

We are pleased to be supporting the AlmaLinux OS Foundation as it starts its work as steward of the community around the new AlmaLinux distribution. Meshed’s founder Simon Phipps is joining the newly-incorporated non-profit as a director. In this role he will be building on his experience with many other open source Foundations to ensure that the governance is fair, stable, independent and transparent while also serving the needs of the AlmaLinux user community.

With the unexpected switch of CentOS to become an experimental upstream of RHEL, it was inevitable that candidates would emerge to replace it in its role of an unaffiliated downstream binary-compatible distribution of RHEL. The existence of a reliable downstream distribution is good for everyone, offering a low-friction on-ramp for newcomers and a long-term home for those capable of self-support. It builds the market so that commercial players also benefit from the ever-growing user base in a classic adoption-led model.

So it’s good that the need is being met by a distro anchored in an independent Foundation. AlmaLinux aims to leverage the existing build processes of a contributor company, CloudLinux, to produce a reliable, stable, binary-compatible distribution within the context of a community-administered non-profit Foundation. This US 501(c)(6) will hold all the trademarks, keys and other assets of AlmaLinux on behalf of the community. We’re pleased to be able to help make the initiative succeed. Congratulations on the first release!

FLOSS Weekly 622: Keith Packard

Simon joined Doc Searls to host episode 622 of FLOSS Weekly featuring Keith Packard, one of the key figures of the open source software movement. They talked about Keith’s involvement in the X System and Freedesktop.org and strayed into related topics including the many projects Keith has helped and his interest in rocketry!

One significant discussion considered the thread joining the fork of XFree86, the recent vote to change the board of Nominet in the UK and the controversy over the reinstatement of Richard M Stallman to the board of the Free Software Foundation this week. Each represents a significant entity to the open movement which has leadership that was established as a “club” between activists and failed to progress into a well-governed organisation representing and controlled by the community.

Our focus this week has been the Open Source Program Office (OSPO). While at Sun Microsystems, Simon led their OSPO and this week he got the team back together, including original founder Danese Cooper, to write about what they all did during the decade the Sun Open Source Program Office existed. This was a very popular article and it’s been read thousands of times this week. There’s scope to zoom in on specific topics mentioned in this article – let us know which would interest you.

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The Week In Review: OSPOs

A Rights Ratchet Score Card

A draft scorecard for determining if a software project is open as bait for a business pivot or genuinely keeping your freedoms protected.

Open or closed? You decide.

The seven signs a project is following the rights-ratchet route to riches and the framework for going beyond licensing can be augmented by some straightforward indicators of an issue. None of these alone is necessarily a cause for concern, but the more clicks, the more risks. Here’s a rough-and-ready first draft of a scorecard to check whether your software supplier considers you a community peer and will respect and protect your essential freedoms, or visualises you more like one of those pods in The Matrix. Just count the clicks; the more clicks, the higher the risk this is a rights-ratchet that will end up closed.

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What Did Sun’s OSPO Do?

Started in 1999 and established as an official corporate function in 2005, Sun’s Open Source Program Office (OSPO) was among the first in the industry and maybe the first to use the name.

As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, corporations are the vehicle for the collective expression of many individuals. However, to the outside world they are a monolith, and are expected to be consistent as well as predictable in their actions.  With the many varied, implicit expectations and explicit obligations that different open source projects have, transforming a company’s reputation into that of a good actor in open source is a complex task.  It’s also a necessary one if you expect other actors to invest their time and work in your project, or to give you influence in steering a project together.

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The theme this week at Meshed was standards and open source. A recent post explained how open source and open standards are essentially unrelated, almost contrasting concepts joined philosophically by some based on their application in some industries. Two posts this took look at the consequences of that reality. To summarise the contrast in this context:

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The Week In Review: Standards

Accommodating Open Source In Standards Processes

Holders of zero-tolerance positions on both sides of the divide need to realise that accommodating open source productively inside standards bodies is both viable and happening now.

A fine balance

You’ll recall that open source and open standards are orthogonal concepts where even the words they share (like “open”) are defined differently. That doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive, nor that they are bad together – they can be cultivated well in the same garden. There is great value from accommodating the two orthogonal concepts so that neither is invalidated by non-mandatory elements of the other. When they combine, great value is unleashed.

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Growing Blueberries

Why accommodating open source at a standards body is like growing blueberries.

Fresh-from-the-bush blueberries are one of the good things of life. When I set up my home office about a decade ago, I had to install an underground conduit to supply essential services — power, water, network — and dug a deep trench all along the path that leads there. When I refilled the trench I decided to plant a blueberry hedge so looked into how to grow good blueberries.

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The FAQ as Vital OSPO Tool

Using a community FAQ as a way to get internal disagreement addressed and external communities on board – the OpenJDK experience!

In this talk from FOSS Backstage 2021, Rich Sands and I discuss the way we used a (very large) FAQ to both align the disparate corporate functions inside Sun Microsystems and address the lack of trust in Sun by both the Free Java community and the wider open source community. What we did back then is still a highly appropriate tool for any OSPO that needs to stand in the divide between a controversial corporate position and an aggravated community.