Category Archives: open source


Yes, I’m planning to be at FOSDEM next month.  Traveling by Eurostar Friday and Monday for a full weekend in Brussels.

I’ve booked the Renaissance Hotel, which is the same place I stayed last year.  I can recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid of a bit of a walk: it’s a nice place, and quite a bit closer to the FOSDEM venue than a city-centre hotel.  And at winter weekend rates, the room price is vastly more reasonable than is usual in European conference cities!  But I don’t know if there’s a bus/tram route for non-walkers.

Anyone keen to meet up, drop me a line (if we’re not already talking about it).  Also, don’t forget to sign up for the PGP keysigning.

He told us so!

Anyone who works in or with software knows the danger of a product/project being orphaned: left unsupported, and its users in limbo, facing forced migration to something else[1]. It is a strong argument in favour of open source: if you have the source, then if the worst happens and your supplier/support organisation disappears, or is bought up by someone hostile to it, you can hire someone else to maintain it.

My Apache colleague Gianugo Rabellino (one of the most interesting thinkers and inspiring speakers anywhere in the FOSS world) has argued for years that open source alone is necessary but not really sufficient, and for a product, you need open development. This evening he’s one of the many bloggers to comment on the Oracle acquisition of Sun, and argues there is now a danger of MySQL being orphaned and its users left in limbo despite MySQL being open source (GPL)! His thesis (here) is that if Oracle wants to stifle MySQL, they can make it very unrewarding for anyone else to pick up development.

I don’t think his point completely stands. If enough of the original/current MySQL team were to leave Oracle en masse, they could pick up development, and make a support business of it on the basis of their reputation, in spite of not owning the IP. But that’s not a nice scenario, compared to MySQL as an independent or within Sun.  Or of course within a supportive Oracle.

On the subject of MySQL itself, I’m more optimistic (albeit through the perspective of benefit of the doubt – I want this to be good). While acknowledging the danger, I’m sure Oracle can see the business case for maintaining a healthy MySQL product and community[2]. LAMP and other FOSS users are not short of credible alternatives: obvious candidates include PostgreSQL for serious applications or SQLite for lightweight php-ish stuff, and if MySQL loses its bloom, they’ll migrate. Surely better for Oracle to keep them on-side, make tiny margins on LAMP business and support, but gain a serious market from those who grow big and might be sold a smooth upgrade to a top-end platform where Solaris and Oracle replace Linux and MySQL.

[1] Even Government seems to have got the basic message!

[2] What’s MySQL’s current market share? Is it more than all other SQL databases combined?


Day 1 of ApacheCon Week was BarCamp.  And it was lots of fun!  In fact I preferred the friendly, informal style to that of the main conference: it’s more engaging, and it caught my interest in subjects that would otherwise probably have passed me by (such as Mahout, or a Lucene search), as well as more obvious candidates for my attention like open geodata, and apachecon classic themes like awareness of FOSS in education.

My “apache-helpdesk” session on support ecosystems for open-source projects was scheduled last, so we could have DrBacchus in (he was busy with training for most of the day).  He and pctony are the people present at ApacheCon who I already knew to be leading lights of that ecosystem, and it would’ve been a shame to run the session without both of them.  The session generated some discussion, but no great input from other projects, and I suspect the reality may be that httpd indeed leads the field.  A few slides I used to prime the discussion are here.

Only fly in the ointment was having to faff off into town to find our own lunch.  But that was amply compensated when I got the text from Sarah saying she was indeed – as hoped – coming to join me.  After meeting her at the station and dumping her luggage back at the hotel, we went for a wander around town, ending up in a little thai restaurant where we enjoyed an utterly gorgeous meal.  Yum!

Is going open-source?

Via webmink’s blog, I see the UK government is joining the big boys (like Obama and Medvedev) in embracing open-source. Or at least talking of it: you never know with this lot.

Anyway, Tom Watson, an MP with the splendidly Orwellian title of “Minister for Digital Engagement” has published a note on the subject. What’s more, he seems to appreciate some of the real advantages. Take for example:

The licensing policies of software suppliers, particularly where government is not treated as a single entity, and the lack of cost transparency in the supply chain, have created issues in the progress towards greater cost reduction and joining-up of services across government.

