Sorry Simon, but you're still screwing up

Sorry Simon, but you're still screwing up

Summary: No one person, inside or outside Sun, should be plotting its open source strategy. You can guide it, you can concentrate your own energies at key points, but there is no I in team. Open source requires team-building.

TOPICS: Oracle, Open Source

Simon Phipps at FOSS India 2007, from the FOSS.IN blogIn an interview with Builder AU Sun's chief open source officer, Simon Phipps, admits that Sun "screwed up" regarding open source. (The picture is of Phipps speaking in Bangalore from the official Sun FOSS.IN blog.)

But he isolates the "screw-up" to 2001-2002, when Sun was still a proprietary company. This is like a candidate for re-election blaming the problems he faces on a predecessor from the other party.

The fact is Sun is still screwing up. Offering open source licenses for key products is not all there is to an open source strategy. Transparency, community, and some ceding of authority are also required.

Sun has not done that. Java, and mySQL, are not really being run as community projects, according to all the reports I get from community members. They are being run as Sun projects. (Please, Java developers, hammer on me if you disagree.)

That's not how open source works best. The community demands a major say in the development direction or it won't follow. And if you don't have followers you're not leading a parade, you're just marching down the street by yourself.

What Sun needs to do is recruit community members to plot the direction of its products, take what they say on board, and show some transparency. Listening is the key, not talking. A corporate board of advisors would also be nice.

No one person, inside or outside Sun, should be plotting its open source strategy. You can guide it, you can concentrate your own energies at key points, but there is no I in team. Open source requires team-building.

If Sun fails and blames its failure on the open source community it sought to control rather than work with, it will have told the world the biggest business lie ever.

But that's the direction we're going in, still. And that's a pity.

Topics: Oracle, Open Source

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  • Sorry Dana, but you scewed up

    Hi Dana,

    I totally agree that more transparency would be a good thing for Sun and its products and projects, and more openness would be the next big step. Beyond that I don't agree with much that you wrote here.

    > The community demands a major say in the development direction or it won?t follow.

    I don?t think this is true. The 'community' likes useful software and will contribute to the projects that provide it.

    I agree that Java developers get frustrated with Sun and database developers get frustrated with MySQL. These (often vocal) developers represent 0.1% or less of the overall community. Surveys have shown that the majority of open source projects are run by a small (1-5) group of administrators/developers. Projects that have larger development teams are not large because it is easy to join the dev team, in fact they can be very hard to get in to. Try contributing to the Linux kernel or getting the Linux kernel team to bend to your will and see how far you get. Try directing an Apache project to do your bidding, its like trying to knit fog. Of course there are a few notable exceptions, but they are exceptions only. The core development teams of open source projects make the decisions about the direction, not their communities. The core team can decide to listen to, or ignore, the opinions of their non-development community. It is only when both the non-development community (often 1000s times bigger than the development community) becomes frustrated because they are repeatedly ignored, and the development community become fragmented, does the potential of a fork arise (a rare occurrence). Even in organic open source projects the non-development community can voice their opinions and objections but they do not direct the development of the project. The closest the community often gets is being able to vote on which features and bugs they think are most important.

    The above being the case I don?t see why you want to hobble Sun?s strategy, product managers, and development teams by holding them to a standard that is barely even discernable among organic open source projects.

    As you say there is no ?I? in team, but there is also no ?$? in team, and Sun ultimately has to answer to the market.

    James Dixon, CTO, Pentaho
    • Numbers don't lie, James

      First, I want to thank you for your talkback and the eloquence of your writing in defense of Sun.

      There is a continuing conflict between the market demands of open source software players like Sun and Pentaho, and the "political" demands made by open source users and developers.

      How far you go down either open source incline is up to you, but the further down you go, the more the open source development community tends to support you with code, and bug fixes, and beta testing.

      Sun remains in financial trouble because, while it has expressed philosophical support for the open source movement, it insists on total control of the projects it manages.

      As a result it gets far fewer code contributions, far less beta testing, and far fewer bug fixes than it would merit based on its licensing.

      This is the financial and philosophical problem which Sun must solve.

      Thanks again for giving me much to think about.
  • What Sun needs to do is recruit community members to plot the direction...

