Monthly Archives: March 2007

Guidelines and Report of the Licensing and Policy Summit for Software Sharing in Higher Education

The final report of the Licensing and Policy Summit for Software Sharing in Higher Education meeting held in Indianapolis in October 2006 has just been released. It can be found as Final Report (pdf) at summit2006.osnext.org. Here is the cover letter from Brad Wheeler of Indiana University and Dan Greenstein of the Unversity of California, co-conveners of the meeting, announcing the report:

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to share with you the final report from our October 2006 Summit:

“Open Source Collaboration in Higher Education: Guidelines and Report of the Licensing and Policy Summit for Software Sharing in Higher Education”

We say “final” as much as anything is ever final, but we can consider this a full 1.0 version. It is posted on a public URL at http://summit2006.osnext.org at the top as “Final Report.”

Chris Coppola, rSmart and a Sakai Foundation Board Member, has been working on getting the revised Educational Community License 2.0 to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) process for consideration. Remember, that ECL 2 is based on a revision of the Apache 2.0 license such that it can work for the substantial university interests that we discussed. We will keep you posted.

Let us add a special thanks to those who gave extra efforts in the review and refinement of this document: Malcolm Bain (Legistics), Chris Coppola, Charles Drucker (U of Cal Office of the President), Barnaby Gibson (Ithaka), Harry Mangalam (UC Irvine), David Shields (IBM), and Ralph Weedon (JISC).

Finally, again, we thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Don Waters for their grant to convene the Summit.

Higher Ed’s participation in the broad world of open source along with some of our own unique projects will likely evolve and mature in the coming years. It is our hope that the work of this summit will be an important step in developing a more common framework for inter-institutional software sharing and wise use of resources in our institutions. The work to employ this common framework of Contributor Agreements and Licenses, evolve our institutional policies, and adopt it among our projects is now before us.

Sincerely,

Brad Wheeler
Dan Greenstein

I was privileged to be able to attend this meeting and have written about it earlier in this blog: Licensing and Policy Summit for Software Sharing in Higher Education: Trip Report.

Some highlights from the report:

“Two of the main goals of the Summit were to identify an open source license that could be used consistently across the higher education community and to establish a uniform contribution agreement that would be compatible with the open source license. Another major goal of the Summit was to make sure that the forms of agreement would address patents, and not just the copyright of the software.”

“Historically, universities developed their own software distribution licenses. The original ECL [Educational Community License] was created to provide consistency. Although the philosophical intent of the ECL was to be a BSD-style license, the brevity of the BSD-style licnses also may leave room for ambiguity, and the ECL did not include a patent license.”

“The consensus of the Summit group was to create a new version of the ECL by addint a patent clause. This was done to address the concerns of universities that often grant patent licenses to third parties. Although Apache 2.0 (not the original ECL) was the basis for the new ECL, the group believed that a separate license was necessary to ensure that the unique needs of the higher educational community continue to be met.”

The report includes an excellent overview of some of the special issues relating to patent licensing and universities, as well as a brief discussion of patents and copyrights outside the United States.

The report notes that the Summit was sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and that Tina Howard of Indiana University helped produce the report. Brad Wheeler mentioned at the start of the meeting that he had asked Tina to takes notes and prepare a report of the meeting. Given the wide-ranging nature of the discussion, she did an excellent job at this, as well as overseeing the several rounds of review that followed the meeting. The sponsorship by the Mellon Foundation is another example of their leadership in ongoing contributions to advance the creation and deployment of open-source software in higher education.

links for 2007-03-30

links for 2007-03-27

links for 2007-03-23

John W. Backus, 82, Fortran Developer, Dies

I’m of the generation of programmers who first programmed in FORTRAN — I recall reading the FORTRAN manual for the IBM 1130 while in high school — so I noted with interest, and some sense of nostalgia, the obituary in today’s New York Times of John Backus, the leader of the IBM team that developed the FORTRAN language and its first compiler just over fifty years ago.

The Times article quotes two members of the original IBM team, Lois Haibt and Dick Rosenberg. I knew the both while I was at IBM Research. They worked on compilers for many years, notably in the “Tobey” compiler for the IBM “801” project that produced the first RISC computer.

