Rotten to the (Open) Core?

freesoftware, General 18 Comments

Open core, Open core,  more Open core… the debate goes on and on, with Monty the latest to weigh in.

When you get down to it this is a fight over branding – which is why the issue is so important to the OSI folks (who are all about the brand). I don’t actually care that much how SugarCRM, Jahia, Alfresco et al make the software they sell to their customers. As a customer I’m asking a whole different set of questions to “is this product open source?” I want to know how good the service and support is, how good the product is, and above all, does it solve the problem I have at a price point I’m comfortable with. The license doesn’t enter into consideration.

So if that’s the case (and I believe it is), why the fighting? Because of the Open Source brand, and all the warm-and-fuzzies that procures. “Open solutions” are the flavour of the decade, and as a small ISV building a global brand, being known as Open Source is a positive marketing attribute. The only problem is that the warm-and-fuzzies implied by Open source – freedom to change supplier or improve the software, freedom to try the software before purchasing, the existence of a diverse community of people with knowledge, skills and willingness to help a user in difficulty – don’s exist in the Open Core world. The problem is that for the most part, the Open Core which you can obtain under the OSI-approved license is not that useful.

Yesterday on Twitter, I said “Open Core is annoying because the “open core” bit is pretty much useless. It doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin.”

Now, I wasn’t expecting this to be particularly controversial, but I got some push-back on this. Dan Fabulich replied “Ridiculous. Like the free version of MySQL is useless?” Which leads me to think of Inigo Montoya on the top of the Cliffs on MoherInsanity turning to Vizzini and saying “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

With all this talk of Open Core, clearly some confusion has crept in. Perhaps it’s on my part. So allow me to elaborate what I understand by “Open Core”.

First, companies can’t be Open Core. Products are Open Core. So whereas Monty considers that from 2006 on, MySQL was not an “Open Source company”, I would contend that MySQL Server has always been, and continues to be, Free Software, and an Open Source product. That is, not Open Core.

Open Core for me means you provide a free software product, improve it, and don’t release the improvements under the free software licence. In my mind, Mac OS X is not “Open Core” just because it’s based on the NetBSD kernel, it is proprietary software.

Perhaps it would be useful to give some examples of what is Open Core:

  • Jahia is Open Core – significant features and stabilisation work are present in the Enterprise Edition are not available at all in the Community Edition
  • SugarCRM is obviously Open Core. Key features related to reporting, workflow, administration and more are only present in the commercial editions
  • JasperSoft BI Suite is Open Core. Lots of useful features are only available to people buying the product.

The key here is that support contracts and extra features are only available if you also pay licensing fees. To take the oft-cited example of InnoDB hot back-up tool for MySQL, you can purchase this and use it with the GPL licensed MySQL Server.

This is why I say that Open Core products “don’t do exactly what it says on the tin” – the features you see advertised on the project’s website are not available to you along with software freedom.

I have talked to companies who deliberately avoid adding “spit & polish” to the community edition to encourage people to trade up for things like better documentation, attractive templates and easy installation – and don’t provide an easy way for the community edition users to share their own work. Other products have an open source engine that doesn’t do much except sit there, and all useful functionality is available as paid modules. Yes, a persistent, skilled, patient developer can take the Open Source version of the product and make it do something useful. For the most part, however, if you want to actually use the software without becoming an expert in its internals, you’ll need some of the commercial upgrades.

There is another name for this which is even more pejorative, Crippleware. Deliberately hobbled software. And that’s what I think gets people riled up – if you’re releasing something as free software, then there should at least be the pretence that you are giving the community the opportunity to fend for itself – even if that is by providing an “unofficial” git tree where the community can code up GPL features competing with your commercial offering, or a nice forum for people to share templates, themes and extensions and fend for themselves. But what gets people riled is hearing a company call themselves “an Open Source company” when most of the users of their “open source” product do not have software freedom. It’s disingenuous, and it is indeed brand dilution.

That said, let me repeat – I have no problem with companies doing this. I have no problem with them advertising their GPL-licensed stuff as Open Source. I would just like to see more of these companies providing a little bit of independence and autonomy to their user community. But then, that’s potentially not in their long-term interest – even if it is difficult to imagine a situation where the community-maintained version outstrips the “Enterprise” edition in features and stability.

Heathers

General 2 Comments

No, not the film.

While I’ve been back in Ireland it’s been impossible to avoid “Discover Ireland” promoting the country as a tourist destination for locals, with ads backed by an infectiously catchy tune.

