Category Archives: oracle

OpenOffice at Apache?

Today’s buzz: talk of OpenOffice being donated to the Apache Software Foundation.

Wow!  That’s a Very Big Catch, isn’t it?  Perhaps the biggest since Hadoop?  Or???

Well, maybe.  As of now it’s a long way from a done deal, and it’s by no means clear that it will happen.  To become an Apache project, OpenOffice will have to be accepted into the incubator where it will have to demonstrate suitability before it can graduate to an Apache project.  Apache media guru Sally Khudairi has written about the incubation process here in anticipation of a wave of interest.

The first question is whether OpenOffice will enter the incubator in the first place.  Before the LibreOffice split there’s little doubt it would’ve been warmly welcomed, but now there’s a questionmark over why Oracle should prefer the ASF to TDF, and whether Apache folks want to make ourselves party to a legacy of that split.  But if this reaction from the LibreOffice folks represents a consensus then I for one will be happy to accept OpenOffice.

Intellectual Property should be straightforward (because Oracle owns all the rights, inherited from Sun), so the question then becomes how the community will fare.  How much room is there for both projects to thrive?  Who will give their loyalty to ASF in preference to TDF, or equal loyalty to both?  Could separate competing projects become a Good Thing and foster innovation, or will it just add duplication and confusion to no real purpose?

There is a likely driver for an Apache version: contributors who prefer the Apache License over the GPL.  That could drive interest particularly from companies like IBM who maintain their own derivative products.  Whether that will give rise to a thriving community, and perhaps a development focus distinct from that of LibreOffice, remains to be seen: that’s part of what incubation will tell us.

Anyway, if OpenOffices enters incubation at Apache, I’d expect that to be make or break for it.  If it thrives then we could see “Apache OpenOffice” at some future date.  If not, then it pretty clearly cedes the future to LibreOffice.  If only they could find a better name …

Shane’s blog links to lots more good reading.

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Forking

An entertaining talk at FOSDEM was Michael Meeks, on the fork from OpenOffice to LibreOffice[1].   At the same time as delivering the now-popular message of community and open development, he was taking some quite partisan potshots at other FOSS models that unambiguously share those very values.  Hmmm … good entertainment, but perhaps unduly provocative.  Interestingly OpenOffice and LibreOffice both had stalls at FOSDEM, separated by only one independent exhibitor! 😮

From an outsider’s viewpoint[2], there was one thing I found reassuring.  Namely, the tensions that led to the split had existed during Sun’s time, before the Oracle takeover.  Thus whatever mistakes may have happened are not new.  I like to think Oracle is building on what Sun did right and drawing a line under what was wrong.  It would’ve been sad to hear that Oracle had damaged something Sun was doing right, and Meeks’s talk reassures me that hasn’t happened in this case.

The open-source-but-owned-and-controlled development model such as (most famously) that of MySQL can work, but seems to have fallen comprehensively out of favour with FOSS communities.  It’s at its best where third-parties are minor contributors, but is likely to lead to a fork if outside developers are taking a major interest.  And it’s never good to send mixed messages to the community: they’ll remember the big claims when you back-pedal.

[1] How is anyone supposed to promote a program the pronunciation of whose very name is a stumbling-block?  Shot in the foot there, methinks.  Is that the laughter of Redmond I hear?

[2] I’m a user of OpenOffice but have never contributed to its development, nor am I familiar with its community.

Furthering the interests of Free Software?

Or not.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has gone public with a statement on the Oracle vs Google litigation.  The FSF is of course free to do so, and since it’s also a campaigning organisation we should not be surprised when they do.  But does the statement itself stand up to scrutiny?

Before going any further, I should make it clear: this is a comment on the FSF’s position statement.  No matter where this appears aggregated, I don’t represent anyone or anything other than myself.  Any views I may have on the FSF itself, on Oracle or Google, on Java implementations, Android/Dalvik, on patents (software or otherwise) or on anyone/anything else, fall outside the scope of this posting.  Nor should this be taken as comment on the FSF beyond this single document: as it happens, I am in general terms an admirer of the FSF.

