Sun’s OpenSolaris community fracas: not just a name thing

While I was at Sun last week I was following the discussion in the OpenSolaris community about the naming and repositioning exercise which saw a Project Indiana become the official OpenSolaris distribution. Some of the external members most deeply involved in OpenSolaris were immensely frustrated not by the decision itself, but by the way it was made and announced, with little consultation of those who were supposedly governing OpenSolaris. It was exactly this issue which provoked Ben Rockwood’s post which I quoted in a blog post on 15th February and again in The Guardian. Unfortunately I didn’t see Roy Fielding’s post resigning from the OpenSolaris community until later, otherwise I would likely have quoted him as well:

This well is poisoned; the company has consumed its own future and any pretense that the projects will ever govern themselves (as opposed to being governed by whatever pointy-haired boss is hiding behind the scenes) is now a joke. Sun should move on, dissolve the charter that it currently ignores, and adopt the governing style of MySQL. That company doesn’t pretend to let their community participate in decisions, and yet they still manage to satisfy most of their users.

On 14th February I spoke to Rich Green, Sun’s Executive Vice President, Software, and asked him to clarify the changes to OpenSolaris:

This is one of those classic “what’s in a name” things. OpenSolaris is a community, is a source code base, and is the distro from Sun Microsystems. We’re going to put a lot of energy into it, not only in terms of the quality of the technology, but the business model around it, very much akin to other open source programs focusing on subscriptions and support, but that open source base is out there for other distros to be derived, and we encourage them. There was a naming complexion change, but the feedback from the community was mostly, not uniformly, it never is uniformly: thank you, for clarifying what we all expected you to do. Thanks for putting your name and brand behind a distribution of the source code base which is out there. And thank you for moving it out into the open so others can do the same. So that’s where we are, that’s where we’ll stay. The reaction has been generally, never uniformly, very positive.

I didn’t realise at the time that “not uniformly” included the resignation of such a prominent member of OpenSolaris – Fielding’s post is dated just after midnight on the previous evening. However, Green is correct in saying that many see the decision itself as sensible, which makes this whole fracas rather unnecessary. Fielding makes further comment here.

Of course this is not really a naming thing, it is about how Sun relates to the community it is building around its open source projects, and to which it attaches huge importance. I lost count of how many times CEO Jonathan Schwartz and others used the community word to describe how it would create new business opportunities and monetize its open source efforts. Quite possibly Sun misjudged the impact of the way this particular decision was made, but in a way that is the point; it is a failure of relationship, and suggests that Sun wants to maintain tight control of its software even though it has made the decision to make it free and open source. I asked Schwartz about this but did not get a particularly illuminating response.

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Microsoft moves to protect its Office business in format war

Here’s a key snippet from yesterday’s interoperability announcement:

We’re also designing new APIs for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications that will enable developers to plug in additional document formats and allow users to select those formats as their default for saving documents.

Translation: if OOXML fails to get ISO standardisation, and/or if the rival ODF catches on or is mandated by institutions, then Microsoft wants you to keep using Office.

Product Manager Gray Knowlton has a little more detail here.

I’m not clear how extensive these changes are. Presumably it amounts to more than just tweaking the open and save dialogs to enable different defaults. Office applications already let you select from a range of different formats.

A few further comments. First, I’d like to see OOXML standardized. Aggressive IBM-sponsored lobbying has not convinced me this is a bad idea. And yes, I’ve pored over the spec and even done a little development with OOXML. Standardization tends to improve documentation and helps to protect developers from arbitrary changes.

It is interesting to see someone like Patrick Durusau, Chair of incits, coming out in favour of  OOXML standardization [PDF]:

I have seen some attacks on OpenXML saying it is not an “open” standard. I am quite puzzled by those attacks and think that OpenXML makes the case for open development of standards.

Understand that as the Project Editor for ISO/IEC 26300 and the OpenDocument Format TC editor in OASIS, I carry no brief for OpenXML. However, a well defined and publicly controlled OpenXML would be a great benefit for future work on the OpenDocument Format standard so I have no reason to wish it ill.

That does not mean Microsoft has done everything right. Microsoft’s Jean Paoli, now an evangelist for standardization, told me three years ago that OOXML was not suitable to be managed by a standards body. Why the change of heart? Simply, the threat of losing market share to a rival that was standardized. Microsoft had years of unchallenged Office supremacy in which it could have opened up its formats; but did nothing until its profits were threatened.

This should tell us something about the benefits of competition.