The article also quotes Fran Allen, who joined IBM a few years later and as it happens was my first manager when I joined IBM. Fran and John Backus were both IBM Fellows, IBM’s highest technical honor, and both were also winners of the ACM Turing award — John in the 1970’s and Fran this year.

I recall a conversation with Fran once where she mentioned that few people fully appreciated the groundbreaking efforts of the FORTRAN project, especially in the area of program optmization. It was a true tour de force; for example inthe analysis of loops and in register allocation.

Though half a century old, FORTRAN remains widely used for scientific computation. Indeed, by concidence I had a call about a project’s use of FORTRAN just this morning.

A quote from John Backus at the end of article is noteworthy in that it applies as well to working on open-source projects today as it did on FORTRAN back in the day.

Innovation, Mr. Backus said, was a constant process of trial and error.

“You need the willingness to fail all the time,” he said. “You have to generate many ideas and then have to work very hard only to discover that they don’t work. And you keepdoing that over and over until you find one that does work.”

I have many fond memories of FORTRAN. For example, once when I heard someone boast that they had written a program and that it had run correctly the very fiirst time, I realized I had never accomplished that signal feat. I then ventured to the computer input room and used a keypunch — you all know what a keypunch is, right? — and entered the following:

PROGRAM S
STOP
END

I ran the program and it worked the first time.

On another occasion, I was told that our project hadn’t used up all our computer budget and that we should do so in order to justify our request for as much time the following year, so I ran the following program

PROGRAM S
10 GOTO 10
END

It never ran to completion in that it always looped but it did just what I wanted.

Notes on Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness

I recently came across Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness (pdf), a balanced and well-researched study on open standards, open-source and openness in general that was released in April 2006.

The report comes from the Committee for Economic Development (CED), an “independent research and policy group of over 200 business leaders and educators,” and is thus written for policy makers and leaders. Though much of my prior writing has been for those with some knowledge of open-source, in part to encourage folks with open-source skills to volunteer, I also want to provide education about open-source to educators. And open-source is more accessible and comprehensible if approached not in insolation but in how it relates to open standards and the new forms of collaborative innovation that have been enabled by the Internet.

(By the way, I just checked the CED web site and see they have had a conference on March 7, Building the Economic Case for Investments in Children. I’m sure it’s well worth a look.)

The openness study is long, with close to 50 pages if you include the extensive citations. It certainly deserves more than a casual summary, so let me present a set of rough, informal notes based on reading the report and some of the ideas that came to mind as I went through it. In the notes I assume knowledge of open-source, so I won’t spend much time on that part of the report, as it is the role of open-source in the context of open standards and open innovation that is important.
Executive Summary(Page 1)

This study follows up on a earlier CED report on “the digital economy and the special case of digital intellectual property.” It dealt with protecting the rights of original authors but also recognized the importance of “follow-on innovators,” who build upon earlier innovations. This is the first mention I’ve seen of the notion of “follow-on” innovatiion. The conventional view is rooted in innovation in isolation, exemplified the lone scientist working in the lab. The reality in today’s internet world is much different.

The report looks as the notion of “openness,” which is a broad concept in that many works and activities are neither completely open or closed, but somewhere in between. Open work is accessible and responsive. More accessible means more open, and being responsive, by allowing change, also makes a work more open.

The report looks at three areas: open standards, open-source software, and open innovation.

The Internet itself is perhaps the best example of all these areas. It was built on a set of open standards created using an open process that allowed networks to interconnect and applications to be shared. (We tend to forget that the Internet was meant not just as a single network, but as a network of networks, glued together using open standards.) These open standards, implemented in open-source, fueled the growth of the Internet.

Not all standards are open. The report recommends that governments encourage the creation and use of open standards in an open process, especially in the formation of standards with “important social consequences.”

The report notes that one of the problems with the current system for creating standards is flawed in that it provides an incentive for a party holding intellectual property that applies to a standard to withhold knowledge, so they can asssert an intellectual property claim after the standard has been adopted, and so recommends incentives to encourage early disclosure.

The report contains a brief summary of open-source, and has several recommendations: open-source and commercial software will co-exist so don’t dictate purchasing polciies; recognize that some functions are so critical that they can’t require a single solution and so must support interoperability; such interoperability should be promoted both at home and abroad.