I’d never heard the group before, so I went hunting and found Heathers, an Irish duet of teenage girls who seem just a little shy, but when they start singing they belt it out. Very simple – guitar + +2 female voices, with an atypical sound and a heavy Irish accent. They’re pretty great. The joys of the interweb and youth who thinks differently about copyright – there is *lots* of live material from these girls on youtube. They’ve already been touring the US and I suspect that they will make a name for themselves. Well worth discovering.

Sabotage and free software

community, freesoftware, General, humour, maemo 4 Comments

Who knew that educating people in simple sabotage (defined as sabotage not requiring in-depth training or materials) could have so much in common with communicating free software values? I read the OSS Simple Sabotage Field Manual (pdf) which has been doing the rounds of management and security blogs recently, and one article on “motivating saboteurs” caught my eye enough to share:

Personal Motives

  • The ordinary citizen very probably has no immediate personal motive for committing simple sabotage. Instead, he must be made to anticipate indirect personal gain, such as might come with enemy evacuation or destruction of the ruling gov­ernment group. Gains should be stated as specifically as possible for the area addressed: simple sabotage will hasten the day when Commissioner X and his deputies Y and Z will be thrown out, when particu­larly obnoxious decrees and restrictions will be abolished, when food will arrive, and so on. Abstract verbalizations about personal liberty, freedom of the press, and so on, will not be convincing in most parts of the world. In many areas they will not even be comprehensible.
  • Since the effect of his own acts is limited, the saboteur may become discouraged unless he feels that he is a member of a large, though unseen, group of saboteurs operating against the enemy or the government of his own country and elsewhere. This can be conveyed indirectly: suggestions which he reads and hears can include observations that a particular technique has been successful in this or that district. Even if the technique is not applicable to his surroundings, another’s success will encourage him to attempt similar acts. It also can be conveyed directly: statements praising the effectiveness of simple sabotage can be contrived which will be pub­lished by white radio, freedom stations, and the sub­versive press. Estimates of the proportion of the population engaged in sabotage can be disseminated. Instances of successful sabotage already are being broadcast by white radio and freedom stations, and this should be continued and expanded where com­patible with security.
  • More important than (a) or (b) would be to create a situation in which the citizen-saboteur acquires a sense of responsibility and begins to educate others in simple sabotage.

Now doesn’t that sound familiar? Trying to convince people that free software is good for them because of the freedom doesn’t work directly – you need to tie the values of that freedom to something which is useful to them on a personal level.

“You get security fixes better because people can read the code”, “You have a wide range of support options for Linux because it’s free software and anyone can understand it”, “Sun may have been bought by Oracle, but you can continue to use the same products because anyone can modify the code, so others have taken up the maintenance, support and development burden”, and so on.

Providing (custom tailored) concrete benefits, which comes from freedom is the way to motivate people to value that freedom.

In addition, the point on motivation struck a cord – you need to make people feel like they belong, that their work means something, that they’re not alone and their effort counts, or they will become discouraged. A major job in any project is to make everyone feel like they’re driving towards a goal they have personally bought into.

Finally, you will only have succeeded when you have sufficiently empowered a saboteur to the point where they become an advocate themselves, and start training others in the fine arts – and this is a major challenge for free software projects too, where we often see people with willingness to do stuff, and have some difficulty getting them to the point where they have assimilated the project culture and are recruiting and empowering new contributors.

For those who haven’t read it yet, the document is well worth a look, especially the section on “General Interference with Organisations and Production”, which reads like a litany of common anti-patterns present in most large organisations; and if you never knew how to start a fire in a warehouse using a slow fuse made out of rope and grease, here’s your chance to find out.

Last chance for early bird rate for GNOME training

General Comments Off on Last chance for early bird rate for GNOME training

Registration for the GNOME Developer Training courses at GUADEC is still open on the GUADEC registration site – and the early bird rate of €1200 is available for all orders received until next Tuesday June 15th. So if you’ve been hesitating or delaying signing up, the time is now!

As a reminder of what’s included in the package, you will get lunch and refreshments both days of the training course, a full professional registration to GUADEC worth €250, and printed materials related to the course to take home with you and spread the knowledge, and two full days of intense Lunix development training with a focus on GNOME. There are four half-day modules, covering Linux development, testing and debugging tools, the social side of contributing to free software projects, an overview of the GNOME and freedesktop.org platform and a hands-on workshop where you get to put what you learn into practice.

this will be a great opportunity to give a boost to your entire team by learning developer tips & tricks on being a productive Linux developer, learning tools and tips to improve performance and memory usage of your applications, and how to get your code upstream more efficiently & reduce maintenance costs.