    Those bland words look like a massive understatement of one of the fundamental problems of proprietary software. But then, on the next page:

    ensure that systems integrators and proprietary software suppliers demonstrate the same flexibility and ability to re–use their solutions and products as is inherent in open source.

      That sounds like someone who’s been-there-done-that, with a proprietary system that let him down and no way to adapt or fix it. And he knows the solution. References to concepts such as “open source culture” reinforce this impression! At the same time, it’s full of weasel-words for whomsoever may be looking for a get-out.

      The actual policy states an other-things-being-equal preference for open source, and the two clauses dealing with non-open source software suggest an awareness of the dangers of being held to ransom. Well, I guess it’s happened to them often enough! Whether the civil servants responsible for implementation of the policy (IT procurement) have a clue is another matter: the sharp-suited salesmen from the Usual Suspects will no doubt get the training to run rings around them. And budgets for rather more than just a free lunch!

      An enlightened policy like this isn’t on its own a recipe for success. But it’s a very significant forward step from government IT project inevitably being an expensive disaster. And what’s more, shadow chancellor George Osborne recently commissioned a somewhat-similar note, so there’s reason to hope this policy has cross-party support.

      At FOSDEM

      OK, I made it to FOSDEM 🙂

      Friday morning at Plymouth station, they confirmed there was no disruption due to the weather.  That proved to be half-true: the train was delayed at Exeter waiting for a driver who was stuck on the roads.  But nothing too serious, and I was in London in good time to get on the Eurostar at 14:34, which is exactly what I’d planned.  That too went smoothly subject to some niggles (my seat was double-booked, and more seriously there was some shit with a “personal” stereo audible throughout the carriage – why can’t Eurostar introduce quiet carriages)?  The food was, alas, basically just an airline meal: I guess free booze makes it a supposedly-premium service, but it was too early in the day to enjoy it.

      In Brussels, the weather was fine, and after orienting myself (easier said than done[1]) I was able to walk to the hotel.  It turns out to be pretty decent: no complaints there, though alas the sport centre/swimming pool have limited opening hours at the weekend, so I may miss that.

      The beer event was seriously overcrowded: little chance even to stand still in one place, let alone enjoy a beer and seek out familiar faces.  I battled with it for a couple of hours, and when I left I’d lost my Brussels map.  Aaargh!  Eventually found my way back to the hotel, where I realised I stank of smoke from the beer event.  Ugh.

      FOSDEM itself is huge: much bigger than any other conference I’ve been to in recent years.  There are a few familiar faces, and more half-known people who I’ve no-doubt encountered online.  I’ve met a few new folks and had some useful chats, and seen some good talks.  But that’ll have to keep for another blog entry, if I get around to it.

      [1] I thought I was going to benefit from the GPS on my new phone.  But turns out I need a ‘net connection to download the Brussels map data from Nokia, and I need to figure that out before that feature works for me.

      Sun Webserver open sourced!

      A little under six months from the original announcement, Sun has released its core Sun Java System Web Server source code under a BSD license.  You can read about it and download it here.  This brings us exciting new opportunities for cross-fertilisation with Apache and other web servers[1], and I intend now to spend some time in Sun’s newly-Free code.

      The webserver is of course not Sun’s only product in the field.  Nor even the main one: Sun’s webstack supports Apache and other open source servers.  In the marketplace as a whole, it is by most measures an also-ran, alongside everything else other than Apache and Microsoft.  Nevertheless, it is reported to be quite substantially overrepresented at the top-end of the market, with a significant market share amongst Fortune 500 company sites.  I can’t quote statistics on the subject, but this makes sense based on high performance and the backing of a strong top-end company.

      I’m not sure if it’s decent to say this from my position (working for Sun, though not on this particular software), but thanks Sun for another great contribution to the world!

      [1] An example is Basant Kukreja’s sed filter module, which is already in Apache’s trunk.