The introduction is clear enough:

As you likely heard on any number of news sites, Oracle has filed suit against Google, claiming that Android infringes some of its Java-related copyrights and patents. Too little information is available about the copyright infringement claim to say much about it yet; we expect we’ll learn more as the case proceeds. But nobody deserves to be the victim of software patent aggression, and Oracle is wrong to use its patents to attack Android.

That’s fair: the FSF’s position against software patents is rational and consistent.  Oracle vs Google is one of many patent cases currently in the courts throughout the rapidly-growing mobile devices space: some other household names that spring to mind include Apple, Nokia, HTC, and of course the victim of the biggest injustice, Blackberry-maker RIM.  But it’s also fair to say Oracle vs Google may have more far-reaching repercussions than the others, insofar as it may affect Free Software in the Android ecosystem.

The second paragraph is more problematic:

Though it took longer than we would’ve liked, Sun Microsystems ultimately did the right thing by the free software community when it released Java under the GPL in 2006. […]

That’s fair as far as it goes, but it’s becoming a partisan statement within FOSS when you implicitly dismiss the ongoing controversy over licensing a TCK.  The third paragraph goes on to say:

Now Oracle’s lawsuit threatens to undo all the good will that has been built up in the years since. Programmers will justifiably steer clear of Java when they stand to be sued if they use it in some way that Oracle doesn’t like. […]

Hang on!  How is that new?  The entire TCK issue is about field-of-use restrictions that are problematic for free software!  At the same time, let’s not forget that Java was hugely popular among Free Software developers even before 2006: these controversies matter only to an activist minority.

If the above is nitpicking, paragraph 4 is altogether more suspect.  Let’s quote it in full:

Unfortunately, Google didn’t seem particularly concerned about this problem until after the suit was filed. The company still has not taken any clear position or action against software patents. And they could have avoided all this by building Android on top of IcedTea, a GPL-covered Java implementation based on Sun’s original code, instead of an independent implementation under the Apache License. The GPL is designed to protect everyone’s freedom—from each individual user up to the largest corporations—and it could’ve provided a strong defense against Oracle’s attacks. It’s sad to see that Google apparently shunned those protections in order to make proprietary software development easier on Android.

Erm, this really is an attack on Apache!  How would IcedTea have helped here?  The only valid argument that it might have done is that rights were granted with Sun’s original code.  I don’t think it’s clear to anyone outside the Oracle and Google legal teams whether and to what extent such ‘grandfather’ rights might affect the litigation.  As far as licenses are concerned, the Apache License is a lot stronger on protection against patent litigation than the GPLv2 under which IcedTea is licensed.  Indeed, in separate news, Mozilla (another major player in Free Software) is updating its MPL license, and says of its update:

The highlight of this release is new patent language, modeled on Apache’s. We believe that this language should give better protection to MPL-using communities, make it possible for MPL-licensed projects to use Apache code, and be simpler to understand.

Well, Mozilla is coming from a startingpoint closer to the GPL than Apache.  It seems I’m not alone in supposing the Apache license offers the better patent protection, contrary to the FSF’s implication!

Finally the tone[1] of the FSF statement, as expressed for example in the final paragraph, makes me uneasy:

Oracle once claimed that it only sought software patents for defensive purposes. Now it is using them to proactively attack free software.

Hmmm, attacking Android/Dalvik is proactively attacking free software?  While it’s a supportable position it’s also (to say the least) ambiguous, and you haven’t made a case to convince a sceptic.  Or a judge.

[1] Not to mention the grammar, up on which some readers of this blog will undoubtedly pick.

Oracle

On Friday, with a corvidian finality, I received my last ever paycheque from Sun.  As from today, Sun no longer exists in the UK, and its assets, including me, belong to Oracle.

Back in 2007 when Sun first approached me, I don’t think I’d have considered working for Oracle.  Their reputation didn’t seem compatible with my ideas.  So that puts me somewhere I never thought I’d be!  But when the news of the takeover broke, I reevaluated that, and decided that if they want me, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.  And what I’ve seen so far is reassuring: the handling of the transition is looking good, and there’s clearly interesting work going on at Oracle.  Last but not least, it’s not going to get in the way of my open source work.

