Having a bash bashing Microsoft, continued.

I wrote a post last October, Having a bash bashing Microsoft: Shell game? or Shell game!, in which I shared my view that it was a needless waste of time, and a diversion of resources, for the FLOSS and open-source folks to bash Microsoft, and I write this post to share some further thoughts on this topic.

I have many fond memories of what I call the Jikes days. Among the fondest are those of all the encouragement I received as I reached out to members of the open-source community for their help and guidance as I first sought to convince IBM that it made good business sense to release the Jikes code in open-source form, and after that was approved, working to get the code ready for that release.

Jikes received a very warm welcome from the open-source community, and among my fond memories are the many congratulatory comments I received for my role in getting the code out.

However, soon after the code was released I started seeing comments, mostly in the form of comments posted via Slashdot, that IBM couldn’t be trusted, that the code couldn’t be any good if IBM was giving it away, that this was an attempt to put one over on the free software community, and so forth.

It was then that I first started to appreciate the extent of the hostility shown by some members of the open-source community, especially those who sail under the GPL/LGPL flag, against corporations that attempt to engage in open-source activities, and of course also against corporations that are perceived as opponents and enemies of open-source, of which Microsoft is the exemplar.

I soon realized that saying IBM was a great corporation — one that could be trusted to do the right thing when it came to open-source — was a thankless task, for each of my first attempts to do so were met mostly by further attacks on IBM and myself.

I then decided that it was a vain effort to defend IBM by such statements, as the only meaningful response would be to behave in a way that would over the course of time, by deeds and not just press releases, hopefully make it clear that IBM (or at least IBMer Dave) “got it” when it came to open-source. [1]

Indeed, that was my main argument why IBM should release the code for Jikes. While IBM had previously engaged with Apache in June of 1998, it had not many any meaningful contribution beyond that as I started the effort to release Jikes in August of 1998. I argued that if IBM were ever to be taken seriously in the open-source community then it would have to give away code of recognized value in open-source form, under an approved open-source license, or –as it came to pass — under a license drafted by IBM that would be accepted as meeting all the requirements of the Open Source Definition. I also argued that just giving away the code would not suffice, but that IBM had to run an open-source project around the code, using a URL that ended in “ibm.com,” as only in doing so could IBM make clear to the world that it “got it” when it came to understanding the open-source rules. [2]

I also argued that IBM Research should take the lead on this, as it was unlikely other parts of IBM would give away code of recognized value first. [3] Also, it was one of the responsibilities of the Research Division to show leadership in promoting new technology, and open-source was an instance of a technology that would almost certainly prove of great interest to IBM, whether or not it chose to use it or make it part of its own business.

I then put the matter to rest, or so I thought.

It surfaced again in March of 2006 when I was thrown off the lxer.com web site. As it happens I have made recent mention of this incident, and it was the writing of that post that in part inspired to write this one. That incident was also one of the reasons I first wrote on this topic almost a year ago.

As events transpired, by coincidence, there were several important announcements related to open-source in the following weeks; for example, Oracle announced it would support Red Hat’s version of Linux, Sun announced its intent to open-source Java, and Microsoft announced its deal with Novell.

I learned during one of a regular series of calls about open-source, Linux and IBM, that IBM does indeed “get it” when it comes to open-source, at least within the firewall, though I would argue that our actions in the open-source arena since 1999 speak for themselves. The presenter was a senior exec who has spent years working to define and implement IBM’s Linux strategy. He remarked on those events. Some of them, he said, were of such import that they were soon addressed at the highest executive levels of IBM. He also said that he been quite impressed in that every IBM exec who participated in these discussions was well-versed on the importance of open-source and Linux to IBM’s business. Simply put, they “got it” when it came to IBM and open-source, direct proof that IBM as a corporation has, as I express it, made open-source part of our corporate DNA.

Microsoft, as we all know, has not spent the last decade trying to “get it” when it comes to open-source, but has instead pursued a strategy of trying to “get” open-source off its back in any way it can, hopefully killing what they now fully appreciate is their chief strategic threat. For example, in the past few days I have noted Microsoft’s threats against Red Hat related to patents, as well as the promotion of Mr. Bill Hilf (a former IBMer) as director of Marketing and Server Platform strategy. I have characterized both in a recent del.icio.us tag:

Groklaw – Microsoft’s Ballmer Reportedly Threatens Red Hat

“I’ll Hilf and I’ll Hilf and I will blow you house down, says Ballmer. I hope he smashes his fingers trying to slam down the hood, says Dave.”

