You wouldn't flame a puppy, would you?
, deputy director of the new Microsoft-backed
, showed up at the Southern California
(SCALE) with a laptop running Puppy Linux,
complete with adorable desktop puppy logo. Stone's
presentation, shown in the "Puppy HTML Viewer"
application, set a new record for graphic simplicity,
even by the standards of this year's SCALE, where
any slide format other than the OpenOffice.org Impress default
While the CodePlex Foundation itself is new in
2009, Stone was at the event to make a familiar
pitch: companies that do proprietary and in-house
software development still need to be persuaded
to act in their own best interests, and need help
to decide to participate in open source development
when they can derive benefit from it. Stone has been
making the same point as an editor for O'Reilly and
Associates, where he edited the essay collection Open
Sources along with other titles, then later
as director of the developer relations program for
SourceForge. And, he argues, the point still needs
to be made.
The CodePlex Foundation, which Stone called a
"broker that can mediate," recently
saw its first release of a non-Microsoft project,
Contrib model-view-controller framework for the
Microsoft ASP.NET platform. More releases, not all
.NET related, are on the way, Stone said.
Any big company is likely to be a user of
some open source software, he said, "but
when you look at what of their own software they
release as open source, some are doing better
than others," Stone said.
The situation is better than it was in 1995,
when almost all free software development happened
off the corporate clock. "The trend is for
corporate development and open source to overlap more
and more." But, he said, the shift to paid
development has been more a matter of open source
developers getting paid to do it, and less about
proprietary or in-house software developers being able
to release their work. Open source developers are
getting paid to work for companies, but what about
taking corporate development organizations and getting
them plugged into open source?
Understanding decision makers' motivations
is vital. While most software developers view
innovation as a good, often the people who make
decisions at companies value predictability and
"protecting the brand" over improving the product.
"Innovation is risky and scary, and something to
be avoided at all costs," he said. What goes
into the product is a brand management decision.
Some businesses are friendly to customer
innovation, and actively look for how people are
misusing the product. Skateboarding started with
proto-skaters modifying surfboards and scooters,
and today, "extreme" sports vendors bring customer's
modifications in-house and base products on them.
Others are more conservative.
Knowledge above code?
Stone argues that full-bore participation has
value that throwing code over the wall doesn't.
"The mere act of releasing some code isn't
that much. What we care about is not code sharing but
knowledge sharing. The source code by itself doesn't
actually transfer that much knowledge," he
said. "If you want to understand the software
you have to understand its caretakers."
Another difference is that companies intend to put
more knowledge into formalized systems.
In open source, "we're very comfortable with a tribal approach to knowledge," Stone said.
Companies, on the other hand, want knowledge better
nailed-down and formalized.
"They want you as an individual to be replaceable."
Differences may be more aspirational than real.
Anyone who has tried to build a proprietary
or recently-freed codebase for the first time
will understand how much "tribal" knowledge is
still there. "There are good practices on
both sides," Stone said. The "replaceable"
individual is impossible in open development, though.
"Reputation travels with you as an open source
developer," he said.
The process of how to do open source has
gotten much easier, with the rise of easy-to-use
project hosting sites such as the original
SourceForge, Google Code, and GitHub, and what Stone
called, "consolidation around a half-dozen or so
key approaches to licensing." The hard part,
though, is still the decision of whether or not to do
open source in the first place. "For business
decision-makers, 'why would we release something as
open source?' is a hard question."
A common example of a good case for participating is
a company that finds itself carrying a substantial
"patch load" of local modifications to open source
software. For example, Stone worked on a project that
modified MediaWiki to add role-based access control
support, not part of the upstream project at the time.
Do you just carry the patch load, and reapply your
modifications when getting a new upstream version,
or attempt to participate in the process by offering
changes to upstream, or gathering other users and
forking the project? Even thinking about the question
is outside some users' vision. "That open
source decision is a possibility you need to get
business decision-makers to think about."
If your worst problem is differences in development
practices, he said, "Congratulations, you're
90% of the way there. Good software development
looks very much the same," whether it's
open or proprietary. "Don't assume there are
differences that aren't really there," he said.
In addition, corporate decision makers need to learn to disbelieve
myths, such as the myth that open source can't do
Companies expect a legal entity on the other end of a contractual
relationship. For example, Microsoft receives automatically generated
crash dumps from software running on its Windows platform. But user data
is confidential, and Microsoft won't share customer data without an
NDA. Someone needs to enter into one in order to see the crash dumps.
There are many existing umbrella organizations, but, Stone said,
"We exist because none of them is meeting all the needs."
Microsoft itself has done some open source releases but the foundation
"will make it easier to participate."
The foundation is not tied to Microsoft hosting
infrastructure. The new MVC Contrib project has a project
profile on codeplex.com but keeps
its source code hosted at GitHUb. (Codeplex.com documentation
only lists revision
control support for Mercurial, Subversion, and Microsoft
Team Foundation Server).
For companies to use the CodePlex
Foundation is like "not reinventing
the wheel" in software, Stone said.
"There are legal processes that you want
to re-use and leverage as well." With a substantial
staff and million-dollar budget, the new
foundation is prepared to be flexible helping
companies with the legal paperwork. The Apache
Software Foundation has one contributor agreement,
and one license, but CodePlex can customize these things.
"What do you need in terms of contributor
agreement and license?" Stone asked.
More news will be coming at next month's Open
Source Business Conference in San Francisco,
Previous commenters have reacted to
the prospect of a wholesale dislocation
of the software business with something
less than panic. Richard Stallman famously pronounced,
"Writing non-free software is not an ethically
legitimate activity, so if people who do this
run into trouble, that's good! All businesses
based on non-free software ought to fail, and
the sooner the better." Paul Graham later
wrote, "When I say business can learn from
open source, I don't mean any specific business can. I
mean business can learn about new conditions the same
way a gene pool does. I'm not claiming companies can
get smarter, just that dumb ones will die."
Stone and the CodePlex Foundation are offering an
alternative that doesn't involve an office chair
auction and a massive dump of perfectly good business
cards into the recycling bin.
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