The rest of this section has a fairly detailed and informative overview of the intellectual property issues related to open standards; for example, to make such property available in donated or “royalty free” when used as part of a standard, and also a requirement for RAND (reasonable and non-disrcriminatory) payments in some cases.

Open-source is an example of open innovation, which is the collaboration driven in part by the reduced cost of communication over the Internet that now allows parties separated in space and time to communicate rapidly. Examples of such innovation are wikipedia, the user comments and ratings that can be found at such sites as Amazon, Ebay and Newegg. Noteworthy is that most of this digital content is freely available.

Introduction (6).

The CDC issued a prior report on digital intellectual property that noted the increasing digitization of all forms of information; the growing importance of intangible property; change from sale of digital content (such as on CD) by licensing agreements. This results in “digital dilemma:” digitial content is easy to copy and share, but is also be can be controlled and made inaccessible.

Recognize that innovation is cumulative, so need to balance rights of “first” creators with the “follow-on” creators who extend that work.

Openness (8). Openness involves accessibility, availability, responsiveness. In open-source terms, accessible if can get to it,, available if can distribute, responsive if can change it. Digital goods can be distributed at near-zero cost.

Open Standards (10). Internet based on open standards, TCP/IP protocol, form of e-mail addresses, domain names, hypertext (HTTP) format for web pages. Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) responsible for most of these standards. Standard is open if open process for choosing participants in the process; process is well-docmented and all participate on same level; publicly disclosed; no proprietary technology to implement the standard, or need to pay license fees; process for maintaining standard.

Open standards increase competition by reducing barriers to entry. Good for customers as they have more options and so avoid vendor “lock-in.” Open standards promote interoperability and so exploit advantage of the network effect – the value of a network increases as it gets more users.

Technologies can also become so pervasive that they constitue accepted standards. An example of a proprietary standard is Microsoft Word’s binary format for documents.

Open-source Software (18). Good short explanation of open-source. Provides background for discussion of licensing by noting that traditionally intellectual property in form of copyrights and patents has given creator limited period during which work can be licensed or sold, after which work becomes available to all, or in “public domain.” Open-source is new model, allowing unlimited distribution and modification of the work. Open-source enables “follow-on” innovation that builds on the original work.

Sharing and Open-Source (22). Those new to open-source always wonder why it’s free. It one sense it doesn’t matter — the code speaks for itself — but this report does a good job summarizing the usual explanations. There’s one I hadn’t seen before: “The costs of, and the barriers to, sharing have become so low that the benefits of participating need not be very great to outweigh the costs.” A contribution is much more valuable as part of a larger work.

Key point is that, whatever motivates them, the contributions increase the societal value of the collective product.

Report also notes one of reasons corporations invest in projects like Linux. Open-source allows a model of shared development in which every participant sees the work of all the others because of the requirements of the open-source license. In effect, all the contributions become pooled, providing a collective investment greater than any single firm would be willing to contribute.

There is even a good short description of forking. “The very absence of authority encourages the leader to lead.”

Open-Source recommendations (29). Discussion of patent issues and whether governmental use of open-source should be mandated. There is good discussion around second point about importance of interoperability (IOP). Example used is post-Katrina where only one, proprietary, browser could be used to request certain aid forms. This is instance of critical government function where interoperability should be supported. IOP in reporting could reduce costs in healthcare.

The recommendations are to avoid forcing the use of open-source, but also to require IOB for “critical government functions.”

Open Innovation (33). This section based on work of Eric von Hippel of MIT, Democratizing Innovation. How much so is unclear as I haven’t read Eric’s work. Argument that shared innovation has long tradition, such as the “Yankee tinkerers” of days gone by. Good example based on mountain bikes; enthusiasts added shock-absorbers to bikes before notion of “mountain bike” even existed, and that evolved into industry.

Open innovation will become more important due to changes in information and communication technologies. See for example, maturation of open-source, declining cost of hardware, new collaboration technologies such as wiki’s and blogs. Development of mass collaboration such as shown by wikipedia. Several other examples included.

