OpenOffice.org – a candidate for a 501(c)6?

freesoftware, General 10 Comments

Following up from my previous post, there has been some interesting discussion in the comments and elsewhere. One issue in particular came throughh in a couple of comments.

Ted Ts’o is gushing in his praise of the Eclipse project:

Look at Eclipse; it was released by IBM in November, 2001. Within 2 years, it had something like 80 companies participating in the code development, and in less than 2.5 years, a non-profit organization was founded where IBM didn’t even have a majority of seats on the board.

And Michael Meeks  brings up the subject of OpenOffice.org governance (which he has written about frequently in the past – by the way, Michael, I can’t find an easy way to link to individual journal entries of yours):

Faced with serious, persistant maladministration and injustice in the ‘communities’ Sun controls – what can you do?

Indeed, Sun has a ways to go make sure that projects they free have a non-negligible contribution from people outside their organisation, and OpenOffice.org is probably the most compelling case for an independent non-profit that they have right now. You have all the elements – significant industry buy-in to the project, multiple companies investing time, financial and human resources in building on the project.

In the comments I argue that OpenOffice.org should consider setting up a 501(c)6 (a trade association) as Eclipse did, to ensure both community and industry participation in the project:

OOo as a project is really too big to be easily accessible to a volunteer community, but the project has succeeded in gaining industry support – an initial board would doubtless include IBM, Sun and Novell as major members, but might also include CollabNet, the French ministry for the interior, maybe NeoOffice and StarXpert?

In any case, the structure of a trade organisation, which aims more to have an ecosystem than a wide-open community, seems more appropriate for a project like OOo. It provides all of the things which Michael Meeks has been calling for – an independant governing body which owns trademarks and copyright, and is answerable to companies and communities in proportion to their contributions.

I also think that it’s important to separate governance in the sense of marketing, infrastructure and industry relations from technical governance. In the case of the Eclipse Foundation, it’s important to note that IBM is still by far the greatest single contributor of code:

And while it’s absolutely correct to laud praise on IBM for Eclipse, it’s worth noting that even now, 7 years after the project has been freed and 5 years after the creation of the Eclipse Foundation, 75% of the committers work for IBM, and an even higher percentage of the check-ins come from IBM employees. So yes, the project has succeeded in establishing an independent governing body, but code talks, and IBM still talks loudest.

Aside from that, I want to reply in particular to something that Ted said in his comment:

Community governance is hard? I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. It really isn’t hard. What’s hard is letting go of control, which Sun has proven to have an extremely hard time doing.

I agree – letting go of control is hard. And I’ve seen many companies struggle with it – Xara, Wengo, Sun, to name a few, and other companies skirt the issue by unashamedly keeping control – Trolltech, MySQL, Alfresco, JBoss, SugarCRM come to mind. It’s a question of expectations. When a company says “sure, we’re happy to work with you, on our terms”, you know where you stand.

But starting a project on Sourceforge, putting 4 years worth of code on there, telling your team of (proprietary) software developers “now you commit there”, and then expecting that Poof! like magic little Code Gnomes start appearing from out of nowhere to make your project better is unrealistic. It really is the difference between “organic” (grown from scratch, by developers for developers) and “non-organic” (code is liberated en masse) projects. If you have absolutely no governance guidelines whatsoever, who’s the maintainer? The manager who manage[ds] the development team in your lab? How well does that work?

Upgrading to Ubuntu Hardy: a typical dist-upgrade, so far

freesoftware, General 13 Comments

I upgraded to Ubuntu 8.04 from 7.10 today – I set the upgrade going when I went away for lunch, half hoping that it would be done when I got back. So here’s my experiences so far.

  •  The upgrade stopped with a question screen after about 15 minutes. The installer wanted to know if I wanted to replace one config file which I have never touched with the distribution’s version.
  • After that, the install blocked a further 9 times, one time for an OpenVPN password, when I would have much rathered it carry on without starting the VPN, and eight further times for config files. I had only changed one of these files since my previous upgrade, and would have liked that file to be kept without a question being asked.
  • After rebooting, my screen was filled with error messages from crashing applet, many of whom have not been installed on my panel since I upgraded from 7.04 (because they didn’t work with 7.10).
  • Apport was nice enough to offer that I create bugs for each one, which I tried to do, but apparently there was a problem with Firefox after the upgrade due to a release I’d previously installed separately, so that didn’t work until I restarted Firefox, at which point it worked swimmingly. Some bugs reported in Launchpad, but I really lost track of where I was at.
  • Upgrading Gossip lost old account information. Apparently the DTD for accounts.xml changed, and the new version of Gossip can no longer parse the old accounts file. Bug reported.
  • The Xrandr applet works again, after being broken in 7.10. Nice.
  • Dasher still crashes when changing language or dictionary, or when importing training text. Hitting F1 in Dasher does nothing. The Dasher manual installed doesn’t correspond to the Dasher user interface. Bugs reported.
  • Suspend/resume gave me a black screen the first time. I know stuff is happening when I open the lid; the wifi indicator shows that I have network, the hard drive light is flickering, but I have no screen. I’m hoping it’s a one-off, and that it’ll work now.