Despite Microsoft’s efforts, gains in ODF market acceptance will damage Microsoft Office. It will take more than a few API changes to make Microsoft Office as good an ODF editor as Open Office, which has a family relationship with the rival formats.

Standardization is only a small piece of this puzzle. On the Microsoft side, Office is a decent product with massive market dominance. On the ODF side, Open Office is also a decent product and is free and open source. The fight will still be on, no matter how the standards thing plays out.

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Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz makes the case for free and open source software

I interviewed Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz last week, and wrote it up for Guardian Technology. By the way, the picture is much better in the print edition.

Sun is gambling on open source – not only open source, but free software. This is possibly easier for Sun that it would be for, say, Microsoft or Oracle, because Sun, like Apple, is a hardware company. You can therefore think of the software as an overhead for selling the hardware. It is not without risk though – most of the software (including its Solaris operating system) runs on commodity x86 hardware as well as on Sun’s SPARC processors.

Not everything we discussed made it into the Guardian piece. I put it to Schwartz that Sun has historically done a poor job of monetizing the software it gives away. For example, it made Java the most popular programming language in the world, with huge enterprise adoption, yet until recently the company was posting losses. I then asked whether he considered that the fundamental open source model – give away the software, make money on support and services – was the future for the whole industry, rather than just for Sun and a few others?

I think first of all our strategy is to build the broadest global communities we can, and then from those communities to identify the opportunities to make money by building datacenters and by building the technologies that go into those datacenters. Software, systems, services, and microelectronics. So right now, in responding to the question is that the future of the industry, right now if you’d like a free Microsoft-office compatible Office suite, you could go to OpenOffice.org, download it, as roughly 100 million people have done in the past couple of years, and you’d have to pay nothing. Or, you could go to your local retailer and pay for the latest proprietary office suite. So if you were a betting man, and you looked at 3.3 billion people online today, where do you think the majority of them will acquire their office productivity suites? They’ll probably acquire the free ones, by definition those will be the most popular.

Now the same thing would apply to search. If you wanted to be in the search business can you imagine trying to run a search portal today, charging customers 50 cents per search? You’d probably have no takers. So, if you want to be the broadest supplier of volume technology into the marketplace, the only acceptable price tag is free.

We are in fact interested in pursuing the broadest global developer community possible, for whom the only acceptable price is free. So I think, if you’re going to try to compete against our virtualization products, our office productivity products, our network infrastructure products, you have to come to the table with a free product. Absent a free product, you won’t even be considered by the majority of the marketplace. So right now I believe we stand alone in having evolved our business model to actually monetize that community. That’s exactly what we’re doing, every day. So when people ask, when will you monetize those free software downloads, again, we had 7% operating margin last quarter. It’s not going to be a single line item, it’s going to be the whole company’s market opportunity expanding. So I feel very comfortable that this is not only the direction for Sun, and it’s a great direction, it’s the direction for the industry. The move towards free software is unstoppable. Not simply in your home, but at your workplace.

Note that it helps to consider this in a global context, not just the traditional highly developed locations like Europe or the USA.

Is he right? The world’s biggest and most profitable tech companies are not built on open source. IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Google, for example. All these companies flirt with open source, even make real and meaningful contributions, but they keep their prize jewels proprietary.

Bottom line: Schwartz may well be right, but he’s not right yet. Still, follow the trend. Free software continues to improve; the proprietary vendors are giving away more of their stuff; the cloud is growing in importance relative to the desktop; and tough economic times are likely in tech’s most profitable markets. I doubt Sun will be the only company to change its business model.

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Contemplating an in-place upgrade to Server 2008? Read this first

Microsoft evangelist Neil Hutson has a detailed post describing what happens when you upgrade to Windows Server 2008. As with Vista, the new upgrade procedure is actually a clean install into which your old stuff gets copied afterwards:

Instead of just installing new versions of binaries over those of an existing computer, the new operating system is installed side-by-side with the older operating system. Then the data and settings are migrated from the older version to the newer version, and then the source is deleted. While this is architecturally more correct and certainly build a clean OS install, this does cause some obvious complications that you should be aware of.  Secondly in Windows Server 2008 the upgrade process is destructive to the pre-existing operating system state.

My instant reaction: there’s enough that go wrong, that a true clean install looks a great deal more attractive.