Implications of openness (38). Both good and bad sides to openness. Bad sides include spam, phishing and malware. “The information highway goes through some very bad neighborhoods.” There is a brief discussion of wikipedia, peer-to-peer networks and the Creative Licensing efforts for different kinds of digital content, and the impact on communicating advances in science. The report also notes the attempts to harness “collective wisdom” a shown in the customer reviews at eBay and Amazon. Open courseware is example in the education area.

“One of the ironies of today’s intellectual property system is that companies are motivated to ignore suggestions for new products or product improvements due to fear of later ligitation. Many just destroy incoming communications to protect themselves or route them to their legal departments for polite rejections.”

Suggestion that new legislation should establish presumption on expanding intellectual property rights, requiring justficiation for potential impact on the rights of larger society and the desire for economic growth.

Conclusion (44). Benefits of openness becoming more apparent and will continue to do so. But they challenge current notions and suggest new ways of doing business, especially in new thinking about the digital “commons.” Need to pursure opportunities without prematurely ruling them out based on current practice.

The report cites over 160 sources in the Endnotes. These many references, placed in context by the well-written supporting text, are a good starting for investigating in mor detail the important issues raised by the report.

While the report is over a year old, it remains timely. All in all it is well worth a read, and I hope these rough notes will encourage others to do so.

A new way of enlisting developer support: OpenLogic

I got the following note recently. It’s from a company called OpenLogic, which is pursuing yet another way to make money with open-source, in part by providing support for a selected set of open-source projects by enlisting the services of their developers.

It is exciting to see Jikes included in the list of of 200+ open-source projects that constitutes their “certified library,” However, Jikes is also an example of a mature offering with an inactive developer community, so it’s hard to see how I could be of much help. Also, as a matter of personal choice, were I able to provide the kind of support they seek, I would do as I would for any other request for help supporting open-source — as best I could without any expectation of payment.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how this plays out…

Hi Dave,

I am contacting you because I’m looking for help supporting Jikes; we have customers who use Jikes and look to us for support. We also have an offer going on right now – we are giving iPods to the next 25 people to join once they resolve their first issue.

Let me start with a quick introduction. My name is Stormy Peters and I recently joined OpenLogic after spending 10 years working on open source at HP. At OpenLogic, we provide a combination of software and support to help enterprises manage open source projects and build their own customized open source stacks, helping to address many of the objections people have to using open source software.

We are inviting committers from leading open source projects to join the OpenLogic Expert Community. OpenLogic offers enterprises 24×7, one source of support for over 160 open source projects. We provide a first line of support – taking the calls from our enterprise customers and answering basic questions. For more complex issues (and after we’ve screened out the “read the manual” type questions), we turn to the OpenLogic Expert Community.

If you join the OpenLogic Expert Community, you will:

* get paid for each issue you resolve for your project. You can choose which issues you want to work on and you can choose to take that payment in cash or merchandise. You can even decide to direct your payment to your favorite open source organization.
* receive a $25 gift certificate to Amazon or Starbucks just for signing up. In order to become a member, you’ll need to sign our OpenLogic Expert Community agreement so that we can share confidential customer data with you. We understand reading legal agreements is not fun, so we’ve tired to keep it short and sweet — and we’ll give you a gift certificate for your trouble.
* have the opportunity to hear first hand the challenges real users encounter when using your software.

In addition, if you are one of the next 25 people to join the OpenLogic Expert Community, you will receive a iPod once you resolve your first issue.

To sign up now, go to http://www.openlogic.com/community/join. For a full list of projects we support, please see http://www.openlogic.com/products/library.php. We are also in the process of adding a number of new ones that are not yet listed on the web page.

We are committed to spreading open source by making it easy to bring open source products into the enterprise. Enterprises need 24×7, one-source support as well as an easy and confidential way to request bug fixes and enhancements from open source projects. With the OpenLogic Expert Community, OpenLogic enables enterprises to use reliable, quality open source software and helps open source software projects grow their user base and supporting communities.

Please feel free to email or call me with any questions or feedback. I’ve been a supporter of open source software for a long time and I’m looking forward to connecting the open source community with an even larger base of users.

Best,

Stormy

Stormy Peters | Director of Community and Partner Programs
OpenLogic

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