All in all, not what I’d come to expect from Ubuntu, although not an unfamiliar experience for me over the years. Perhaps a straight install would work better than a second dist-upgrade on a system that has actually been lived in. I haven’t tried everything yet, obviously, and I’m looking forward to seeing if there are any improvements in the support of my webcam’s driver – although I’m not holding out much hope.

Trademarks

freesoftware 3 Comments

Funny, this post has been in my drafts for months… in relation to my earlier post, and since a trademark issue is at the heart of much of the recent OpenSolaris controversy, the time felt right to finish & publish it.

Many moons ago, there was a discussion on the FLOSS foundations mailing list about trademarks for the Nth time, after Simon Phipps proposed having a BOF on the subject at OSCON.

My initial reaction was “I hope that people find something new to talk about”, I’ve been involved in many conversations on the application of trademark law to free software projects, and typically, the range of reactions is:

  • Defending trademarks is important, and the (US) law requires aggressive defense (the Mozilla or Wikipedia position).
  • Defending trademarks is important, and we can draft guidelines which allow some community uses of the trademark, but we have to disallow a wide range of things to avoid opening a loophole for malicious use (the GNOME position – the degree to which we’ve succeeded is debatable – or the Perl Foundation).
  • Defending our community is important, but that doesn’t require a trademark (the Postgres position, or Chris Messina’s community mark idea)

There are lots of data points between all of these (Linux, Open Source, Eclipse, Java, …) which go from the “we didn’t register the mark, and we regret it” which perhaps apply to Linux and Open Source, to “our trademark is a certification mark” for Java. I would say the most common reaction is “we have to register the trademarks! But we have no idea why, or what that means for the project.”

Read the rest…

Sun: Trying to do the right thing

freesoftware, marketing 37 Comments

I’ve been annoyed by some of the Sun-bashing that has been going on over the past few months and years. I’ve written in the past about my belief that Sun are trying to do the right thing, and my appreciation for the investment that they’ve put into projects I care about. And yet no matter what they do, it seems like there are nay-sayers working to undermine Sun’s community-building efforts at every turn.

Here’s a few examples of Sun-bashing that I’ve seen recently:

  • No projects primarily sponsored by Sun get accepted to the Google Summer of Code (unless you count MySQL). Rumour has it that Sun were told not to bother applying. Of course the Summer of Code is Google’s baby, and as such they decide who gets to participate and who doesn’t. They don’t even have to explain themselves.
  • Linux Foundation employees repeatedly criticising OpenSolaris and Sun. I suppose that this is to be expected from a group that is representing its members, and sees the OpenSolaris kernel as direct competition to the Linux kernel, but it’s just as disappointing to me as when I see KDE or GNOME hackers ripping into each other
  • Press articles in Slashdot [2] [3] and elsewhere consistently spinning things as “Sun’s free software efforts aren’t sincere” interspersed with “Sun is ruining <insert project here>”.

I feel like a lot of this rhetoric is self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say often enough “Sun is a bad community player”, then Sun’s projects will seem unattractive to prospective volunteers.

All of this completely ignores the many great free software people who are working for Sun – to name just a few, Glynn Foster, Simon Phipps, Dalibor Topic, Ian Murdoch, Rich Burridge. These people are extremely clueful about free software and community interests. And the message which we have seen consistently from Jonathan Schwarz over the past couple of years reinforces that there is a commitment to free, community developed software, and there are many capable people working towards that commitment within Sun.

So why the difficulties? Many of them, I think, are project specific, and stem from this fundamental fact:

Community governance is hard.

Read the rest…

Hello planet Maemo!

maemo 8 Comments

I see that my blog is now aggregated on Planet Maemo (at least for Maemo related stuff) – all of you who want to get my off-Maemo ramblings on GNOME, the Libre Graphics Meeting, my life, or free software in general will just have to check out my journal at the source.

