The Open Source Commandments

The Open Source Commandments

Summary: Next Sunday, the Passover again falls upon us. For those of us Jews that celebrate the holiday, it is most associated with a ceremonial meal spent with family, where we recite the story passed down to us over hundreds of generations from Maxwell House haggadahs chronicling the exodus from Egypt as slaves of the Pharaoh.

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Next Sunday, the Passover again falls upon us. For those of us Jews that celebrate the holiday, it is most associated with a ceremonial meal spent with family, where we recite the story passed down to us over hundreds of generations from Maxwell House haggadahs chronicling the exodus from Egypt as slaves of the Pharaoh. Personally, I find the entire experience somewhat draining, because if you really do it the way its supposed to be done, it takes at least ninety minutes to read through before you even get to the Matzo Balls, grandma's brisket and the Potato Kugel (Click for my favorite recipe) and then you have another hour of group reading to go.

The Open Source CommandmentsTo add insult to injury, you get to finish the entire anxiety-inducing trial of patience by watching hyperactive children (who have been sitting still for over 3 hours) unleash their pent up energy race around the house for twenty minutes trying to find two broken pieces of stale unleavened edible sheet rock so they can ransom a ten (is it still ten these days? A Franklin with the current currency devaluation perhaps?) dollar bill from grandpa. The Joyva Jelly Rings, Manischewitz macaroons, flourless chocolate cake and the ensuing heartburn from a schmaltz-laden meal are but a small parting consolation prize for the voluntary mental exhaustion.

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My favorite part of Passover, however, is the mandatory re-watching the classic 1956 academy award-winning film, Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the Pharaoh Rameses. The special effects and the miniatures and sets on this movie would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce today, and it just wouldn't be the same done in CGI and with "new school" Hollywood actors. My favorite scene in that movie is when Moses goes up to Mt. Sinai and receives the tablets from the Lord, which are inscribed with lightning bolts shooting down from the sky by the Almighty, Blessed be He. Publishing on demand! Cool.

While I would hardly classify myself as a monotheistic deity on the level of the God of Abraham or even worthy of making statements of such cultural magnitude upon high, I would like to take this opportunity, perhaps, as we approach the Passover season, to make some suggestions for Commandments that future generations of technologists and technology companies wishing to pursue Open Source community activities might want to follow.

"Thou Shalt Not Be An Aggressive Monopolist"

Microsoft certainly got the smiting it deserved from the European Union, to the tune of over 2.6 billion dollars in accumulated fines over the last 3 years. Single vendor leadership position and domination of key markets in any industry are very frequently unavoidable, by virtue of a company's expertise and duration they've been in business, as well as external economic factors which cause industry consolidation -- such as AT&T with the telecommunications industry (a case of where a monopoly was broken and re-integrated itself through the act of industry consolidation due to economic forces 20 years later) and IBM establishing itself as the dominant provider of mainframe computers despite the existence of several competitors, such as Univac/Sperry/Burroughs, who eventually merged and found the government contracting business more profitable than selling hardware -- and became the service-oriented Unisys in 1986 (although they still maintain their ClearPath business for customers who still need it).

Nevertheless, strong-arm and lock-in tactics such as those used by Microsoft are most certainly one of the least effective ways of preserving your business model long term, as their continually eroding server computing market at the expense of Linux and other open systems has now shown. Continuing to show industry leadership is one thing, but do not attempt to squash the little guy or other players in the process, because then the community will just plain hate you. If your product is good, it will stand on its own merits, although a hundred million dollars per year worth of marketing never hurts.

"Thou Shalt Not Keep Thy Protocols and Systems Closed"

It took the fourth plague of EU fines in February of 2008 to make Microsoft see the error of its ways and to force it to cooperate with projects such as SAMBA and open its networking protocols so that Linux and other UNIX-like OSes could have perfect compatibility with Microsoft's CIFS/SMB implementation and directory services. Much like good old Pharaoh, they finally said Uncle, and gave up the specs before the inevitable slaying of the first born, which would have been the next logical step.

