I have just returned from the Open Source Think Tank in Sonoma http://thinktank.olliancegroup.com/agenda_public.php. We had a great time and the discussion was vigorous! The last year has continued the expansion of open source use, confirmed recently by Laurie Wurster’s March 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review http://lawandlifesiliconvalley.com/blog/?p=619. In particular, Android has been spectacularly successful and was a significant factor in Nokia’s recent failures in the handset market. The new Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, described Nokia as being on a “burning platform” and identified Android as one of the major sources of their problems.
I provided my traditional Legal Update on Thursday (which you can see at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/76174077/Open-Source-Think-Tank-2011-Legal-Update). The success of open source has had consequences: it has focused attention of rights holders on the industry and made some open source companies targets for legal action. For example, Android’s success has been undercut by a tidal wave of litigation (with more than thirty eight lawsuits filed to date). I believe that these challenges (and its modest existing patent portfolio) are the motive for Google’s decision to bid $900,000,000 to purchase Nortel’s patent portfolio.
The ubiquity of the use of free and open source software has also resulted in many companies are demanding that their suppliers provide information on their use of free and open source software and how they comply with their licenses. Yet as recently noted by Laurie Wurster in her Harvard Business Review article, many companies have yet to adopt a formal approach to managing their use of free and open source software http://lawandlifesiliconvalley.com/blog/?p=619. At the request of our attendees, we addressed this management issue in a separate workshop.
The most interesting discussions were about the effect of cloud computing on open source. It was the subject of two panels and a brainstorming session. Nine out of ten groups in the brainstorming session believed that cloud computing was good for open source. However, attendees generally agreed that cloud computing undercuts two of the traditional advantages of open source: (1) low cost and (2) ease of use. Yet the flexibility of open source development techniques continue to provide significant advantages.
The attendees also agreed that open source companies (like all software companies) need to review their business models as customers in the cloud begin to expect “pay as you go” pricing. The tools in the cloud also permit very granular information on the use and interest in various features of a software program and the contributors who have provided those features: this capability may permit open source projects and companies to reward contributors directly for the success of their contributions.
The workshop led by AOL provided a great opportunity to work together to apply our cumulative experience in open source to real world problems. The conference works under Chatham House rules so you will need to see the results of those discussion.
As in the past, we included plenty of time to socialize with the other attendees. First Republic Bank put on a great cocktail party on Thursday, including tasting Araujo cabernet in their tasting (one of the cult cabs). The shift in venue from Napa to Sonoma enabled us to experience a new region of the wine country: Friday afternoon included tours at Chateau St Jean and Ledson (although Andrew somehow found wineries in Sonoma, the heart of Pinot Noir country, which focused on cabernet sauvignon). A hardier group went for a bike ride, but they split into the “wine group” who tasted and rode 12 miles; the hard core cyclists led by Peter Vescuso of Black Duck rode 30 miles. I think that the combination of topics and attendees made this Think Tank the best one to date.
We are already planning for next year, so please provide us with your suggetsions. As in the past, Andrew is working on a white paper which will provide more detail about our discussions. I look forward to the white paper to continue the dialog!
I am looking forward to the upcoming Open Source Think Tank 2011 which we are co hosting with Olliance Group/Black Duck. Andrew Aitken has prepared a great agenda and we are going to have a case study by AOL which they describes as follows: AOL is planning two related open source initiatives: employing open source technologies and practices to improve the innovation and efficiency of their developers and releasing elements of their software portfolio as open source to enrich their ability to deliver content and encourage community contributions.
This year the Open Source Think Tank will be particularly interesting because of the dramatic expansion in the use and importance of Freedom and Open Source Software (”FOSS”). We will be discussing the recent completion of many important industry initiatives to make FOSS easier to use: Project Harmony (contributor agreement), SPDX (assisting management of the supply chain by providing a common vocabulary for describing licenses), new Mozilla license and Open Web Foundation (contributor agreements).
The Open Source Think Tank is unique because of the breadth and seniority of those who attend, from CEOs such as Larry Augustin (SugarCRM) and Tim Yeaton (Black Duck) to counsel such as John Noerenberg (Chief IP Counsel, Qualcomm) and Marissa Aufox (Compliance Counsel, Go Daddy Group) to CTOs such as Shawn Douglass (EMC) and Paul Daugherty (Chief Technology Architect, Accenture).
We will also be discussing the recent government initiatives which could dramatically increase the market for FOSS. I have mentioned these government initiatives in an earlier post. http://lawandlifesiliconvalley.com/blog/?p=607.
We have a few more spaces left for the Open Source Think Tank, but if you are interested you will have to move quickly. http://thinktank.olliancegroup.com/
The Sixth Annual Spring Open Source Think Tank has now been scheduled on April 7th to 9th at the Sonoma Mission Inn in Sonoma. The Spring Think Tank is one of my favorite events because I get to spend time with the most interesting people in open source and discuss the future of the industry in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. By limiting attendees to CEOs, industry luminaries, CIO/CTOs, senior technology executives, legal experts and investors, we assure a lively and informed discussion (and a great opportunity to network with your peers).
We will be using our experience at the successful Fall Think Tank in Paris to add more real-world business cases to the agenda. Selected case studies will focus on the growing commercial maturity and complexity of open source and the evolution of cloud computing and SaaS. We are working on the agenda and will make it available closer to the date of the event. Just a reminder – this is not a traditional conference; all attendees are expected to contribute and actively participate in the brainstorming and workshop format.
