The Open Source Commandments: 2012 Edition

The Open Source Commandments: 2012 Edition

Summary: Why is this blog post different from all other posts? The Passover Penguins are back.


Editor's Note: The original version of this article was published in 2008.

This weekend, 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 recipes) and then you have at least 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.

I look forward to these ADHD tykes race around the house for twenty minutes, smashing everything in their path 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 RingsManischewitz 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.

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 fiery balls shot by the finger of 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

Back in 2008, when I wrote the original version of this piece, Microsoft certainly got the smiting it deserved from the European Union for its monopolistic practices, to the tune of over 2.6 billion dollars in accumulated fines.

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.

Examples of this include AT&T in 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.

UNIVAC 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 in the past by Microsoft -- and now employed by companies like Apple and Oracle (which are waging war with their competitors via the weaponization of patents) are most certainly one of the least effective ways of preserving your business model long term.

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.

Microsoft is hardly the sole practitioner of closed protocols and APIs, although traditionally they get the lion’s share of scorn in this area.

The Insanely Great Apple has many undocumented API calls into iOS, which in the past has made application development for the platform a clever exercise in reverse engineering, and anyone even trying to play in that space has found their App removed from the App Store.

You want to try to hook a non-Apple device into iTunes or iCloud? Fuhgedaboudit.

And as much as Google can play cool about being Open Source with Android, the company made some seriously strategic blunders last year by keeping Honeycomb, version 3 of Android closed source. That's one way to really tick off your developer fan base, by reneging on your promises.

Google eventually came around and released Ice Cream Sandwich, version 4.0 into the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) but let's hope that what happened with Honeycomb was just a bump in the road and it won't happen again.

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. And the company has changed its tune considerably in the last several years, particularly by making significant contributions to the Linux kernel to make the Open-Source OS a first-class citizen on their Hyper-V virtualization platform.

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.

When this article was originally written, Sun released Java into GPL2 as the OpenJDK, and it was one of the last great acts before the failing company was absorbed by Oracle.

However, it received ten plagues of frogs and wild beasts because of the utter GPL-incompatible train wreck that was the CDDL that OpenSolaris used to be licensed under.

This was perceived as particularly obnoxious by the Open Source community not just because OpenSolaris incorporated many GPL-compatible projects into its distribution, such as GNOME and Xorg, but it was also impossible for projects such as Linux to incorporate Solaris CDDL code.

As it turned out, OpenSolaris was nuked by Oracle after Sun was acquired. Had OpenSolaris been GPLed, that OS might still have had a future in the Open Source community today. The independent Illumos Project is trying hard to keep it alive, but they haven't made a ton of progress getting community buy-in.

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 was actually been a much more flagrant violator of this commandment than Microsoft had ever been, by sending extortion letters and filing lawsuits to end users of Linux distributions for violating their supposed (and now since 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 are never a particularly good ways of going about it.

You might end up with pestilence, darkness, fire and brimstone — or in SCO’s case — bankruptcy and complete insolvency.

[The Commandments Continue: Contributions from the Passover Penguins]»

After eating the heavy meal and unbuckling our belts to make room for dessert, much like during the American secular holiday of Thanksgiving, we often discuss the affairs of the day, and how they pertain to our identity and future as Jews.

If we were to imagine that Tux and his family were enjoying a Passover Seder, what issues would they discuss?

The Exodus from Windows and the Linux desktop to Post-PC and Tablet Computing? The Cloud? Feature set enhancements for Kernel 4.0? Android Version 5? Open webOS?

Or maybe Mark Shuttleworth or Linus Torvalds for President in 2016?

While all of these are valid topics, I decided that we should try to finish the Open Source Commandments, based on reader feedback.

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

“Thou shalt not abandon thy project once it is past the fun stage… Thou shalt reject the false projects of thine WoW guild and fix thine bug-plagued code. Thou shalt not whine when no one else volunteers to help”.

