☞ Wrong Doings

☞ Consequences of Paranoia

  • I’m not big on boycotts, as I believe freedom is about what we are free to do rather than about what we must not do, but I don’t buy stuff from Sony any more and am unlikely to do so until I see a track record of positive engagement with the meshed society of the 21st century.
  • I’ve heard a number of these historic anecdotes. Resisting and denouncing change has been with humanity from time immemorial. Despite fine stories to help us understand the folly of it, each generation still experiences privileged incumbents using fear of change as their excuse for perpetuating their privilege.
  • Surely there has to come a point where policy makers say “hang on, if this copyright violation stuff you’re comparing to kidnapping and murder is so important, how come you keep making record profits?”

☞ Community Effects

  • It took just a week for over 2000 donors to donate the €50,000 that The Document Foundation needed to act as their capital reserve in order to be registered in Germany as a “Stifftung” (capital-based non-profit trust). Once again an example of the amazing community support that’s present in the community upon which LibreOffice can draw. If they can also harness that support to provide operating income, at least to get started, we have just seen a new force on a par with the Mozilla Foundation created.
  • Hard to believe how badly Canonical have allowed this situation to become in their pursuit of so little money. Is it just me imagining it or have Canonical made a series of surprisingly tone-deaf community moves recently?
  • Very plausible analysis from Fabrizio here. My view is that Nokia’s desperate position is the result of failing to create true community around their offerings in a way that allowed confident operation of the meshed-competitive dynamic that operates in open source. I honestly can’t see Microsoft changing that.

☞ Community Missing?

  • Excellent move here, although of course the devil is in the details. The big problem with getting open source into government procurement anywhere in the world is that the system by which software is procured is weighted heavily in favour of proprietary software. The changes that are being discussed in the UK are good, but it will take more than this sort of step – easily assimilated by grudging but powerful proprietary vendors and the SIs they own – to make a difference until software freedom becomes the focus.
  • Simple but good comments about the role of community management.
  • The account Ted gives in this nicely placed spin omits some of the events that I recall, and unfortunately treats the whole event as a matter of unwarranted competitive assault rather than anything to do with community. There’s some indignant stuff in the comments from multiple sources and at the end of it all I don’t feel anyone comes out looking very good. Ugly and unfortunate.

☆ The Open Source Procurement Challenge

I am speaking at the ODF Plugfest here in the UK this morning, on the subject of the challenges facing the procurement of open source software by traditional enterprises (including the public sector). Based on a selection of experiences from ForgeRock’s first year, my talk considers procurement challenges that legacy procurement rules raise for introducing true open source solutions. My slides are available online. I consider two different needs:

  • The need for legacy procurement barriers to be removed. Examples:
    • requirements for indemnity that are only truly proportionate for proprietary software
    • requirements for copyright assignment and license negotiation
    • comparison of open source subscriptions with only the service portion of proprietary bids
    • a preference to sustain the lock-in caused by previous procurement
  • The need to recognise new value available from open source. Examples:
    • Removal of the need to administer end-user licenses
    • Long-term continuity – “community escrow
    • The ability to create ecosystems without vendor mandates
    • Enablement of adoption-led deployment

If we’re to see open source solutions bringing budget and change flexibility to government IT as the Prime Minister wants, both kinds of change – addressing legacy processes and lock-in (so that SIs are out of excuses) and seeking new kinds of value – are essential.

☆ OBR Progress Report

The Open-By-Rule Benchmark I talked about recently has now had several workouts, and there are a number more under review ready for future posting. So far, it seems to be working out well, with projects receiving scores that (to my eyes at least) are an accurate reflection of the openness. It’s been clear that every project has it’s strengths and weaknesses and that there’s no perfect model. I like the way the benchmark allows for this; as the dial I’m displaying suggests, I think an overall score below -2 suggests a closed project, a score over +2 suggests an open project and in between is a twilight zone.