Registration is open, and we still have a few places left!

Maemo Community Council voting open

community, General, maemo 7 Comments

The voting tokens have just been sent out for the Q1 2010 Maemo Community Council elections.

I already have over 100 bounced emails, so if you think that you should have a vote and you have not received an email with a voting token yet, please send me an email or leave a comment, I will look up your Maemo username and send you on the voting token/email combo we have on record so that you can vote.

Voting runs until March 30th – you can find more information about the election and the council in the Maemo wiki.

Christmas wish: Distro hardware buyer’s guide

freesoftware, General 23 Comments

As a long time free software user, every time I buy hardware I have the same decision paralysis. Will the graphics card be fully supported? Are the drivers stable? Will the on-board wifi, sound card, and the built-in webcam Just Work? Will they work if I spend hours hunting down drivers and installing kernel modules (and remembering to reinstall them every time my distro upgrades the kernel)? Or will they stay broken for at least 6 months, until the next version of the OS is released?

I’ve gone through this dance many times in the past – with an Intel 915 graphics chip, and an Nvidia chip before that, with multiple webcams, USB headsets, a scanner, a graphics tablet, digital cameras and sound chips.

Thankfully, problems with digital cameras and sound chips seems to be more or less a thing of the past, except for those USB headsets, but there are still issues with webcams, scanners,tablets and wifi chips. And I keep hearing that support for graphics chips sucks for both ATI and Nvidia, making me wary of both (and thus about 80% of computers on the market).

So when I go shopping for hardware, it sucks to be me. I haven’t tested all this stuff, and I don’t know how much of it works perfectly out of the box. What I need is to decide what software I’m going to put on it, and have hardware recommendations per price point from the software distributor, so that I can just go to my local Surcouf, FNAC or whatever, and just look at one label & say “That’s only 90% supported, no custom from me!”

Does one exist already? I really liked the Samsung NC20 page I found on the Ubuntu wiki, but I would have preferred to see it before buying. The laptop testing team page on Ubuntu is along the lines of what I want, but it doesn’t take a position on any of the hardware, which is what I need. I want Canonical to say “buy this one, it’s great” or “don’t buy that one, unless you’re prepared to spend 2 days messing with drivers”. I know this might piss off some partners, but it’d be really helpful to me. And isn’t that more important?

What I’d like to see is laptops ordered by level of support out-of-box & after fiddling, on the latest version of Ubuntu. So the NC20, for example, would get a 60% “Out of the box” rating (because the video card just doesn’t work at all), and a 90% “after fiddling” rating (because of the CPU frequency issue, lack of support for 3d in graphics driver, and graphics driver instability).

Anyone able to point me to a Linux hardware buyer’s guide that dates from 2009 that gives what I’m looking for?

Side-effects of copyright assignment

community, freesoftware, General 1 Comment

Michael Meeks wrote a great piece on the consequences of copyright assignment on free software projects yesterday. He has a lot of experience in the area, and has gone from fervent advocate to something of an outspoken opponent of copyright assignment through his involvement in the OpenOffice.org project in recent years.

One of the things that Michael said in his book is that commercial agreements with partners (resellers and redistributors), made possible by copyright assignment or sharing, can work against the core principles of free software. He cites some examples, but there are many ways that companies use their dominant position within the project:

  • Vendor X agrees to commercially license their software, on condition that any changes that the licensee makes to the software in the future be submitted only to the vendor. By removing the right to redistribute changes from the licensee, the vendor prevents the licensee from participating in any forks of the project. SugarCRM’s EULA contains a no-forking clause, for example. Ironically, it also contains a “standard” non-reverse-engineering clause, so you may look at the source code before buying the enterprise version to see how it works, but once you are an enterprise customer, that’s off the table.
  • A vendor ties an official partner programme, support and commercial licensing together. Matt Asay has described the Alfresco parner programme, which contains these restrictions. If you want to be an official Alfresco reseller, you must agree to sell only commercially licensed Alfresco, and you must get the client to commit to a subscription before starting the support contract. You are free not to be an official Alfresco reseller, but in this case, you may not resell commercial licenses for Alfresco, or distribute any commercial add-ons.
  • No compete clauses can require commercial licensees not only not to contribute to any fork of the vendor’s product, but also to any competitor of the product. While BitKeeper was not a free software product, its licensing agreement contains many of the worst excesses you can find in vendor licenses, to the point where employees of clients were asked to stop working (in their free time) on free software competition.
  • Proprietary licenses can change under your feet. There are often clauses that allow a vendor to update the licensing agreement at will, and apply it retro-actively to existing clients. BitKeeper did this.
  • Non-disclosure rules can prevent you from publishing performance tests, for example, as in Alfresco’s trial license. Or even disclosing the terms of your agreement, as Michael suggested, meaning that you can’t even tell people what you may and may not do in the context of the proprietary agreement.