    Great idea. Maybe Sun could hire a prominent member of the Free Java community to help steer OpenJDK, like, uh, Dalibor Topic?
    • Listen to the developers

      Hiring a member of the community is not what I am calling for. I'm calling for a greater dialogue between Sun and its community developers, and for Sun to embrace the suggestions of those developers in its code.
      • I listen to the OpenJDK developers

        I act on their feedback, and work on resolving issues that come up from the developer community, help bring new community-led projects in, work closely with Linux distributions and so on. I'm having a damn good time working hard on pushing free and open source Java forward together with a great community of Sun, Red Hat, Google, Canonical, Aicas etc. developers in and around OpenJDK.

        It helps that I know many of them from GNU Classpath, Debian, Kaffe, gcj, Ubuntu, Cacao, IcedTea and other projects I worked on or with around Java Libre in the past 6 years before I joined Sun Microsystems this year.

        If there are complaints you've heard from OpenJDK developers about the OpenJDK project, please send them my way, and I'll do my best to fix things.

        Thanks in advance for your future assistance, Dana.
  • RE: Sorry Simon, but you're still screwing up

    Nice headline, ought to sell a few Ads. Otherwise I dont think you have found the real problems with Sun's open Software stuff.
  • RE: Sorry Simon, but you're still screwing up

    I think you're confusing two different issues. There are many different models for open source development. Sun's model (and historically this was the same at MySQL) is one that is company led as opposed to community-led. There's nothing wrong with either model, but they are different.

    In fact we have shown the company led model to be a very good one for development at MySQL. And we are always looking for ways to make it easier for people to contribute ideas, bug fixes, suggestions, examples or code at MySQL.

    • Differences between Sun and mySQL

      In my reporting I have found differences in the attitudes which developers take toward the way Sun does its open source business and the way mySQL does it. In fact one of the great concerns when Sun bought mySQL was that mySQL would have to do it Sun's way.

      I think it might prove better, in every way, if Sun did things more mySQL's way.
  • How about How about opensolaris? how about SCO?

    Why Mr. Blankenhorn assesses Sun's behavior on "open source" while IGNORING, IGNORING NFS, and IGNORING OpenSolaris, and IGNORING their part in the Caldera/SCO/TSG/ME/Whomever-they're-calling-themselves-today fiasco is a mystery to me.

    PJ's current blog (at Groklaw, June 25, "The Trail Testimony of Greg Jones....") comes to some fairly hard-nosed conclusions about Sun's role in the going-on-forever CalderaLinux-EyePee-Fiasco.

    Now for OpenOffice: I have to suspect that maybe it has something to do with MS advertising money on ZDNet. Or maybe you got one of those freebie laptops, in return for your total non-mention of the most widely used OPEN and FREE MS-Office competitor? I wish that this article DIDN'T inspire such suspicions, but it truly does. Very upsetting!
    Rick S._z
    • I take no money from OpenOffice or anyone else

      ...other than ZDNet. Of course no one has offered me any. It's easy to be pure when no one is tempting you.
  • RE: Sorry Simon, but you're still screwing up

    GlassFish, an open source application server and Sun-led project, is about as transparent a project and community as you will find.

    Community involved in requirements process? Check.

    Resulting requirements document online? Check.

    Roadmap with hard release dates and roadmaps online? Check.

    Public engineering and documentation team meetings? Check, anyone can dial in.

    Engineering active in the community? Check.

    Product Management active in community? Check.

    I will ditto Zack's comments that we always entertain ideas to improve processes, products, transparency and community.

    John Clingan
    GlassFish Product Manager
    Sun Microsystems
  • RE: Sorry Simon, but you're still screwing up

    well Dana, you catched the point - but half only.
    Sun gained that much from the half-developed products, that they learned two things:
    - how to steer a community-development to not beeing really successfull - like OpenOffice
    - and how to make real money out of that - using that as a tool and forcing - with little pressure and longtime planing - competitors in patent- and market-shares, or take it that way, making the big-ones to be tolerated and treated as a big-one too.
    Good business - so it is not important if that is really fair to the community too.

    • How good is the business?

      I wonder whether most stock market analysts would agree with you on how good Sun's strategy has proven for the business.

      Of course, they blame Sun going open source at all.

      My take is Sun hasn't gone open source enough.
  • I'm a harlot, and this is my prerogative.

    So, to recap, Sun should not have an open source strategy. Sun should place more faith in the open source community. But if Sun fails, it wasn't the fault of the open source community. And if Sun says it was, it will have told the "biggest business lie ever". Hmmmm.