While this is very satisfying, there’s certainly a need to do more work. I think I should revise the Benchmark in the light of experience (for example to make it clearer how scores work), but before doing that I’d like to rank a few more projects with it – preferably smaller than the ones ranked so far. I’d welcome your submission – just follow the instructions.

If you’ve not been following the process so far, take a look at the project scorecards to date:

The Problem With Bilateral Agreements


Ⓕ ForgeRock News

☆ Why You Need Document Freedom

It seems everything has a special day. Among all the various red letter days, you may not have run into Document Freedom Day, which this year is being celebrated on March 30th. Don’t for a second underestimate the importance of document freedom. It sounds dull – not just mundane, but the forgotten esoterica of the mundane – but it’s a crucial driver in the dominance of major software vendors. If the other elements of our Digital liberty are to be allowed to unfurl in their natural order, we need document freedom.

Upgrade Arms Race

The phrase “document freedom” refers to the long, subtle game that proprietary software vendors use to ensure they have control over their customers and are able to extract money from them long-term. The format which programs use to save work determines which software can be used to perform the work. By keeping it private, the vendor can make sure that there’s no other program you can use to manipulate the document.

Of course, since you already have the software that created the document that’s not a problem for you. But when you need to collaborate with others, it places the onus on the other person to have the same software as you. As the world became more meshed a “network effect” occurred and a new dynamic emerged, where members of a collaborative network would be forced to keep acquiring new software (framed as “upgrades” but actually a new purchase each time) in order to keep up with the software choices of the rest of the network.

Responding to competitive pressures, vendors may appear to ease their customers’ alarm at this upgrade arms-race by offering “compatibility”, “interoperability” or even “open formats”. But the problem remains all the time there’s really only one piece of software that others can effectively collaborate in a network. Being able to “import” a file is not the same as being able to collaborate. The proprietary vendors have made too much money from locking you in to release you voluntarily.

Document Freedom Day Image

Open Formats

What’s the solution? Ideally, all software of the same genre would use the same format to save work. Then every program could open and work on a file, save its changes and pass the file to another program without any loss of the integrity of the file contents. There would always be differences in how each program handled the work; there might even be some capabilities of a program that no others had, which would be stored in the file for later use without harming the rest of the file. But by using an open, interoperable standard fully implemented by multiple programs, everyone would be free to make their own choices, without being compelled to be a customer of the same vendors as everyone else in the network of collaboration.

In the areas of word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations, such a file format exists – it’s called Open Document Format (ODF). It works with a wide range of different software, and when you save your work in ODF it can be passed to other people for their contribution. The only problem is how few people know. There are two issues; first, the problem is so subtle that they may not realise they are slaves to a corporate master, and second they may not know there’s a solution available.

Document Freedom Day

Document Freedom Day exists to address both of these problems. It has been running for a few years. It provides a day to raise the profile of document formats and demand that our governments, schools, religious bodies, employers and more all use open formats. When they do, we’re all free to engage with them using the computers and software of our choice rather than theirs.

Without document freedom phrases like “if you don’t use Microsoft Word you can’t apply” or “only works on a Mac” negate our choices and incrementally remove our freedoms. So celebrate Document Freedom Day 2011 this year, it’s on March 30th and you can join in easily. Obviously the first step is to start using open source software that supports ODF, like LibreOffice.

If you’re already using a program like LibreOffice, you could simply decide to respond to colleagues or friends who send you a closed format (“I’d love to read your document but I don’t have the program you used to make it – take a look at this web page”), or you could go further and join a local team celebrating in their own way. You might even explore your employer’s policies and challenge the bad practices that spread closed formats (“Why do we always send out Word files when all people need to do is read the document? Why don’t we have a company standard of using PDF for everything that doesn’t need editing?”).

But whichever you choose, it’s worth investing a little of your time to promote freedom instead of sitting quietly tolerating the status quo. As Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach is reputed to have said, the greatest enemy of freedom is a happy slave.