Today I have a new document from Oracle to sign.  Two actually, but one of them is fairly trivial.  The agreement to keep Oracle’s secrets and intellectual property needs a second reading, but appears similar to the one I signed for Sun, and rather less onerous than the garbage UK companies tend to inflict on you.  Assuming a second reading tomorrow leaves me happy, I shall sign and return it.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve also attended (via ‘phone and ‘net) a number of introductory presentations.  Oracle is doing a good job of selling itself : sufficient to engender my positive feelings towards them (or should I say us)?  Most noteworthy was a meeting with future colleagues at which they presented one of the main products to which I may be contributing.  I can see potential for an excellent fit with some of my interests and past work, and I look forward to the opportunity to take this forward.

On the negative side, I have today missed a chance to meet our new masters in person.  I put myself down for a presentation/meeting at 2pm today at Sun’s (as was) UK HQ, only to be told later that it was overbooked.  But I expect there will be future opportunities.

EU tilting at windmills

OK, I confess.  I didn’t expect the EU to worry about the Oracle-Sun takeover.  At least, not more than it is obliged to do by virtue of the sheer size of the companies.  Unlike the once-rumoured IBM-Sun deal, there are few areas of major overlap between Oracle and Sun, and none in which the companies are so dominant as to smell of monopoly.  The US competition authorities raised no concerns, and I’d’ve expected the EU ones to do likewise.

Well, OK, there’s Java, over which some have concerns.  And there’s the database.  It’s true: Oracle and Sun own two market-leading databases: Oracle leads in the enterprise, while Sun (MySQL) leads on the Web.  This latter is what apparently causes concern to the European Commission.

So what’s the worst that could happen?  Oracle lets MySQL wither on the vine and supports only a proprietary derivative at a high price, thereby depriving the MySQL community?  Erm, that’s exactly what caused concern amongst some when the deal was first announced!  But it’s hardly realistic: MySQL’s open-source heritage ensures it can’t be killed so long as it has a community of interested users.  Indeed, there are already MySQL forks out there, and MariaDB, Drizzle, or AN Other could stand to take the place of the original amongst the community if Oracle were to try anything too dumb.

As could PostgreSQL, or maybe some alternative disruptive technology we haven’t thought of in this context.

I have no doubt Oracle is well aware of this, and that they didn’t get to be a 100-billion-dollar company by shooting themselves quite so spectacularly in the foot.

No, the biggest risk to competition lies in the cloud of uncertainty that prevails while the deal is in limbo.  By worrying about an Oracle/Sun monopoly and delaying the deal, the EU commission could inadvertently come close to handing one to IBM.

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?

Sun and Oracle

A couple of weeks ago, the rumour was IBM to buy Sun.  Now it’s not IBM but Oracle, and not a rumour but a press release and conference call.

In pure business terms, it feels like a potentially better fit.  IBM and Sun are direct competitors in so many lines of business, and I’d expect competition authorities to be concerned about such areas as top-end servers and storage, where they are two players in a very small field.  Oracle and Sun have long been technology partners where the businesses complement each other, but have relatively little overlap.  Worryingly, one area where there is substantial overlap is Glassfish/Webstack vs WebLogic (née BEA).

Another question must be over corporate culture: Sun the laid-back techie hive of innovation, vs pinstriped, business-focussed Oracle.  I hope Oracle will preserve and build on Sun’s committment to open source in the projects it will inherit, but it doesn’t have IBM’s (let alone Sun’s) track-record of playing nicely with FOSS.  Oracle’s conference call was very clear about its committment to core software assets – particularly Solaris and Java – which is encouraging, though to be expected.

At this point I started writing about some of those areas I know and care about more directly than the above generalities.  But I guess I shouldn’t be jumping the gun there, so I’ll shut up.

The bottom line of the conference call makes a lot of sense: Oracle is now positioned to be a one-shop provider of all computing and consulting needs to the enterprise.  There’s only one competitor who can make a comparable claim – and that’s IBM.