Proprietary software agreements are simply contracts between the vendor and the user, which set out the terms by which both parties agree that the user may use the vendor’s software, and gets some value off the vendor.

Contracts are a part of life. When I rent an office, I have obligations, and so does the landlord. I’m a grown-up and I can agree to whatever I want, if I’m also getting what I need from the deal. But contracts also have victims. As a community member, if you (as a user) sign a contract that says you may not participate in the community, you’re hurting the rest of the community. And if you (as a vendor) force your clients not to participate in the community, or to do so on different terms to everyone else, they you’re hurting the community too.

Since you can only do so much to hurt a community before you don’t have one, this is why I consider copyright assignment a key barrier to entry to community building. And in a vicious circle, because there is little broad community activity around most single-vendor free software projects, those vendors feel vindicated by their copyright assignment decisions, and have little reason to invest heavily in community building – since doing so gives a very low return on investment.

It is possible to build certain types of communities, even with copyright assignment – through a modular architecture which allows anyone to build plug-ins or add-ons, for example, OpenBravo has built a large community of module developers, but has seen little contribution in the core product. And perhaps building a broad and deep group of core contributors is not important to your business model or investors as a company – and that’s fine. The only point I’m making is that you can’t have your cake and eat it. It’s a balancing act between building community and maintaining control.

Running advice

General, home 2 Comments

Coincidentally, I was running a 10km race this weekend in Vénissieux, and Chris Blizzard replied to an email about running I sent him months ago. At the time, I gave him a few tips on getting started in running without getting injured, and reading back, I think they are worth sharing.

Advice from a recent beginner

When you start running regularly, take it very easy before you start upping the distance. Your heart & muscles will tell you to go further & faster before your joints are ready for it. Trainers say that you can up your total weekly distance no more than 10% per week. And running more regularly is worth more than running long in fewer sessions. Four three mile runs is better than two six mile runs.

When you do decide to start running further, start doing it in fractions – run 1 mile, walk 1 minute, run 1 mile, walk 1 minute. If you’re on 10 minute per mile pace, that’ll drop you to 11 minutes per mile, but you’ll be able to run 7 or 8 miles easily.

Vary fast & long runs. If you’re starting to stretch out runs & regularly going more than 5 miles in a run, try swapping out one of those 5 mile runs for something like:

  • Warm up 2 miles
  • 4x800m at a faster pace (if you jog 10 minute miles, then try to run your half-mile split in 4 minutes) with 2 minutes  break between splits.
  • Warm down 1 mile

If you always run long & slow, you’ll stay a slow runner. If you start training your body to run a little faster, you’ll improve the entire system – cardio & muscular. And you sweat more too.

To lose weight, do that 5 or 6 mile run on a Saturday morning – don’t starve yourself the night before, and drink water or tea  before your run by all means, but running in the morning on an empty stomach will help you drop those pounds. Once you go over about 30 to 40 minutes running time, you’re eating fat. If you’re diabetic, this might not be advised.

And don’t forget that every body is different, no one scheme or training plan works for everyone. Your body’s a machine, and it’s one which can be made very efficient with maintenance.

Once you get to the stage where you’re running that speed work, you might consider adding some shorter sprints & really start getting faster ;-)

Giving Great Presentations – speaker notes

community, freesoftware, General, maemo 5 Comments

Earlier today I gave a lightning talk on giving great presentations at the Maemo Summit. The response has been great, and here are the notes I wrote for the presentation, so that people can refer back tol the advice when the time comes.

Giving Great Presentations

It was said that when Cicero finished speaking, people turned to each other and said “that was a great speech”. But when Demosthenes finished speaking, people said “we must march”.

Throughout history, great orators have changed the world. Entire movements can grow from the powerful communication of an idea.

