June 8, 2005

Bruce Perens on new job at SourceLabs

Author: Joe Barr

Effective this morning, Bruce Perens has joined the open source support firm SourceLabs as vice president of Developer Relations and Policy. Perens describes his mission at SourceLabs as being "to build bridges between enterprise IT and the open source community." There is something of an "Odd Couple" flavor to the deal since one of the two primary venture capitalists behind SourceLabs is none other than Brad Silverberg, the recently departed head of Microsoft's Windows group. NewsForge spoke briefly with Perens about his new job yesterday.Barr: Is your new role similar to the one you had at Hewlett-Packard?
Bruce Perens

Perens: The big difference between this and Hewlett-Packard is that Hewlett-Packard had so many conflicts of interest, and in contrast SourceLabs entire business is open source. Thus they were pretty relaxed with my known history, which obviously was making HP nervous while I was there.

These guys have an interesting premise. Essentially, everyone knows about Linux, so we've had really good penetration into the enterprise world. But not so for the rest of open source, and there is a lot of open source stuff that they feel is immediately applicable to the enterprise IT market, except that it is not tested enough. So people are wary of picking it up and basing mission-critical stuff on it. Its support is spotty. Sometimes it is only supported by its developer, and while that is a sincere effort, it's not a very well-provisioned one.

So they are looking at the support market, which is like an $18 billion market, according to Gartner, and thinking, "You know, there is a good chunk that open source could take on there."

Currently they have released one stack that they support, which is AMP -- LAMP without the L, but that doesn't mean that you're not running it on Linux. They didn't feel they needed to support Linux. They will be selecting additional stacks within open source to support and releasing them. For the first one they did, they crafted quite a bit of their own tests, because in the open source world generally we do unit tests, but we don't go further than that. They are doing a lot of functional tests, system tests, and scalability tests on the open source software. They took all of those tests and published them as open source, certified the software to their requirements, and they are offering support to it. So it's a pure open source business.

The funders are Danny Rimer and Brad Silverberg.

Barr: Why is Brad's name familiar to me?

Perens: Because he used to be the head of the Windows business at Microsoft. Imagine an ex-executive at Microsoft and Bruce Perens on the same team. Brad may have some interesting things to say about that. I think the main line from him is, "We are not only just about licensing, we fund businesses that license in the conventional model and we fund open source businesses." Pretty interesting thing, since he only left Microsoft in December or January. (Updated)

Barr: He's only involved as a money man, though, right?

Perens: He's involved as a money man, but of course the money men play a management role. They sit on your board and, indeed, I communicate with Brad on a pretty regular basis. Danny Rimer is already known in the open source world because he is behind the funding of MySQL.

Barr: What about your involvement with UserLinux?

Perens: UserLinux is continuing, all of my open source involvements are continuing, so I will continue to work on Debian. Actually, now that Debian is released, I am working on a UserLinux release. Sarge was released on Monday, and we are glad it's here. Its quality is very high, probably higher than any other Linux distribution you know, and we expect that the next Debian release will be an annual one.

Better commercial support network for Debian-based systems is still on my plate, and now that there is an actually a supportable release, I think I can do that job. It was not really practical to get businesses involved when there wasn't a release there for them to work on.

The most important mission I have today is a political one, and probably the number one item on the political mission, is protecting open source from software patents. I am continuing that mission explicitly with the support of the company.

Barr: Any comment on the EU-Microsoft settlement?

Perens: We knew that the EU settlement would work out this way when most of the complainants dropped out, and this is going back more than six months.

Barr: Microsoft buying up the complaints?

Perens: Essentially that is what happened. We know, for example, that Novell dropped out and they took some large amount in doing so, and a number of other companies did too. The very last one was CCIA, which is involved with open source through a division they call OSAIA, and even CCIA looked around and said, "Whoops, all of our friends are gone!" and decided to take some money. There are no constraints on that money. They can use that money to fight Microsoft. They are still involved in open source, but yeah, unfortunately, we were not going to win really serious constraints on Microsoft in this one.

Barr: At least they did better than in the United States.

Perens: Well, it seems to me that the United States is politically driven. It was like George Bush got elected, and then all the air ran out of the case. That's really unfortunate. It doesn't mean we can't go after them again.

But the software patents concern me more, both the European situation, where there are a lot of people throwing a lot of money around to get software patenting pushed through, including many of our purported friends -- IBM and Hewlett-Packard among them -- and that's really sad.

I think in this case both IBM and Hewlett-Packard are working directly against the interests of the open source community when they lobby for software patenting. In the United States, there is a so-called patent reform bill, but it is mostly directed at unifying our patent system with that of Europe and Japan, rather than fixing some of the bad things about it. You'll be hearing more about that bill.

Barr: Thanks, Bruce.

Read Bruce's own announcement on his Technocrat.net Web site.


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