A lot of talk was generated in the week before the expo by the Intel announcement that they were releasing an open source driver for one of their advanced 3D graphics controller chips. At the same time, Sun let journalists know that they would provide an update to their plans to open-source Java. I also received two or three emails and phone calls a day from companies announcing that they were open-sourcing their products or creating new open-source products. Since companies that have made this announcement in the past don’t seem to be folding up and dying just to satisfy cynics, I see open-source business models as a growing trend. In this blog I’ll describe:
- The open-source Intel graphics chip
- Sun news on open-source java
- Motorola promotes mobile Linux while Nokia releases device
- Black Duck and Palamida keep coders clean
- Nat Friedman declares Linux desktop ready (for many uses)
Analysts decided that Intel was trying to get a leg up on its competition by freeing its driver. Certainly, it wants its chip used in Linux systems, and open-sourcing the driver means it can keep up with kernel changes; its driver will continue to work as each version of the kernel is released every few weeks.
But the main lesson this decision holds for me is the power of the free software community. It was their lobbying (and sometimes, their intransigent refusal to support binary drivers) that forced this most prominent of hardware companies to make the open-source decision. Every successful company knows it has to give the customer what she wants–but now it’s a good idea to give the developer and hacker community what it wants too.
In summary, the key points I took from the announcement are:
- All of Sun’s software (”the entire software portfolio”) will eventually be open source. Both Java virtual machines (the CLDC and the CDC) are to be open-source within the next 18 months. “Significant pieces” will be opened this year, and the rest in 2007.
- An “OSI-approved license” will be used on Java. A manager told me it would be very unlikely that Sun will create a new license; one of the existing known OSI-approved licenses will probably be used.
- Current practices for certifying and trademarking Java will probably not change, because the community is happy with them.
- Open-sourcing will benefit the new wave of complex Java-based systems emerging in the market place, notably mobile and other embedded systems.
I asked the head of the GlassFish project whether they anticipate a flood of contributions and suggestions for open-source Java; he said that on his project the stream of input was “incremental” and easy to handle.
Let me explain why I am sympathetic to Sun’s pacing and cautious approach. O’Reilly Media itself used to have a software division, making Web software. When profits weren’t as good as we expected, managers closed down the division. They considered open-sourcing the software, but decided it took too much trouble. Not only the legal changes, but the cultural changes, presented enormous hurdles. So I know that a shift like that made by Sun is hard to do and must be done carefully–they have only one chance to get it right.
News will be posted online as the project continues.OSDL Mobile Linux Forum, which focuses on developing standards more than code. Motorola works hard to make their partners play the game right and release Linux code under the GPL. And putting their money where their mouths are, Motorola has released a lot of Java code (as well as their own Linux changes) on a developer website.
I talked to Mark VandenBrink, lead architect of mobile devices software, about the Motorola view of the mobile device market and Linux’s role. He thinks that the adoption of WiMAX (an area where Motorola is collaborating with Sprint) will provide a fat pipe for content on mobile devices, putting pressure on operating systems to support large amounts of streaming data. Linux has to become ready for this. Linux’s support for IPv6 may also prove valuable.
Nokia lent copies of its 770 tablet to journalists for use during the show. This PDA (based on Linux) is pretty chock full of devices, including a memory chip, a rather tinny speaker and earphone jack, Bluetooth and 802.11 wireless support, and a USB connection.
I mastered the menus and interface fairly quickly and tried out various input systems. I didn’t get to the handwriting interface, but I was frustrated by the finger keyboard (typing interface), which didn’t always recognize my finger presses. The stylus input worked well. Unfortunately, the device interacted strangely with the wireless hubs provided by the Expo and the W Hotel, leading to the hubs stealing the web page regularly or closing connections unexpectedly.
Two companies, Black Duck and Palamida, provide tools for companies who want to remain honest and avoid legal vulnerabilities. Their premise is simple: keep a base of software signatures or fingerprints which the company’s code can be matched, like virus checking software. But the filched code is a needle in a haystack, so techniques must get sophisticated.
Black Duck has been around much longer. They boast a scalable system that is being used by companies with a global reach, such as Siemans. They recently announced the growth of their knowledge base to a staggering 71 gigabytes, driven partly by 100 vendors who recently added their code, and the incorporation of examples from Dr. Dobbs Journal and the C/C++ Users Journal.
Black Duck CEO Douglas Levin says they have also been working intensively with the Free Software Foundation on its GPL version 3.0, and he is very impressed with the emerging license. He says FSF leadership has listened effectively to the many inputs. Their constituency, particularly the businesses he’s in contact with, have a positive inclination to the license.
Palamida offered its first produce, IP Amplifier, in 2005. Like the Black Duck system, it is intended to find code that violates open source licenses by running the code through a set of matches. In addition to strings of source code, IP Amplifier checks Java namespaces, MD5 checksums on files of binary code, and copyright notices.
Palamida has just announced a new product, IP Authorizer, that lets developers submit free software excerpts they’ve found for approval, and tracks the workflow as the managers and legal staff determine whether it’s safe to include the code in the company’s product. Palamida also offers services along the same lines as its products.
To be precise, the Linux desktop is ready for the large class of what Novell calls “basic office workers.” Unlike home users, who want a wide range of games and multimedia tools, basic office workers run just four or five common applications. They make up the majority of people working in companies, and their needs can be satisfied by free software such as Evolution, Firefox, and OpenOffice.org. Furthermore, their desktop systems can be configured to fit smoothly in with a Windows network so that a company can make a gradual transition to free software.