Yet most technical presentations are horrible. Slides filled with bullet points, and monotone delivery. How many people here have asked themselves at one stage or another during a presentation, “why am I here?”

You might not be Obama, but you can still give better presentations. Here are some basic tips for improving. Nothing I’m going to say here is difficult, but there are no easy fixes either.

Think of your audience

The first tip is for when you are considering giving a presentation, and when you start writing your content. Think of what your audience will get from your presentation. What’s in it for them?

If your point is “to talk about…” you’re off track. You will put your audience to sleep. Seriously.
If you want to share some information, why not just write a blog entry? Why do you need to be in the room?

People don’t care about you. They care about themselves. So make your presentation about them.

A presentation is a sales pitch. You are there to convince people of something. Maybe it’s an idea you want them to believe. Maybe it’s a product you want them to use. If you’re not *selling* something, why are you giving a presentation? You may as well write a blog entry, and stay at home.

So cut to the chase. When you’re thinking about your presentation, think about one core question: What do I want audience members to do once they’ve seen my presentation? And then make sure everything in your presentation is driving towards that goal.

Tell a story

The best way to convince someone of something is to entertain them. And stories are entertaining. Some people are funny, and can use humour to entertain. I’m not funny. But everyone can tell a story.

Human beings are natural storytellers. And stories are a wonderful way to get a point across, especially if you structure your narrative well.

One possible narrative you could use is this:

  1. Problem statement
  2. Proposed solution
  3. Supporting evidence
  4. Conclusion

It’s important to finish your presentation will a call to action. Make people march. The action can be small. Integrate the key lesson of your presentation into their work. Download an SDK and try out some sample apps. Write a letter to a local politician. Donate to your cause.

But make it clear to people what you want from them.

Presentation design

The third suggestion is to design slides to compliment what you say, rather than repeat it.

Don’t write everything you’re going to say on the slide. Otherwise people will just read it, and won’t concentrate on you. You might as well just write a document and stay at home. Bullet points are especially bad for this – avoid them. Slides should be sparse. Pictures work better. Use images that reinforce your point – show, then tell.

Let’s say I wanted to convince you that Ethiopia was once again on the brink of famine. I could show you charts of crop yields, child mortality, and displaced populations. Or I could show you a photo and tell you the rest.

It’s emotional. It’s cheating. It works.

Practice

The biggest sin that people make when giving presentations is not to say what they want to say out loud before getting on stage.

Runners train. Football players practice. Musicians and actors spend hours getting performances right. So shouldn’t you too? How do you know how long it will take you to get through your content? How do you know what’s useful and what’s superfluous? Does your presentation have a good flow? Practice will tell you.

Doing all this takes time. It’s not as easy as throwing bullet points together the day before your presentation and hoping for the best.

But think of how many man-hours people will spend watching your presentation. How much of your time is it worth to ensure that your audience isn’t wasting theirs?

So go do it. Concentrate on your audience’s interests. Tell stories and entertain people. Make slides sparse. And prepare beforehand by practising. This is harder than what you do now. The pay-off is huge.

The best part is that your audiences will thank you.

Related links:

  • Really Bad Powerpoint – Seth Godin (source of many of the ideas in this presentation)
  • Kill your presentation (before it kills again) – Kathy Sierra – Kathy has lots of material on focusing on your users rather than on yourself – and this is true for presentations too
  • Presentation Zen – the great blog of Garr Reynolds – there is an accompanying book which is well worth reading
  • slide:ology – Nancy Duarte – one of my favourite books on presentation design – a must-read on all stages of presentation design from deciding what to talk about through to working on your delivery

Garmin Forerunner 405 ANT+ protocol

freesoftware, General, running 1 Comment

Anyone anywhere know anyone working for Garmin who might be able to put me in touch with someone who can tell me what the ANT+ communication protocol is, so that I can give it to the good people developing gant, so that they can fix their driver to not crash in the middle of a transfer please? It seems to break for me for any transfer with more than one track.

I can see absolutely no competitive reason to keep the protocol private, it’s almost completely reverse engineered already, and this would cost Garmin essentially nothing, and allow us poor Linux users a way to get our tracks off our watches. The problem is there’s an inertia in keeping this stuff private. It’s hard to get the person with the knowledge (the engineer) and the person with signing power to publish the protocol (a VP probably) in the same place with the person who wants the information (little ol’ me) – it can take hours of justifications & emails & meetings… Can anyone help short-curcuit the problem by helping me get the name of the engineer & the manager involved?

Thanks!

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