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Microsoft promises WPF DataGrid, big performance improvement for .NET clients

Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie posts about coming service updates to client-side .NET (Windows Forms and Windows Presentation Foundation). He says we can expect:

  • A new, quicker and more efficient setup framework
  • 25%-40% faster start-up for applications using .NET 2.0 and higher, and smaller runtime footprint
  • More hardware acceleration in WPF, plus better video performance and data-handling improvements
  • A DataGrid, Ribbon, and Calendar/DatePicker for WPF
  • Improved WPF designer for Visual Studio 2008

These address common real-world complaints. I’m sceptical; when version 1.0 of the .NET Framework came out, Microsoft said it was working to reduce the runtime memory footprint for Windows Forms applications, but it never happened. Let’s hope this time it will be different.

Mono at Mix08

Back in 2003, I blogged about how Miguel de Icaza could not get his proposed Birds of a Feather session approved at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference.

There’s always been ambivalence at Microsoft about Mono. Extending the value of .NET – good. Making it possible to ditch Windows – bad. Mono events at Microsoft conferences have tended to be off-site affairs in nearby hotels.

Viewing the sessions for Mix08, it’s clear that Mono has been pretty much welcomed into the fold. The catalyst for change was Moonlight, which solves a problem for Microsoft by enabling Silverlight to run on Linux. Miguel de Icaza is participating in a panel discussion on open technologies (with Andi Gutmans at Zend and Mike Schroepfer from Mozilla), and has his own session on Moonlight, subtitled “Come experience .NET on Linux”.

Don’t expect Microsoft to open source Office any time soon. That said, the company has changed significantly since 2003. Yes, it’s been forced by the market; but it’s a welcome development nonetheless.

If the Yahoo deal goes ahead, open source at Microsoft will get even more interesting.

Google the “official innovation provider” for Republican convention

Google is to be the “official innovation provider” for the Republican Convention, according to the convention’s official web site. Thanks to Valleywag for the link. “It’s another huge step in making our convention the most high-tech savvy in history”, enthuses the Convention President Maria Cino.

The convention’s official website, www.GOPConvention2008.com, will eventually feature a full-range of GoogleTM products, including Google Apps, Google MapsTM, SketchUpTM, and customized search tools, which will make navigating the site easier. The convention’s YouTube channel will enable visitors to upload, view, and share online videos. These innovative technologies will also help the GOP streamline convention organization and expand its online reach across websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email.

Looks like a Google blunder to me. The problem is not that the political convention is using Google technology; the problem is the way it is being presented, as a proud partnership. It is particularly unpleasant for a company which is supposed to offer a ruthlessly neutral search engine. Was Google expecting this, I wonder? Is it, as Valleywag suggests, “trying to beef up its GOP lobbying”?

As an aside, plastering the Google brand all over its convention web site does nothing to persuade me that the Republican party is “high-tech savvy.”

Politicising your brand is stupid. Further, Google’s California base was not a hot-bed of Republicanism last time I looked; though frankly a similar deal with the Democrats would be equally daft.

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Writing for a global readership

Seeing the Comscore report on British media sites (which confirms the amazing reach of the BBC web site), and the amusing commentary from  Chris Matyszczyk, prompted me to check out my the stats for this site and blog, which I track occasionally through Sitemeter.

Stats: 43% US, 8.1% UK, 7% Canada, 7% Australia

I was aware of writing for a global readership, but was surprised at the extent of it: according to these figures, just 8.1% of you are from the UK. In case you can’t see the chart, it shows 43.4% US visits, followed by the UK as stated, then Australia and Canada at 7.1% each.

At Sun’s Global Media Summit recently, we were separated into regions for one of the sessions. In my feedback I said I was more interested in the global perspective; the above chart shows why.

After all, this is the Internet.

Update

Sitemeter doesn’t say exactly what period its stats cover (at least, I can’t find this). It seems to be quite short, so the stats vary considerably. The chart above understates the UK readership and therefore overstates others. I’d have to take several snapshots at different times to get a truer picture. Still interesting though.

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Vista SP1 report

I’ve installed Vista SP1 on several machines. Takes ages, but otherwise it’s been without incident.

This does not dramatically improve Vista (in my experience); but then again, it wasn’t that bad before. It does seem to speed up Explorer and zip extraction. It tames UAC slightly – some operations that used to require several prompts now only require one. Otherwise, I haven’t noticed much change, though I’m aware that it includes numerous small updates.

What I do find interesting is that Server 2008, which has the same core as Vista SP1, is delightfully smooth in comparison to Vista. Just don’t ever install the Desktop Experience on 2008 – this is a separate feature that is off by default – or whatever it is that makes Vista still somewhat prone to sitting and thinking when you want to get on with your work.

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