August 5, 2005

Thursday's OSCON highlights

Author: Jay Lyman

Thursday's OSCON Open Source Convention covered licensing issues and code awareness, where Linux has a leg up on desktop deployment and where it does not, and the growing opportunity open source brings to developing nations.

Other sessions covered development and deployment of a range of open source software, from Perl, Python, and PHP to SOAP and Web services, but much of the focus of the week was on open source licensing trends and the code-combing services of companies such as Black Duck and Palamida.

Awareness up, along with number of OS licenses

Black Duck President and CEO Doug Levin said in an interview that in the last year, the business and organizational approach and awareness of open source software, and more specifically of intellectual property (IP) and licensing issues, has grown. The reason, according to Levin, is because of increased use of open source, which is no longer typically limited to the so-called LAMP software stack, but now includes as many as 12 to 24 open source products that are being increasingly deployed in a dual-license strategy.

Levin said users and enterprises are both accelerating their knowledge of open source along with the increased reliance on the products. "It's a comforting and reassuring trend that people have just moved up the learning curve," he said. "Open source stacks and concepts are much more acceptable."

While the increase in open source software use and knowledge is a good thing, Levin called the growth and proliferation of open source software licenses -- a common theme of OSCON and other recent shows -- a bad thing. "There could easily be fewer licenses," he said. "The problem is, lawyers will be lawyers and they create new licenses and it's just the wrong approach.

Referring to 63 approved OSI licenses and another 100-200 "floating around," Levin echoed others from the FSF and elsewhere in calling for a reduction in licenses. "We want to reduce any possible objection, concern, or friction point with using open source licenses," he said. "There are truly an unnecessary group of licenses which have been created because of lawyers' needs to justify their existence or because companies have a narcissistic need for differentiation. The slight variations are more often than not an overreaction by zealous lawyers."

Black Duck was also represented in conference program sessions. CTO Palle Pedersen said in a session that companies must not only know where code came from and is being used, but are better served automating the update and maintenance of such information.

"After you have the information, you have to figure out what to do with it because you want it to be maintainable," Pedersen said. "If you don't go through these steps, you can end up with all kinds of nightmares," he said, referring to a company unaware of its use or reliance a particular piece of code with the potential for legal or other trouble.

Pedersen also indicated solutions such as Black Duck's protex/IP software suite can help companies visualize the relationships among different pieces of code they are using or developing, including mixed proprietary and open source software. "All that is stuff we essentially track and represent," he said. "It's just part of making it automated."

Where Linux works

During another session covering Linux on the desktop, OSDL CTO Tim Witham told attendees that while Linux has a large opportunity to get on corporate desktops in some settings -- such as basic office workers and transactional and technical workstation setups -- the open source operating system may not yet be ready for the advanced office worker's desktop.

"If you look at the kiosk, that and the technical workstation -- that's where I see it as the easiest," he said.

Witham also warned of the danger of corporate executives who may not be able to take direction, but may also not be able to work a Linux desktop. "You can get into a situation where it's, 'Oooh, this makes me look like an idiot' and that kills it right there."

Still, Witham highlighted some successful Linux desktop inroads, detailing a program at Portland's Riverdale High School where teacher time was freed up, students were given a stable computing platform and environment for learning, and the benefits of Linux stood out.

"Better means they didn't have to spend as much time with support, they didn't have to spend as much money on support," he said. "That's better. It's got nothing to do with technology. The real savings is ongoing stability."

Developing nations developing open source

While students and educators may be among those seeing the benefits of open source, as detailed on sites such as k12os.org, developing nations such as Sri Lanka are also leveraging open source software for economic development and international recognition, Sanjiva Weerawarana said during another Thursday session.

Weerawarana indicated the Lanka Software Foundation had successfully put his home country on the open source map with its Axis/C++ software first released in 2003.

Weerawarana said Sri Lanka could not compete with its neighbor India being a services provider because of its smaller population and number of developers. However, he did refer to the plethora of open source software possibilities that can create businesses, jobs and global recognition. Services, he said, are "not an opportunity that will create a niche for Sri Lanka. Open source can be because it's a whole different game."

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