IBM: Google's 'new kind of open-source organization' is not vendor neutral

Google unsettles IBM by giving the Istio project's trademark management to new Google Open Usage Commons body.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

IBM has a gripe with the governance model of Google's new Open Usage Commons (OUC), an organization that will manage the trademarks for Google's top open-source projects, including Angular, Gerrit, and Istio. 

While Google is the trademark owner of each open-source project, IBM says Google's OUC is "disappointing" because it fails to meet the expectation for vendor-neutral, open governance. 

IBM is affected because, as IBM's Jason McGee points out, Istio was based on a 2017 merger of Google's Istio and IBM's Amalgam8 projects. Today, Istio is the fourth fastest growing open-source project on GitHub.

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IBM describes Istio as as a joint microservices project between itself, Google and ride-hailing firm, Lyft "to connect, secure, control, and observe services, particularly in a Kubernetes environment".

Kubernetes is the popular open-source container-management system created by Google.

"As a founding member of the Istio project, IBM is strongly invested in the engineering, leadership, and success of the Istio project," says McGee

But IBM's main qualm with OUC, which Google describes as "a new kind of open-source organization", is that it believes the new trademark organization is not vendor neutral. 

"An open governance process is the underpinning of many successful projects. Without this vendor-neutral approach to project governance, there will be friction within the community of Kubernetes-related projects," writes McGee 

IBM defines open governance as where "a group of community-elected developers from a project's contributor base make technical decisions about the project or projects' future".

OUC currently is made up of a board of directors, which includes Chris DiBona and Jen Phillips from Google, Allison Randal, an open-source developer and researcher, Charles Isbell from Georgia Institute of Technology, Cliff Lampe from University of Michigan, and Miles Ward from SADA Systems. 

Istio director and Google employee, Sean Suchter, has published a blog that doesn't directly address IBM's concerns but suggests those concerns are exactly why OUC could be useful. 

"Google is the current owner of the Istio trademark. While anyone who is using the software in accordance with the license can use the trademarks, the historic ownership has caused some confusion and uncertainty about who can use the name and how, and at times this confusion has been a barrier to community growth," Google's Suchter writes

He goes on to explain Istio's "commitment to open", explaining that OUC is only focused on project trademarks and "does not address other facets of an open project, like rules around who gets decision-making votes".

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However, Suchter has acknowledged IBM's concerns on GitHub in response to a request to modify Istio's blog from IBM's Lin Sun, who is a member of Istio's steering committee. 

Two IBMers are on Istio's Technical Oversight Committee, along with three members from Google, and one member each from firms Tetrate and Aspen Mesh. 

Then there's Istio's nine-seat steering committee, which oversees marketing and community issues. It consists of members from IBM, Google and Red Hat. However, Google has the most places, reflecting its contributions to the project. 

"Our community is currently discussing how the Steering Committee, which oversees marketing and community activities, should be governed, to reflect the expanding community and ecosystem," says Suchter. 

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