However, I have to give Microsoft credit with OOXML. Although the system has been criticized for its inelegance, complexity and incompleteness, the company has been accused of strong-arming various countries into ratifying the specification into an ISO standard and there has been ongoing concerns with parts of the technology being patented, Microsoft has delivered significant amount of tools and documentation for reading and writing OOXML files. So elegant or not, they've produced the goods, it is a standard, and now we have the job of actually implementing it in our Open Source software. To the whiners who continue to kvetch about ODF being better, et cetera, I say, get over it already.

Microsoft is hardly the sole practitioner of closed protocols and APIs, although they get the lion's share of scorn in this area. The Insanely Cool Apple has a completely closed interface to the iPod, making 3rd party syncing software for non-Apple platforms a bit more than just a clever exercise in reverse engineering. Try to hook a non-Apple device into iTunes? Fuhgedaboudit. And as much as Google can play cool about being Open Source with Android, one only has to peek under the hood of the SDK to see it uses a completely proprietary, closed source JVM that sits on top of the Linux stack to provide the application environment. The Pharaoh wears no clothes!

"Thou Shalt not Proliferate Useless Licenses"

Microsoft has its own useless Shared Source license, but they are hardly the worst offender in this area because they have the least amount of Open Source software currently in the wild. Given the fact there are now over 50 OSI-compliant licenses, it makes no sense at all to complicate the ecosystem any further, particularly if it is incompatible with the major licenses in use - (L)GPL(2)(3), Mozilla, Apache, Xorg, BSD, et cetera. If anything, we should aspire to eliminate vanity Open Source licenses. While Sun has recently started to join the clue train by making Java GPL2, it deserves ten plagues of frogs and wild beasts because of the utter GPL-incompatible train wreck that is the CDDL that Solaris is currently licensed under. This is perceived as particularly obnoxious by the Open Source community because OpenSolaris incorporates many GPL-compatible projects into its distribution, such as GNOME and Xorg, but it is impossible for projects such as Linux to incorporate Solaris CDDL code. All take and no give Open Source licenses suck. So sayeth the Almighty.

"Thou Shalt not Threaten Open Source Software Vendors, Projects and End-Users"

While this could be incorporated into the first commandment, as most of the saber recent rattling in this area has been attributable to Microsoft, they are not the only company to have done this - SCO has actually been a much more flagrant violator of this commandment than Microsoft has ever been, by sending extortion letters and filing lawsuits to end users of Linux distributions for violating their supposed (and now fully dismissed claims of) intellectual property rights. If you want to make nice with the Open Source community -- or any large group of potential customers for that matter, threats and litigiousness is never a particularly good idea. You might end up with pestilence, darkness, fire and brimstone -- or in SCO's case -- bankruptcy and complete insolvency.

The God of Abraham came up with Ten Commandments, but I've only come up with four. Surely, you guys have a few to add to the list. Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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77 comments
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  • First Commandment

    Shouldn't the first commandment be: "Microsoft is Evil"?

    ;-)
    aureolin
    • So much for intelligent communication/responses...

      ...
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • That's a statement and NOT commandment. (nt)

      nt
      hkommedal
  • RE: The Open Source Commandments

    What about the other commandments:

    "Thou shalt insult anyone who criticizes open source"

    "Thou shalt not use any other software except the ones we use"
    Loverock Davidson
    • No no, you've got that wrong.

      "[i]Thou shalt insult anyone who criticizes open source[/i]"

      I think you mean "Thou shalt show contempt for those who insult open source." Criticism is fine, as long as it's (preferably) constructive or (at least) accurate and reasonably untainted by obvious bias. Insults and lies, however, are other matters.

      "[i]Thou shalt not use any other software except the ones we use[/i]"

      What exactly are you trying to say with this? Your meaning is not clear.
      apotheon
      • I too had problems understanding

        the last one. It actually fits better in MS biggots camp.