      Open Sourcing Sun’s Web stuff

      When Sun opened Solaris, they opened a new era of cross-fertilisation with other projects.  Sun, like other vendors, benefits from the work of a much wider community.  The community, including the major projects like the Linux and BSD kernels, benefit from Sun goodies such as DTrace and ZFS.

      Sun’s announcement this week of opening the Web server and proxy brings such opportunities for cross-fertilisation to the Web platform.  I haven’t worked on Sun’s server myself (I’ve dabbled with its API, but not the innards), but my colleagues include some who work on both Sun’s and Apache technologies.  Now there’s no longer a risk of Intellectual Property issues getting in the way of such folks participating fully in multiple communities.  Or of anyone else with an interest in re-using Sun’s work.

      This is for Sun, in quite a strong sense, a return to its roots: back in the 1980s it was the major platform for innovation, including much of the foundations of today’s networking.  It was Solaris 2 in the early 1990s that saw Sun (metaphorically) don a business suit, unbundle the C compiler, and alienate the geeks, and I suspect it’s no coincidence that in the early 1990s a bunch of geeks formed a community around the infant Linux alternative!  Now we’re happily back to the heart of geekdom!

      Sun is hiring!

      Sun’s webstack team is hiring!

      The web stack is strongly focussed on open source solutions, centred on the LAMP[1] stack and variants on those technologies. We’re now looking for recent grads eager to work on open source technologies and help build next generation OpenSolaris web platform.

      If interested, see

      and please mention niq’s soapbox in your application!

      As regular readers are no doubt aware, I joined Sun Microsystems back in February as Apache guru. The MySQL acquisition bought in key developers from a broader range of opensource web-technology projects. I’m happy to say that on current experience, they’re the best company I’ve worked for by a clear margin. This is a company that doesn’t just treat its engineering staff as junior bods on the way to ‘real’ jobs in management or marketing, and expect you to be ‘above’ engineering (or on the scrapheap) by age 30. I’m happy to recommend them as an employer.

      [1] Yeah, right, maybe I should say S(olaris)AMP, but both platforms are important to us, as indeed are alternatives to the A, M and P!

      Business never healthier?

      A lot of mergers and acquisitions when the acquired companies aren’t in serious trouble is strongly correlated with a healthy market, right? I thought that was conventional wisdom amongst economists.

      Even as the financial sector and the meeja are crying meltdown, the tech sector is forging ahead. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the two big deals in a day: Sun/MySQL and Oracle/BEA. Since then we’ve had another two smaller but nevertheless substantial takeovers: Nokia’s of TrollTech, and SpringSource’s of Covalent. And today, the biggest potential deal of the season to date, with Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo. The evident health of the tech sector is a sharp contrast to gloom and doom elsewhere.

      I don’t think I can bring any great new insights to the deals. They’re all important in their own ways. TrollTech because of Qt: possibly a little troubling, in that the commitment to the GPL doesn’t seem to preclude a fork and a two-track future. Covalent less so for two reasons: it seems most unlikely that SpringSource would reduce commitment to Apache, and even if they did, Apache is a much broader community. And MS/Yahoo … obviously an attempt to rival Google, but I’ll be somewhat surprised if they succeed, at least if they try to challenge them head-on.

      Mergers & Acquisitions Day

      So, all within a day, Sun acquires MySQL, and Oracle acquires BEA.

      About the latter, I have nothing to say, beyond “may I be spared having to work with their ghastly software ever again“. But the former is definitely interesting, and probably good news. If nothing else, it removes any risk of MySQL being gobbled up by someone altogether more sinister, as happened to sleepycat.

      There are some pretty convincing reasons why Sun should be interested in this. MySQL is by far the biggest database in the Web applications world, which is obviously important to them. And Sun is leapfrogging its big rivals IBM and Microsoft, both of whom have major SQL database products but nothing like MySQL’s market share. Furthermore, MySQL’s approach based on open source with corporate governance should be thoroughly at home at Sun.

      As for MySQL – well, apart from the money, I expect the Sun name and worldwide organisation may open new doors for them. Not that they were some startup-in-a-garage, but they did come from low-end origins, and have moved up the market over the years. I expect the alliance with Sun will help MySQL’s image as a top-end product backed by a top-end company, for those who care about such things.