Thu 21 Feb 2008
Last week, I resigned from membership in OpenSolaris shortly after midnight on February 14th (Valentine’s Day). I won’t attempt to explain all of the reasons here. What I find more interesting at the moment is the propagation delay in the news.
For traditional media, an event that happened last week would be old news by now. After my message, I received a bunch of warm regrets from folks I know in the community, a collection of thanks from people who were just glad someone did something, and no formal reaction from anyone. No news coverage, no public apologies, and not even the sense that anything would change. There were a few blog mentions from people outside the community (Emily Ratliff on the 14th, rippling to Michael Dolan on the 15th, which in turn rippled to Jim Grisanzio on the 17th), but nobody asked me for further comments. That was last week.
This week, the traditional side of non-traditional media reporting went back to work (on Tuesday, actually, due to the three-day weekend for President’s day that some companies observe). It started on the 20th with a 9am email message from IDG asking for comment on my resignation, which the reporter had discovered while “looking through some Sun blogs.” The problem with spin control is that sometimes you spin up a larger storm than the one being controlled. That’s six full days after the event (five days after traditional media would have ignored the story as old news).
Unfortunately, I was stuck in the lobby of an Acura dealership waiting for my car, reading the 500 or so email messages I downloaded just before 9am, and did not get back to him in time even if I had wanted to add something (I didn’t). Naturally, Sun’s very competent PR team are never caught without something to say, and Terri’s response was polite with only the tiniest amount of spin. ["consultant" ... WTF? I get paid for consulting. The only thing Sun provided me is travel expenses for two face-to-face meetings and one keynote talk in Berlin. Day paid all of my other costs. There is a huge difference between being a member of the community (an advisor) and being a consultant, even if the original invitation to join the OpenSolaris CAB came from Sun. Sun certainly didn't refer to me as a consultant when they bragged about that in the press. If Sun wants to call me a consultant, maybe Day should send a bill for my hourly rate.]
To close the door on that article, IDG turned to an “industry analyst” from Redmonk. Stephen O’Grady, who does happen to be one of Sun’s consultants (in a refreshingly open way), tossed a little water on the embers of my resignation. He later rippled on the larger conversation as well, in a fairly balanced piece. Entirely accurate points on their own, yet entirely missing my point. Sun is running into trouble because it has a problem with honesty and with ethical behavior within a community setting, and you can’t blame that on anyone else (especially not the critics). What is the point of creating the OpenSolaris Community governance if the community isn’t even allowed to decide what is called OpenSolaris? This isn’t an abstract discussion of trademarks. It is the fundamental basis for making technical decisions of any kind for the project.
Sun made a commitment to open development with the OpenSolaris Charter. Sun does have the legal right to take advantage of its own trademarks, which is precisely what they had been doing for the past three years, in the press, by taking advantage of the positive spin regarding open development. Sun is fully capable of changing that decision by amending or dissolving the charter, but instead has chosen to ignore the governance model while at the same time claiming the open development manta as their own. I cannot support that. Sun was using my name as “proof” that they were listening to the open development community, so I had to go.
The issue is really quite simple: Sun wants to have your cake and eat it too.
In contrast, the MySQL model is open source, not open development. I respect that because they are honest about it, not just because the result is published as open source. There is even a MySQL user community, providing input to the company without any illusion that they are helping to develop the main product.
I am not a free software zealot. For me, open source is a business decision, not a religion. In my opinion, an open development model results in better source code, but that’s just one of many aspects that can improve or reduce software product quality. For example, Day Software developers participate in open development at Apache for almost all of our infrastructure software, which we then use as components within our not-entirely-open-source content management products. We learn from that open development experience, every day, and it influences all of the products that we develop. Each of our developers are better developers because they participate in open development, and that in turn has encouraged more great open source developers to work for Day. It isn’t just about the code.
In any case, the IDG article showed up in the evening of the 20th, in an InfoWorld blog, and then spread from there to several outlets. Boom! A rock has been heaved into the pond, and more ripples go forth. I’ve had four google alerts already today and it’s barely past noon. We’ve got bloggers who are blogging about blogs that comment on other blogs that discuss a blog that referenced an email message that I wrote last week. Now, if I could just get them to comment on what I wrote, instead of just commenting on the commentary… sigh.
Oh, right, I have a blog now. I’ll just toss another pebble in …
[Update 1: fixed the spelling of MySQL, pointed to their user community, and explained a bit more about open development at Day.]
[Update 2: clarified that Stephen's piece is separate from the IDG quote and removed an assumption of how IDG picks its sources.]