[First published in ComputerWorldUK]

☆ Is GNOME Open-By-Rule?


The GNOME Project

Dave Neary has kindly agreed to supply data for an Open-By-Rule evaluation of the GNOME Project, which develops and maintains one of the two open source graphic desktop environments most widely used on UNIX and Linux systems as well as a diverse and growing range of other software including notably mobile software. The scores are mine, although they are largely based on Dave’s assessment.

GNOME easily scores +8 and is obviously open-by-rule.

Rule Data Evaluation Score
Open, Meritocratic Oligarchy The GNOME project is ostensibly led by the Release Team, an open body to which the remaining team members invite someone on merit when a seat opens. Each module in GNOME also has its own maintainer team which decides on the direction of the modules they maintain. The GNOME Foundation is governed by an elected board, elected for a term of 1 year. Newcomers to GNOME often have trouble figuring out who’s in charge. The Release Team is responsible primarily for the release process and has not traditionally set any strategic direction for GNOME, and individual module governance rules are varied. The foundation board is responsible primarily for maintaining the infrastructure of the foundation, and dealing with sponsors and benefactors, and does not set any technical direction.
Score: Governance is open, membership of the release team oligarchy is meritocratic – scoring zero for oligarchy because much of the governance is devolved to maintainers, making it hard to figure out how to accomplish project-wide change.
Modern license Applications are released under GPL v2+, development platform libraries are LGPL v2.1+ GPLv2 is widely regarded as providing contributor patent protection through implied licensing. Changing the licensing of GNOME to anything other than (L)GPL v3+ (which would not require the permission of all contributors) would be very difficult. +1
Copyright accumulation GNOME does not accumulate copyrights. Authors keep their own copyrights. Clearly scores +1. +1
Trademark policy Licensing Policy The GNOME Foundation has registered a small number of trademarks. The foundation has drafted “fair use” trademark guidelines, and a click-through trademark licence for a number of standard community activities – setting up a fan website or usergroup, printing GNOME merchandising, etc. All of GNOME’s trademarked artwork is available under a copyleft licence to anyone using the project. GNOME has entered into a number of legal agreements in a transparent manner (including publishing the trademark licenses afterwards) to allow companies to sell GNOME branded t-shirts & goodies. 

Score: Community-equal policy scores a clear +1.

Roadmap The marketing & release teams have worked for several release cycles to develop a community roadmap. The roadmap includes the plans of individual modules, and gives developers the opportunity to identify themes. However, the lack of a medium to long term vision of the project has often been cited as a failing. The move to GNOME Shell has given the project some forward-looking momentum. 

Score: Good start, will score +1 one day…

Multiple co-developers The GNOME project has seen commits by over 3000 developers in its history. The project has vibrant co-operation among competitors, and a healthy mix of 30% paid developers and 70% unpaid contributors. Obviously excellent, +1. +1
Forking feasible GNOME is made up of hundreds of modules with a diverse developer community. The GNOME platform and applications have been used as the basis for projects including Maemo, Sugar, Moblin/MeeGo Netbook, and Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Forking GNOME completely would be a mammoth task. However, by taking a common set of core modules and differentiating only in the UI, a number of companies have created GNOME-based derivatives. Arguably, Canonical is doing this with Unity/Compiz being included in Ubuntu 11.04. So probably +1 score. +1
Transparency GNOME work is done on mailing lists, on IRC, in Bugzilla and in a public git repository While there have been some issues with discussions happening on IRC, or with colleagues working on features together before pushing them to public git, in general, the entire operation of the GNOME project happens in publicly archived mailing lists or in Bugzilla comments. 

Score: Given the controversy that has arisen in the past from the easy access to GNOME community’s dialogues on, for example, FSF affiliation, it clearly has to score +1.

Summary (scale -10 to +10) +8
%d bloggers like this: