Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

SDForum, Microsoft ISV Forum, and OSBC: three conferences on Open Source

As I indicated in a previous post I was invited to participate in the SDForum Open Source Colloquium on Monday. This year the event ended up being jointly held with Microsoft third annual Open Source ISV Forum which was taking place the same day. Unfortunately, due to conflicting schedules I couldn’t attend much of Microsoft’s sessions.

The next two days the InfoWorld OSBC conference was held in the same hotel and I attended that event as well. So, I just participated in two and a half days of presentations, panels, and hallway discussions on open source and I want to share some of my impressions.

First, I think it’s fair to say that the most obvious thing that comes out of all this is that there isn’t any discussion about whether open source is real or not anymore. It is clearly accepted that it’s become part of our industry and it’s here to stay. As several speakers commented the fact that even Microsoft seems to finally be recognizing this fact is a clear sign that this question isn’t really up for debate anymore.

I should point out that Microsoft’s message remains somewhat twisted though. Yes, they recognize that open source is part of our industry. They talk about interoperability with Linux for instance and this appears to be real, simply because it is motivated by customer demand and even Microsoft has to listen to its customers sometimes.

However, this doesn’t mean they are embracing open source for that matter. You’ve probably heard that the financial crisis is said to be an incentive for companies to look at open source solutions as a way to cut costs. I don’t know about you but it makes sense to me.

In the little I heard during Microsoft’s event one of their executives was claiming that contrary to what is being said there is no real move toward open source though. According to him this is because the last thing companies want to do in the current situation is to take risks and moving toward open source is too big a risk.

While the point may seem to have some validity it’s reminding me of the same old FUD Microsoft has been spreading for years to try and keep people away from using open source. And one has to balance that with claims from Mindtouch’s CEO and the likes about the ease and record speed at which companies can deploy their open source offerings.

The second thing I noticed is that a lot of the sessions were about sharing information on how to use open source, how to manage open source activities in your company, how to successfully launch an open source project and create a community around it, the legal intricacies of the various open source licenses and their interaction with proprietary code.

There seemed to be a large amount of lawyers actually, both presenting and attending, as well as geeks and business people. Bringing these people together seems to be a characteristic of what open source does actually. 🙂

I should mention one talk from a lawyer on how to separate or “shim” proprietary code from copyleft code (typically under GPL). He mentioned that some people got the feeling that he was just helping companies avoid having to comply with the obligations brought by the copyleft license and gave some explanation of why this wasn’t the case. But I have to admit that I did not understand it.

All I can say is that having listened through all the techniques he suggests one uses to avoid the license contamination did leave me with the exact feeling he tried to render invalid. That is: 1) these are just tricks not to comply with the license, and 2) this is clearly going against the spirit of the license.

In summary, I think there was a lot of very practical information being shared rather than general debates on the good or bad of open source we used to have. I think this is very good and a clear sign of maturity.

As some of us remarked during the conference(s) we probably won’t have conferences dedicated to open source for much longer for that matter. Open source is poised to become business as usual.


March 26, 2009 Posted by | opensource | , , | 1 Comment

The Eco-Patent Commons has momentum

Although I’ve never talked about the Eco-Patent Commons before I’ve actually been involved in this project since its inception. You might wonder why, given that it doesn’t really have anything to do with standards and open source which are my primary focus.

It’s one of those “special projects” we have at IBM which do not necessarily fall within the scope of anyone’s responsibilities, and for which we pull in people with various skills to help out.

What I brought to the project was experience with patent pledges and policies as well as organizations/associations of various interested parties (regarding process, governance, etc.)

The initial idea came out of IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook program. A program in which we invite people from all around the world to meet and discuss “the most vexing challenges on earth” and what might be done about them.

In this case the idea that came out of the GIO was to share patents to help protect the environment and foster innovation in that field.

For several years IBM had been experimenting with non traditional ways to use our patent portfolio. We thus did several patent pledges in support of Linux, Open Source, Web services based healthcare and education related standards, and others. So, the idea of allowing one to use our patents on a royalty free basis for a specific purpose was no foreign concept to IBM and doing so in support of the protection of the environment fit within this trend. It was therefore agreed upon within IBM without much controversy.

Because we didn’t want this to be just an IBM thing however, we looked for a neutral host and invited other companies to participate in the creation of a patent commons.

Difference between a patent pledge and a patent commons

A patent pledge can take various forms but it is basically a public commitment from a patent owner not to sue one or more parties for infringement, typically, in support of a specific usage. This is usually done by companies like IBM in support of specific technologies, standards, or particular industry trends, such as the open source with the goal to facilitate adoption of a specific technology, standard, or software.

Wikipedia defines commons as a word “used in the sense of any sets of resources that a community recognizes as being accessible to any member of that community.” In the case of patent commons, the resources made accessible are patents. Like patent pledges, patent commons are typically created in support of a specific goal. The major difference between patent pledges and patent commons is that while pledges can be done unilaterally, commons by nature require the creation of a community, a set of identified intellectual property owners who agree to respect the rules set by the community.

We investigated several possible hosts and eventually settled on the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) which welcomed us with enthusiasm.

WBCSD is perfect for this because the project fits well within its mission and, WBCSD is an international organization with participation from companies from all around the world.

The Eco-Patent Commons was launched in January 2008 with the participation of Nokia, Pitney Bowes, and Sony, in addition to IBM.

Later Bosh, Dupont, and Xerox joined, and today WBCSD announced that Ricoh and Taisei joined the commons and Dupont contributed more patents.

While we haven’t seen an explosion in participation the commons exists and keeps on growing both in terms of number of patents and in number of members. This is very encouraging. The idea of pledging patents is still brand new so, it’s no surprise it takes time for companies to get comfortable with it. The fact that several companies have already done so leaves me without doubt that more are to join us.

I invite you to familiarize yourself with the Eco-Patent Commons. Investigate whether your company might join and talk about it around you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | ibm | , , , , | 1 Comment

Global Open Source Colloquium

I realize this is late notice but there is a whole set of events happening in San Francisco so if you’re in the area you may be interested in this.

I’ll be speaking on a panel on “Global Initiatives and Governments: Opportunities and Challenges” on Monday (03/23/09) as part of the Global Open Source Colloquium organized by the SDForum.

I participated in last year’s event and thought the discussions were very interesting so, I’m looking forward to it and I invite people to come and join us there.

If you’re interested check out the registration page.

See you there.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | opensource | , | Leave a comment

Irony of all – Peer review

I received an invitation to a Symposium on Peer Reviewing, which is motivated by the following:

Only 8% members of the Scientific Research Society agreed that “peer review works well as it is”. (Chubin and Hackett, 1990; p.192).

“A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and an analysis of the peer review system substantiate complaints about this fundamental aspect of scientific research.” (Horrobin, 2001)

Horrobin concludes that peer review “is a non-validated charade whose processes generate results little better than does chance.” (Horrobin, 2001). This has been statistically proven and reported by an increasing number of journal editors.

After a short introduction the invitation then goes on into explaining how one should go at submitting a paper and what the selection process will be. And this is what it reads:

All Submitted papers will be reviewed using a double-blind (at least three reviewers), non-blind, and participative peer review.

Some people have humor. 🙂

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment