Joining A Community Means Accepting Its Norms

The progress of Microsoft towards acceptance into the open source community continues. The Azure team is definitely a force for good in the company, constantly pushing Microsoft’s developer teams to understand how important the Linux platform and open source developer components and tools are to the success of Microsoft’s cloud business. After the partnership with Red Hat, the news they will release SQL Server for Linux, while not surprising to me, was very interesting, as was the news they are joining Eclipse. Continue reading

Azure Loves Linux; What About Microsoft?

The news that Red Hat and Microsoft have reached an agreement about hosting Linux is very welcome. I am delighted for Red Hat here, and see this as a huge sign of the continuing power and growth of open source. It shows that the cloud market is one where and embrace of Linux is table stakes. It also shows that the enterprise market is one where Red Hat is a huge and powerful supplier.

All the same, let’s be clear that all the “Microsoft Loves Linux” hype I saw at SUSECon in Amsterdam yesterday and at other events earlier this year is just not true. Microsoft Azure loves Linux, there is no doubt; it is a basic requirement for them to become relevant on a cloud market dominated by AWS and Linux. They have been out in force at every commercially-oriented open source I have attended this year and have a full-scale charm offensive in place.

But the rest of the company still does not. They still seem to covertly spread open-source-related FUD about LibreOffice here in Europe. They haven’t foresworn making embedded Linux vendors pay for patent licenses of dubious necessity. The Azure business unit is certainly embracing the ecosystem the same as many before them have done so in their steps towards open source. But the Windows and Office business units show no signs of “loving” Linux and only modest signs of co-existing with open source.

It’s hard to change a company as large and profitable as Microsoft quickly. But a significant and binding gesture of goodwill would go a long way to convincing those of us with the scars of Microsoft’s decades of verbal and actual abuse of open source that they mean business.  It’s no secret what the necessary gesture is.

“We both know we have very different positions on software patents,” said Paul Cormier, Red Hat’s president for products and technologies. “We weren’t expecting each other to compromise.”
(WSJ)

Red Hat, despite asserting they don’t believe Microsoft has any patents that read on their products, included a standstill agreement in the deal. Sources tell me it is carefully phrased to comply with the GPL. If Red Hat felt they had to do that with their new partner, there’s no doubt everyone else remains at risk.

If Microsoft truly want to signal the end of hostilities, step one is to sign the Mozilla Open Software Patent License Agreement or join OIN. Until one of those happens, I remain sceptical of Microsoft’s love for Linux.

[Please see my InfoWorld article for more]

OSI, FSF and the end of software patents

Just as we did in the case of CPTN’s threatened acquisition of Novell’s patent portfolio in 2011, the OSI and FSF have once again collaborated to file a briefing — this time in the key software patent case CLS Bank vs Alice Corporation, which is being appealed at the US Supreme Court. From my article in InfoWorld today:

I endorse and welcome this joint position calling for firm clarity on software patents. With 15 years of history behind us, there’s far more that unites the FSF and the OSI than divides us. We’ve each played our part in the software freedom movement that has transformed computing. Now all of us in both communities need to unite to end the chilling threat of software patents to the freedom to innovate collaboratively in community.

Two other notable amicus curiae briefs are one from Red Hat and one from the American Civil Liberties Union – especially interesting as they are not obviously an interested party until you read their argument and see how they make an appeal to free speech. They say:

Because Alice’s patent claims monopolize knowledge, thought, and speech, they are invalid as a matter of patent law, which can and must be construed to avoid the constitutional problems that would otherwise arise if the patents were upheld

While I expect the court to remain as cautious as ever, this is an important opportunity for them to undo the harm that allowing patents on abstract ideas has caused, chilling innovation both by enabling direct assault on innovators and by introducing friction into the open collaboration of communities.

Input To UK Government

My input to the UK Government consultation on document formats:

I believe it is imperative to have a single document format standard used as the benchmark for corresponding with the UK Government, rather than a named software package or a choice of formats. That standard must be capable of complete implementation by any party using only the specification without needing a relationship (such as a license) with a specific vendor or community. Among the existing full implementations there must be one which is both open source and available to citizens without charge (and depending only on other software such as an OS that is without charge). To take any other approach is to tacitly promote the business of a preferred vendor and to restrict access to government to an elite able to obtain the preferred vendor’s offerings.

I believe the proposal above is a reasonable, balanced and effective expression of these principles and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

OSI License Clinic

In a new departure, the Open Source Initiative will hold a small open source license clinic oriented towards US Federal agencies. The event will be at the Library of Congress on May 9, 2013 starting at 9am.  Places are limited and you’re encouraged to register now.

How to increase donations to an open source project

“I wanted to share these results with everyone so other open source projects might be able to learn from our experience. It was a relatively simple change. Ask for a donation when the download is occurring not when a user is browsing the project site.

Ian Skerrett

Lots of open source projects raise money from their user communities by soliciting donations.  Most open source projects will have the ‘Support’  or ‘Make a Donation’ button on their home page or download page. At Eclipse we have had the Friend of Eclipse program for a number of years to solicit financial support for our community.

Earlier this year, we started looking for ways to  increase the number of users making donations.  We have millions of people downloading Eclipse but very few making donations.  Inspired by Ubuntu’s new donation page and Mozilla’s download page we changed where and how we asked users to make the donation.

The first step was to create a simple and graphically appealing thank you page that requested the user to make a donation.  Next we changed where we asked for the donation. We presented the new donation page right after the user started to download…

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Migration Needs A Plan

Homeward BoundHave you ever thought of migrating your company to an open source desktop productivity suite? You don’t switch just to save on license fees; think that way and the differences in the replacement package – which can never be a drop-in replacement – will kill your migration like they did Freiburg’s.

While the saving on Microsoft license costs seems like the biggest motivation, actually the most important outcome is changing everyone’s behaviour. Among the goals of this change are reducing the rate of change in the tools and file formats and thus making documents accessible for the longest time and ensuring that the features in use across your company’s ecosystem are as interoperable as possible. One simple but big win is to get people to stop distributing editable document versions of any format. open or not. Hybrid PDFs are the first step to freedom.

With that reduced rate of change and a cross-platform interoperability that allows use of Linux, Mac and Windows, flexibility is enhanced and you’re given much more control over your IT environment as a result. It’s important to invest rather than skimp on the migration; the cost savings come later as the flexibility takes effect

Achieving these outcomes can only happen with planning and purposefulness. Continuing their practice of creating resources and “letting the work do the talking” The Document Foundation issued a white paper explaining how to conduct a successful migration. I’ve read through it and summarised it for you in my InfoWorld column this week, along with a few tips of my own.

TDF naturally use LibreOffice as the open source suite to install, but other open source alternatives work just as well with the same ideas. Hopefully the paper will evolve as the community adds its experience – it’s a hybrid PDF after all, anyone can edit it and this would make a great focus for the cross-community collaboration some folk are calling for.

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