I understand that some may well say that tags such as this are themselves a form of Microsoft bashing, and I write this post in part as a response. I try to limit my comments on Microsoft, and Sun, to comments via tags, or the occasional post, but do so not as bashing but, hopefully, to provide some education to these companies as they struggle to learn what open-source is all about and how their companies should deal with it. [4]

But the problem remains, as I reminded just a couple of hours ago.

Though the Open Minds conference has not yet started, I learned some time ago that some of the leaders in the open-source and education arena would be in attendance and so were going to hold a special meeting before the conference started, to get to know each other and to plan future work.

I was never formally invited to that meeting, but I did know about it, and so was able to join it for a few minutes this afternoon.

I entered the room during a break,and was very pleased to personally meet for the first time some folks whom I have either worked with, or known about, as part of my volunteer efforts promoting the use of open-source to assist educators in their vital session. I told those folks that I was from IBM, but was attending the conference on my own, not as an official representative of IBM. (Dell and HP are officially present as sponsors, but not IBM, which I find annoying to say the least.)

After the break, there was a wrap-up session, to decide what to do going forward.

One of the topics discussed was the formation of a team that would continue the efforts that had been suggested during the course of the discussion. One of the persons present (whom I have not yet met, though I plan to do so) said that this team should not include any vendors, as vendors often joined such efforts just to promote their own company, and also because it was hard to deal with governmental bodies if a group had vendors on its team.

He also made mention of the “arch villain,” by which of course I knew he meant Microsoft.

I almost spoke up at this point, but I did not. I knew I had to leave to participate in an IBM teleconference about open-source matters, and I was also uncomfortable being present in the room. While there as a private volunteer, I do work for IBM, and I knew that only a handful of the people present were aware that I work for a vendor; the outspoken gentleman was not one of them.

So I then left to join the call, during which I composed most of this post. [5]

Notes:

1. Sun has labored for years to master the “promotion by self-promoting statements” approach, so much so that its CEO frequently blogs about Sun’s expertise and commitment to open-source. Among the actions that would have spoken much louder than his eloquent statements would have been: (1) The release of Sun’s proprietary Java compatbility tests in concert with the release of the source code for Java, and (2), the release of the code for Solaris under a license compatible with the GPL license used by Linux.

2. When I first posted the first Jikes tar-ball on the IBM Research site I was unable to download it. I then learned that the web server had not been configured to recognize what to do with a “tar” file, a problem that was easily fixed by inserting the appropriate mime-type in the Apache fonfiguation file, but also a proof that Research had never before made a tar file available for downloading.

3. I think that the warm reception from the community, as well as the inclusion of Jikes in a number of Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, speaks well to the quality of the code.

A year or so after I left the Jikes project I was summoned to Somers to participate in several telephone calls, the gist of which was that an IBM partner had been asked by one of their customers to help them acquire the rights to use the Jikes code as it existed just before its release as open-source, so they wouldn’t be bound by the terms of the licenense. When I noted the code was freely available and that this seemed an unusual request, they insisted their customer was adamant in their request. Though the customer was not named, we guessed it was Microsoft, a fact confirmed when one of the partner’s people mentioned Microsoft by name in a phone call.

IBM eventually offered to make the code free at no cost if the customer with no name would agree to pass all the Java compatibility tests before releasing any product that included the Jikes code, in whole or part.

There the matter ended. That was the last call.

4. The latest edition of Linux Journal has a column by Jon “maddog” Hall in which he offers his own views about Sun and open-source.

A couple of years back I was speaking with a well-known member of the open-source community and commented on one of Sun’s recent announcements about an open-source matter. He replied by saying, “Dave, Sun has such a bad reputation in the open-source community that it will take them years to make up for their errors.”

5. This is not the only time I have worked on a blog post while listening in on a business phone call. Though I write this blog as a volunteer effort, I spend most of my waking hours working on open-source, either as part of my job or as a volunteer. I do some work in the day, some at night, as I do some blogging in the day, and most at night.

I also take our poodle Scout out for a pee or a poop during some of IBM business calls, but do not remark that I am doing so, as it is sometimes done as a silent protest against the quality of the discussion.

That is the nature of programming, at least as I know it. It is all-consuming, so the boundaries between on-the-job and off-the-job are murky at best.

Programming also has moments filled with crap, as does some the time I spend in the company of my dog. Then again, that’s part of the job, whether as dog walker or blog flogger.

As a further example, I have written about my days as a cab driver in New York many years ago. I did that in the months before the oral exams that were part of the Ph.D. process.

I paid for most of my graduate education by working as a programmer. But I knew that had I continued programming in those months before the exam, even though it paid much better than driving a cab, it would have distracted me from preparing from that exam, so much so that I knew that I would probably fail the exam were I to continue programming.

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