OpenOffice.org in Apache: The Next Step

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about what submitting OOo to Apache meant for the various parties involved. In particular, I said “IBM can continue to develop Symphony, with a licence it’s happy with.”

Yesterday, I saw that  IBM will contribute Symphony to OpenOffice.org. This is a natural next step for them for a number of reasons:

  • They will reduce their delta between Symfony and OpenOffice.org, thus reducing maintenance costs. And since they are a major sponsor of the move to Apache, we can expect considerably less resistance to invasive code changes than we might have previously seen at OpenOffice.org, making the effort to merge considerably cheaper than it would otherwise have been
  • They retain the option of keeping parts of their product private, thanks (as I pointed out) to the license involved – notably, anything related to Lotus Notes integration can stay proprietary
  • They will be helping solve a major problem for OOo adoption by Apache: the replacement of (L)GPL dependencies

All in all, this is good for OpenOffice.org, and good for IBM. And, in the long run, if the long-awaited iAccessibility2 et al can easily be integrated into LibreOffice, good all round.

 

Harmony Agreements reach 1.0

community, freesoftware 9 Comments

The Harmony agreements reached a significant milestone this week, as they were tagged 1.0 and left the “beta” stage. As someone who has previously taken position regarding contributor licensing agreements, I was asked this week what my thoughts on Harmony are.

First off, let me say that I have not followed the Harmony process closely. Indeed, the process, which was semi-open, but operated under Chatham House Rules (any participant can quote what was said in a meeting, but cannot name the person who said it), is one of the major issues I have seen people take with Harmony. The lack of a clearly identified team taking responsibility for the contents and standing behind the agreement texts is unfortunate, but I think it’s an issue completely independent of their content and the project’s goals.

The goal of the project, as far as I can tell, is to provide a set of templates for people who might want to use a Contributor Licensing Agreement (CLA). As far as it goes, that is fine. Where there is a danger is if the existence of such a template is used to encourage the adoption of CLAs (including copyright assignment) as a “best practice” to be followed.

A CLA is actually a conflation of two very different things: the first is asking a contributor to certify that they have the right to make their contribution (that it is original work, that they agree to the project’s license, that their employer has given permission for the contribution, etc). The Mozilla project gets their contributors to sign a similar document upon becoming committers, to ensure that they perform due diligence before accepting a patch from a proposer. So this aspect of CLAs is sensible and useful for most projects.

The second part of CLAs is copyright licensing or assignment. This creates an asymmetric situation in the project where a central copyright holder has the power to make certain decisions for the project, including for some code which they did not write. As I said previously, copyright assignment has its down sides: it will prevent (or, at best, make much more difficult) the formation of a diverse developer community around the core of your project. If that is part of what you want to achieve, then you should be aware of that. However, if you are happy to be basically the sole contributor to the project core, and the ownership of all of the code in that core is useful for other goals, then copyright assignment may well be appropriate for your project.

Harmony does attempt to make copyright assignment more acceptable by including a licensing promise in some variants. This is fine. I don’t think I would sign such an agreement, but I am sure that the promise that contributions will always be available under a certain license may be enough to reassure other potential contributors.

The main “flaw” which others have identified in Harmony is the lack of a patent promise from the assignee to the assigner. I kind of think that this is a red herring, because such a promise should really be explicit in the license under which the contributor got the software in the first place. Having such a promise in a CLA really doesn’t feel necessary or useful.

Overall, I’m sure that some people will find Harmony agreements useful – they will hopefully save communication time between projects with CLAs and developers, and lawyer fees for companies considering the adoption of a CLA. Yet, my priority will continue to be to question the assumptions which lead people to adopt a CLA without fully thinking through the consequences.

Do you really need a CLA to achieve your objectives? Is it, in fact, harmful to some of what you want to achieve? At the end of the day, my position remains the same: the goal should not be to write a better CLA, it should be to figure out whether we can avoid one altogether, and figure out how to create and thrive in a vibrant developer community.

 

Searching for Matt Damon

freesoftware 5 Comments

I’m hoping I have some well connected readers out there…

As the co-ordinator of the Humanitarian FOSS track this year at the Open World Forum, some issues are coming up over and over as areas where free software is making a difference: providing infrastructure for microfinancing, linking donors with local community doers more efficiently for projects like providing villages with a reliable water supply, and simply making knowledge available in areas with little or no education system.

Reliable water supply is a prerequisite for education, entrepreneurship and technological advancement. And yet, a billion of our fellow world citizens have no clean water. Others have to walk hours every day to get water from a source miles away. Water.org is working to solve this problem sustainably by working with local communities to get funding and guarantee ongoing maintenance of local water supplies. The project concentrates on building relationships with local communities rather than making one-off donations which will leave nothing behind when the money runs out. As such, I think it fits very well with the theme of the Humanitarian FOSS track.

The project has a celebrity co-founder and spokesperson, Matt Damon. Hearing him speak about his passion and commitment to the project is amazing.

I would love to speak to Mr. Damon about where water.org fits into the Humanitarian FOSS world, and I would love to see him present Water.org as a keynote speaker at the conference – it would bring the project to the attention of the French public, and hopefully would help forge relationships between this bold initiative and other important open source projects in the space. And it would be great for the conference, whose goal is to help make the future world a better place through technology.

Unfortunately, celebrities tend to be hard to contact directly – for obvious reasons. So, Lazyweb, I must call on thee to help me out. If anyone out there can help make a link between myself and Mr. Damon, I would be most grateful. Anyone out there able to help me out? Drop me a line at dneary at gnome.org please!