        More like; "Thou shalt no other word processors use than MS Windows latest release"
        Jxn
  • Religion and science

    what a great taste that tastes great together. Someone calls one side evil, the other side says no, your's is, and it all tastes like chicken.
    Boot_Agnostic
  • Sun vs. Mozilla

    Why laud Mozilla in one sentence and blast Sun in the next? They're the same license.
    rpmyers1
    • However

      The imapact of Mozilla as an application and Solaris as an entire operating system makes the impact of CDDL much more severe than the Mozilla license.
      jperlow
      • Rather unfair

        OSI licenses have been going through some fast evolution lately, adding new provisions as issues arise. Should we revoke the old ones or disallow newer, better ones to meet your requirement? The CDDL is the same as the Mozilla license, with the addition of patent protection and downstream governance. GPL 2 was not possible for OpenSolaris because of pre-existing license restrictions, so what would you have had Sun do?

        And remember, the reason the GPL is incompatible with the CDDL is that GPL places restrictions on freedom of use of the code that CDDL explicitly grants.
        blu_z
        • exactly right

          "[i]And remember, the reason the GPL is incompatible with the CDDL is that GPL places restrictions on freedom of use of the code that CDDL explicitly grants.[/i]"

          It's kind of silly for people to run around squawking about "GPL compatibility" all the time, considering the reason stuff isn't compatible with the GPL is that the GPL tries to absorb anything that gets too close. In other words, it's not that other licenses are GPL-incompatible so much as that the GPL is other-license-incompatible unless those other licenses let themselves get absorbed into the collective. It's like watching the Borg in Star Trek, or that old flick The Blob with the giant amoeboid pudding trying to eat everything and grow ever-larger. If licenses were nanomachines, the GPL would be the Gray Goo.

          Of course, the CDDL isn't perfect either -- but it's better than the GPL in a few ways.
          apotheon
  • i just spil my coffee all over the place

    you like your Jewish food that for sure :)

    and the 10 commandment was hilarious

    thx where the towel now
    Quebec-french
  • Thou Shalt Finish Thy Code and not Leave Thy People with a Plague of Bugs

    Thy shalt not abandon thy project once it is past the fun stage. Thy shalt create documentation that is understandable. Thy shalt reject the false projects of thine WoW guild and fix thine bug-plagued code. Thy shalt not whine when no one else volunteers to help.
    archerjoe
    • re: Thou Shalt Finish Thy Code and not Leave Thy People . . .

      "Thou Shalt Finish Thy Code and not Leave Thy People with a Plague of Bugs"

      It only that were possible for mere mortals :(. I do my best to rid my code of bugs, and I'm sure most devs do, but alas it's a very difficult and time consuming process.

      "Thy shalt not abandon thy project once it is past the fun stage."

      Agreed.

      "Thy shalt create documentation that is understandable."

      Agreed.

      "Thy shalt reject the false projects of thine WoW guild and fix thine bug-plagued code."

      Your guild produces add-ons? Heh, I can just imagine.

      "Thy shalt not whine when no one else volunteers to help."

      Seriously, just drop your guild's add-ons. Nobody is going to maintain them. Use add-ons that are created by well-known authors who actively maintain their code.
      CobraA1
      • The guilds' false projects have nothing to do with code

        The false projects are raids and have nothing to do with coding. They create loyalty rifts and demand the coder spend time supporting the guild's activities in WoW.

        Other things that can take time away from the coder: EverQuest, games on PS/2 or PS/3 or XBox or Wii, job, girlfriend (admittedly rare, but it could happen).
        archerjoe
        • ok

          Okay, essentially you're just wasting time doing other stuff. Thanks for the clarification.

          I guess these talkbacks count as well. I spend too much time on them :(.
          CobraA1
    • Very Good

      Best responses yet !
      bruceslog
    • Thou shall not leave thy code in Perpetual Beta

      ;)
      GuidingLight
      • Yes, too funny, Microsoft code IS in perpetual beta. They should be honest,

        and label it for what it is.
        DonnieBoy
        • Well maybe you should

          take the fact you are totally biased into account and label yourself for what you are Donnie.
          xuniL_z