For those wondering why I’m here: I’m being funded by Nokia to help make the Maemo documentation community rock. I’ll be working a bit more than part-time on improving documentation organisation and processes, and removing roadblocks anywhere I can. If anyone has any problems with the documentation, reports of “bugs” with the organisation of docs, or has general suggestions for things that we can improve, I’m all ears.

I’m still feeling my way around, and with the forums, mailing lists and wiki, there are a lot of entry points to this community – but the best way to get started is to start solving real problems, and over the next few days I’ll be working to resolve some outstanding website bugs and get access to everything I need to do that.

Oh – and if anyone has any hints for solving the Numpty Physics level where the yellow ball is in a kind of snail’s shell, I’d love to hear them. And is it possible to delete the last stroke with the N810? I haven’t figured it out yet.

Thank you Fedora!

libre graphics meeting 5 Comments

Rounding out the fundraising campaign for the Libre Graphics Meeting this year, I got a surprising mail yesterday from Max Spevack of the Fedora project:

We’ve been watching your fund raising campaign, and last we checked you were still somewhere around $600 short of your goal.

The Fedora Project would like to fill in that gap for you, with a donation of $700 for the Libre Graphics Meeting support.

Wow!

In addition, we got a €20 donation from someone who came on IRC yesterday quite distressed that they’d missed the end of the campaign. (If anyone else is in this situation, please drop me a line – don’t worry, we can still use your money!)

What this means is that the campaign has now officially passed our revised goal of $12,000 – $11,368 of this is listed on the Pledgie page, and add $730 from late donations, we have collected $12,098 (before charges & fees).

Thank you everyone! And especially Max and Paul from Fedora!

Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and the free software desktop

freesoftware, General, marketing 10 Comments

Lots of people are up in arms because Red Hat’s desktop team released a statement containing this: “we have no plans to create a traditional desktop product for the consumer market in the foreseeable future”, and Ron Hovsepian said “Novell’s Suse Linux at the desktop is unlikely to be popular with consumers in the next three to five years”. To me, this is not defeatism, it is simply an example of positioning in action. Last year at Solutions Linux in Paris, I did a little experiment, designed to show that Mandriva have a problem with their positioning. I asked several people to tell me what market they thought the following popular distributions targeted:

  • Red Hat
  • Novell
  • Ubuntu
  • Mandriva

The answers were unanimous:

  • Red Hat: Enterprise servers
  • Novell: Enterprise desktops
  • Ubuntu: Consumer desktops
  • Mandriva: Ummm…

Read the rest…

Final total: $10980 + $388 = $11368

libre graphics meeting 2 Comments

Thank you to everyone who contributed to making the Libre Graphics Meeting fundraising campaign such a huge success.

Now that the campaign has ended, it’s still possible to donate to support the conference, and another sponsor would do us no harm at all – just drop me a line to find out how. But with the show of support over the past two weeks from 275 donors, the health of the conference for this year at least is guaranteed.

The site is still showing a campaign final total of $10980, but being special, I know that there are 5 outstanding donations totalling $388 which will arrive in our count over the coming week, giving the campaign a grand total of $11,368. We still need to see how much of that will go in bank fees and paypal charges, but we’ll have close to $11,000 left which will be dedicated completely to bringing people to the conference, in addition to the sponsorship we received from Google, Intel and the Free Software Foundation.

Incidentally, one of the things I’m most proud of in the campaign is that our user community will be contributing more direct funding to the conference than our two corporate sponsors, Intel and Google, combined!

Thank you all!

links for 2008-04-18

General Comments Off on links for 2008-04-18

The home stretch

libre graphics meeting Comments Off on The home stretch

Support the Libre Graphics Meeting and make a donation at www.pledgie.com !

As I noted earlier, Vincent Untz pushed us over the magical bar of $10,000, and since then there has been a steady flow of donations. In addition to the $10,510 currently on the site, there is another $418 in uncleared checks that will appear early next week in all likelihood – we are only $1072 from reaching that $12,000 target now (reduced from $20,000 yesterday) with a little less than 24 hours left in the campaign.

So rejoice! For after this evening, you will not be seeing any more begging letter/progress report blogs from me. It’s taken a lot of time over these past two weeks, but I must admit I’m delighted with the result. And if anyone wants me to shut up early, one $1100 donation should do it ;-)

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