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Talking Open Source Governance with Simon Phipps

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 16, 2006

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with Simon Phipps, Sun’s Chief Open Source Officer. You can read some of it here at IT Pro .

Sun’s Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps has announced the next stage of the open sourcing of Java in London this week, adding Java ME to the road map. Open source versions of both Java ME and Java SE should be available by the end of the year.

While there were no actual dates confirmed, Phipps went into more detail on the open source roadmap for Sun’s various software platforms. Describing it as a gradual process, he detailed Sun’s commitment to providing an open source software stack, from OS to Java, and in the future, its middleware.

We also talked about the missing element in many Open Source projects: governance.

While one of the keys to Open Source is the license, another is just how the project is run. And Simon sees one big problem facing many open source projects.

It’s all very well being open source, but with only one person with commit rights (the ability to make changes to the code) to the code base, if the project becomes successful, they’re going to become overwhelmed very quickly. Things get worse when commit rights are concentrated in a single project. A project run that like that (and there are many many of them, including some very high profile ones indeed) is more like Microsoft’s shared source programme than anything else. There have even been cases when experts on a piece of code have left the company that sponsors the project, and have immediately lost any rights to working with the codebase…

The really successful projects, like Linux and Apache, have distributed commit rights, and a range of people from many different organisations adding code. That’s what Phipps wants to do with Sun’s open source projects. Open Solaris is certainly successful, and has spawned several different distributions (including one that mixes Debian with a Solaris kernel), and he hopes to the same with Java.
Cross Posted to A New IT World

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4 Responses to 'Talking Open Source Governance with Simon Phipps'

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  1. spride said,

    “see’s” ?

  2. sbisson said,

    Curse these fingers!

  3. a_cubed said,

    Hmm, if a project is GPL-d or equivalent, however, if the management of the project is too restrictive with who gets to commit, then the answer is to fork it and set up a replacement management team. This is certainly the general answer I’ve seen both OSI people and FSF people respond when asked about this. Certainly the issue of commit rights being taken away by a sponsoring company leads to a question of whether they’re acting in the best interests of the project and if they’re not, you discuss it amongst those involved in development and form a rival team. Of course, it can be awkward but if a company is paying people and hosting the infrastructure then they have de facto control over the current management, though not over the potential for forking.

    I think these sorts of issues are most prevalent when you get micro-managers in charge of projects. They feel they have to do everything, that it’s “their baby” and they forget that this is one of the things you have to give up sole “ownership” of when you open source something.

    There’s definitely a dearth of research on this in Universities, so far as I can tell. Lots of people doing close source project management research and teaching, but very little on open source management and teaching.

    Interesting stuff, but I’m way to busy to follow it up. Maybe I’ll drop it into a few possibly receptive shell-likes.

  4. sbisson said,

    Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way in practice (look at the situation around JBoss when half the team left). There’s also the issue of restrictive licences which enshrine the process (like Apple’s).


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