This event sells out every year, if you have not already received an invitation, please go to .thinktank.olliancegroup.com and request an invitation.
Moreover, Andrew’s selection of Sonoma as the venue means that we are in the heartland of Pinot Noir and it is an implicit recognition by Andrew of the superiority of Pinot Noir over Cabernet Sauvignon. I am glad to welcome him to the lovers of the true wine!
I have been reading the debate about “Open Core” which was stimulated by Jorg Janke post about Compiere. http://www.compieresource.com/2010/06/compiere-open-source-failed.html. The open source community owes Jorge Janke a huge debt of thanks for his frank discussion of what happened at Compiere. People are rarely eager to share the details of their failures. I think that the most important lesson from his posting is the critical importance of management that understands its market. The venture capital industry learned this lesson long ago. When making a decision about an investment, venture capitalists focus on the management team; they understand that the technology is important, but great execution with mediocre technology will win over poor execution with great technology. This rule has been established by decades (and thousands) of investments. Open source companies pose particular challenges for management because of the critical role of communities and their expectations in the success of the company. These issues are very different from traditional software companies. Compiere is a very telling example of the nature of those challenges.
This post has launched a discussion of the “open core” business model and whether it is true “open source” http://www.computerworlduk.com/community/blogs/index.cfm?entryid=3047&blogid=41. I have great respect for Simon Phipps and his contributions to the open source community, but I strongly disagree with his statements. I am very concerned that if he is successful, end users will have fewer software programs under open source licenses. This result arises because of the law of unintended consequences: the successful demonization of the open core model will result in fewer venture capital investments in companies using open source licenses.
In the interest of transparency, I work with over twenty open source companies, most of who were funded by venture capitalists and the vast majority of which use the “open core” model. These companies have provided significant value to end users through the software licensed under open source licenses. Simon states: “But to use the package effectively in production, a business probably won’t find the functions of the core package sufficient, even in the (usual) case of the core package being highly capable.” This statement is simply incorrect. I have sat through many Board meetings and, in fact, the conversion rate from “open source” to “commercial” licenses is generally less than 10% for these companies. Thus, more than nine out of ten end users find the functionality of the open source version satisfactory.
Simon says that open core does not provide software freedom for “end users”. Yet, nothing prevents the end users of the open source version to modify it and distribute it or otherwise exercise the rights under the license. In fact, Compiere demonstrates the fallacy of this position because it created two different forks. Simon complains about the lack of access to the “commercial extensions” of open core programs. However, as Marten Mickos notes, the effect on the end user of the employment of the Apache license is the same as the open core model: commercial extensions are not made available to the community. http://webmink.com/2010/06/24/links-for-2010-06-24/#comment-870. I agree with Matt Aslett that the open core model does not violate the Open Source Definition, either literally or in spirit. http://blogs.the451group.com/opensource/2010/07/02/open-core-is-not-a-crime/. (please note that this position is a personal one and does not reflect the view of the OSI which has not yet taken a position on this issue). Simon appears to be suggesting that only a “copyleft” approach in which all of the software must be available under an open source license to meet the Open Source Definition, which is simply incorrect (the Open Source Definition was a reaction to the limitations imposed by the copyleft approach).
I agree with Matt at one level that ultimately this debate will be decided by the market (i.e. end users). However, I don’t agree that it is futile. Most venture capitalists will not invest in companies that do not use the open core model, so if the open source community leaders are successful in demonizing the open core model, they will decrease the willingness of venture capitalists to invest in open source companies (just a reminder, that a recent book, Mastering the VC Game, recently noted that venture capitalists typically look at 300 companies for each company in which they invest). Although not all open source projects need venture capital support, venture capitalists have been a significant source of support for open source projects (as well as new software made available under open source licenses) and end users have been the beneficiaries of their investment. If the open core model is no longer considered open source, the biggest losers will be the end users; they will lose the opportunity to benefit from that investment and that is certainly not consistent with the goals of open source
On February 10, 2010, the Linux Foundation and the Open Source Initiative co sponsored their first Legal Strategic Planning Session. I am glad to declare it a success. We had a very diverse group both professionally and geographically, with participants from Europe, Japan and the US.
We started the day with a discussion by Damien Eastwood (formerly of Sun Microsystems, Inc.) about his experience, both legal and practical, in moving Java and Solaris to open source models. We then had a series of presentations on license due diligence from FSF Europe and Hewlett Packard. We also discussed the increasing problem of license compliance through a constantly changing tool chain and the potential to have a consistent industry wide approach to this “Bill of Materials” problem. Heather Meeker provided an overview of the trademark issues arising in open source licensing.
Simon Crosby from Xen provided an overview of cloud technology which is the latest challenge for the FOSS community. Our luncheon speaker was Marten Mickos, who provided a business perspective on the open source model. Rob Tiller provided an overview of opensource.com. We also had a panel discussion of how best to respond to patent claims in a way which will not create problems during the litigation. Karen Copenhaver and I provided an overview of the status of the ALI Principles of the Law of Software Contracts. We finished up with a wine tasting from Pine Ridge arranged by Andrew Aitken of Olliance Group.
Karen Copenhaver deserves special thanks for conceiving of the opportunity and then organizing the first one (always, the toughest!). Given the number of legal issues for the FOSS community, I am sure that we will need to continue this tradition. if you want to learn more about the discussion, Karen Copenhaver and I will be summarizing it in our Black Duck webinar on Tuesday, February 23 http://www.blackducksoftware.com/files/legal-webinar-series.html.