I have to say, this is one that really stuck out. One of the biggest criticisms of Open Source software is the huge amount of abandonware compared to the number of active projects.

Of’s 300,000+ registered projects, a very large number of these are inactive or single-user compared to those that are continuously developed or successful multi-developer projects. Much of the same can also be said for projects hosted at Google Code as well.

On Freecode, a popular Open Source binary download site, a great deal of projects have been pruned and many are also inactive, reflecting its nearly 5,000 pages of total projects listed.

If you’re going to produce an Open Source piece of software, be committed to developing it, and do not abandon it and your users the second real life starts to interfere. You should plan for a backup strategy to continue maintenance and development if you cannot continue to do it yourself.

Thou Shalt Write Good Open Source Documentation

"I love open source and use it for almost everything. I run multiple systems with every major Linux BSD, and whatever else is worth research. But I am very perturbed at the way that OSS designers fail to document things properly. PLEASE write documentation that starts from the beginning. I hate OSS that insists on an intimate relationship with my computers before they have properly introduced themselves! Please, start all docs by explaining in plain English what the OSS is about and what it does."

Amen, my dear follower, thou sayeth the truth. but I think this is true of many programming and software projects, not just Open Source ones.

Document, Document, Document. I don’t care if you do it in comment files, PDFs, Word, AODF, OOXML, ASCII, EBCDIC, Vellum or Papyrus, but write it all down, even if your writing skills suck. I know that this could be challenging in and of itself for a geek, but find a girlfriend, boyfriend or a spouse (I found this to be a particularly good justification for marriage) to edit your materials if necessary.

Thou Shalt Offer a GUI

"The causal user should never be forced to use the command-line for anything."

While the console shell is one of the most powerful interfaces in existence for people who know how to utilize it properly, I have to agree that if you are going to produce an end-user application, it should not require use of the console.

There are so many great console utilities out there that could easily be automated or controlled with a simple pyGTK or TCL/TK GUI.

If you want to see how console can be enhanced with a nice GUI, Microsoft actually has some cool stuff in store with the ISE in the next version of PowerShell which is forthcoming in Windows 8, which comes pre-loaded with over 2000 "commandlets" and has context-sensitive help.

I know it’s beneath you hardcore console minimalists, but if you want to see your software get used, offer at least a basic GUI to front-end it. Get someone else to write it if you hate GUIs that much. It’s no secret that programmers can often be bribed with pizza and Chinese food (manna) to produce quality results.

He Who Professes To Be a Friend of Open Source Shalt Liveth the Lifestyle

This is one of the biggest problems I have with companies that profess to be embracing or participating in “Open Source” and yet fall short of how an Open Source practitioner should behave. They have to engage themselves with the community and not just throw their code to the wind, they have to release often and incorporate external participation, and they have to be able to produce the source code when asked for.

I can’t tell you how often I see companies that embark on Linux or Open Source projects absolutely blow it on these very simple things. A good friend of mine, QT/KDE programmer extraordinaire Benjamin Meyer, has published a list of Commandments of his own for how to best manage Open Source projects. I suggest you give it a nice read.

I think we’re up to 8 Commandments now. What shall the final two be? It’s time for coffee, jelly rings and macaroons. Yea, verily, speaketh thy mind upon this virtual papyrus.

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


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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  • About time you wrote a great blog.

    Even if you had to recycle this one from 4 years ago. Grin

    May you forever walk in the path of righteousness. (Open source righteousness, that is.)
    • Jeez

      I have suspected for some time that Jason had one or two screws loose, but now that he believes he is the Moses of Open Source, I think I may have underestimated how badly damaged his cognition is.
      • Ooookay!

        Think you missed the tongue in the cheek, there, @markbn.
  • Baruch...

    Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu, Melech ha Olam!
    Blessed are you Lord, God, Ruler of the Universe!

    Microsoft HAD to release code to Linux if it wanted to be included in God's universe of shared computing. Of course, since I use Linux Mint alone, and not on top of Microsoft's Hyper-V, I won't be using Microsoft's contribution, anyway.
  • You are insincere, irreverent and most disrespectful!

    Your inappropriate religious references only confirm your underlying latent hostility.
    This is Holy Easter Weekend.

    There was no mention of that but you were careful to highlight and link to wikipedia on "Passover".

    You confer great respect to your religion but this article is a slap in the face of Christianity.

    Very bad Jason.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • From bad to worse.....

      It is too bad that there is not a mechanism to flag a bad article, or rate it like these posts....

      And DTS is correct.....VERY, VERY BAD Jason
      linux for me
    • I really hope

      That your comment was an attempt at sarcasm, Dietrich.
      • I found the story distasteful and offensive

        Perhaps you meant no ill will, but that doesn't change how I feel.
        It is inappropriate.
        Will you take ownership of the possibility that what was written might offend some of your readership?
        If so, please consider updating the story with an apology on this Good Friday.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • Sounds like you hit close

        to somebody's home.

        And I never miss The Ten Commandments, truely a classic that should never be "digitaly updated" or enhanced, which is a possibilty if George Lucas ever gets his hands on it. ;)
        William Farrel
      • unfortunately

        the religious have no sense of humour when it comes to making fun of THEIR religion. If anyone's offended, its their problem. It usually means they are secretly embarrassed in believing in something that has no probability of existing and their only argument is "to be offended".
      • I'm honestly struggling ...

        ... to find anything in this post that could be construed as offensive by a Christian.

        If it's literally only that Jason mentioned that it's Passover, but didn't mention that it's also Easter on Sunday as your post seems to be saying, then seriously Dietrich T. Schmitz, go f--k yourself.
    • I find it sad that some of my fellow Linux advocates...

      ... have no apparent sense of humor when it comes to religion. Substitute Easter and eggs for Passover and matzoh balls, if you must; but try to have some perspective on topics other than Linux and open source. And smile ... it's an attempt at a little seasonal humor.
    • Somebody needs to look closer at the calendar

      Mine says it's Good Friday AND Passover today.
    • yes, a slap indeed

      but it should slap all religions as they are as divisive and intolerant as a monopolist .
  • Lockin tactics

    It is funny that you scream about lockin tactics on the week Red Hat hit $1B using lockin tactics. People buy Red Hat because the environment is guaranteed to run 3rd party software, but the mix that is a Red Hat release is as tightly controlled as any of the monopolistic companies you mentioned.

    Try being a small firm with a unique hardware product, and going to Red Hat and Microsoft. I know it won't be believed, but multiple firms I know of whose core management were all Linux is the best, ended up singing the praise of Microsoft and cursing Red Hat.
  • President 2016

    Suttleworth and Linus had are much change of being POTUS as Arnold .. none.
    I believe Mark is born in SA and Linus , of course, was born in Finland.
    So how did George Washington become President? He was not born
    in the US, neither was Madison, Jefferson, et al...

    • The way things are going...

      I would not be surprised to see a constitutional amendment to allow people who have become US citizens to become president within 10-15 years. Maybe even less.
    • Specific wording

      "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

      --Article II, Section 1, Clause 5, United States Constitution

      Basically, they were already citizens of the US at the time of the Constitution's having been signed.

      Martin van Buren was actually the first President to be born in the "United States of America".
      Third of Five
  • TF&ITW

    Empire of technological blogs TF&IT is looking for new staff ( posts writers ) or you can add to the partnership program and earn 30% of the profits from advertising.??
    J.M. USA
  • Eight is enough

    I apologize to all Christians who were offended by this article.

    I am a Christian, and I understood the small humor (not trying
    to be offensive). As I have heard in a commercial, "It's not easy
    living in a democracy".

    I found the commandments (rules) worth noting.

    To add my own little byte of humor: In base 8
    the magnitude 8 is written as "10". So it seems
    eight is enough for the computer industry.