OpenDS: On Being Bitten By The Hand That Once Fed You

[Note: My next post on this topic can be found here]

I first learned, courtesy of a link from Redmonk’s James Governor, about the latest brouhaha from Sun in matters open-source. James’s comment was that this was “incendiary stuff”. Scenting the whiff of a firestorm in the making, I then sped off to read the post of interest, An Open Letter to the OpenDS Community and to Sun Microsystems.

On reading it, I learned of the poor fate of Neil Wilson, a now ex-Sun employee who dared to dip his toes into open-source waters, only to recently be bitten by the hand that once fed him.

I hadn’t thought of writing a post on this sad affair, for I have written many posts about Sun and its so-called efforts in open-source, especially when it comes to Java. See, for example, in the order written:

  1. Thanks Steve O’Grady. Thanks Redmonk.
  2. Open-Source: Music to my ears
  3. Announcing Open-source Java: What if?
  4. What if? What Not?
  5. “The Game” 2006: Yale 34, Harvard 13. Je-Sux! Harvard Sucks
  6. The Sky is Falling
  7. DUDley Snideley on Software – shutdown shot down
  8. Leigh Anne Tuohy – “God gives people money to see how you’re going to handle it”
  9. Make or buy? Home, sweet home — on the web
  10. What if? What not? On the importance of community
  11. A short course in open-source and corporate communications
  12. The Wayward Word Press Brother, can you spare a dime?
  13. What if? What not? Testing … testing … testing
  14. Open-source has grown up. Shouldn’t we?
  15. We license your departure — The TWIT License
  16. We license your departure — If Nancy departed early, what gave here that license? What were the conclusions that Nancy drew?
  17. Installing and using jUploadr to upload photos on Ubuntu Linux
  18. How to install a specific version of Java on Ubuntu
  19. On installing and configuring Sun’s Open-Source Java implementation on Ubuntu Linux
  20. On Three Letter Acronyms (TLA’s) and IBM-Speak
  21. Larry Magid: The Next Leap for Linux
  22. Having a bash bashing Microsoft, continued
  23. Linux Journal Lost South Of Calais
  24. On Taking License With Language: Using Links To Explain Jokes, Licenses, and Pun Fun
  25. Using the del.icio.us tag for:shame
  26. Eben Moglen: Copyleft Capitalism, GPLv3 and the Future of Software Innovation
  27. The Sun / Red Hat Java announcement: 2002 or 2007?
  28. December 1999: Three Predictions
  29. xo-laptop: On the Open-Sourcing of Business

Goodness gracious, 29 posts about Sun, and I probably missed a few. [1]

I had forgotten how much grist Sun has provided to “Blogger Dave’s” mill. (There’s even more grist at hand, as you shall learn below.)

Here is Mr. Wilson’s post, emphasis added,with my comments in italic:


My name is Neil Wilson, and until recently I held the Owner and Committer roles in the open source OpenDS project. I helped found OpenDS, served as the project architect, and have contributed more code than anyone else. However, I must now regrettably inform you that I have been compelled to end all involvement with OpenDS. I have resigned all roles that I held in the project and have rescinded my Sun Contributor Agreement. I will no longer contribute code, documentation, bug reports, suggestions for improvement, or advice of any kind.

Bad news. I expect Mr. Wilson’s presence as an active committer will be missed.

I joined Sun Microsystems in October of 2001, where I was directly involved with its proprietary directory products in addition to my later work with OpenDS. I wrote and analyzed code to provide new features, fix bugs, and improve performance, and I developed a number of tools to help improve the Directory Server experience. I had excellent working relationships with a number of customers, and I was instrumental in closing several deals worth many millions of dollars. I consistently received the top rating in annual performance reviews, and I worked with a number of other groups within Sun, as well as with Sun partners, to help ensure that the Directory Server products worked as well as possible with other Sun technologies, including Solaris, Java, and a number of other software products, as well as many different kinds of hardware.

Neil, I hope you got a nice fat bonus check for helping to bring in all that business.

On September 27, 2007, I was notified that Directory Server engineering, including OpenDS, was being consolidated in Grenoble, France, and that US-based positions were being eliminated. Some individuals were reassigned to work on other software products, but among those laid off were the four OpenDS project owners (myself, Stephen Shoaff, Don Bowen, and David Ely), as well as the OpenDS community manager (Trey Drake). We would technically remain Sun employees for the next two months, but were not able to access any Sun-internal resources and were not required to work in any way and were encouraged to use that time to seek employment elsewhere.

Neil, sorry to learn you had to seek new work. But if you have good open-source skills then a job shouldn’t be hard to find.

This was certainly a very surprising move, but the shock wore off and within a few days the OpenDS owners and community manager got together and decided that even if we were no longer working for Sun that we would like to continue our involvement with OpenDS and wished to ensure that the project was in the best possible position moving forward. To that end, we had face-to-face meetings, conference calls, and e-mail discussions with Sun employees still involved in the project to provide advice and knowledge transfers. I also continued participation on the project mailing lists, committed code changes, and updated the project issue tracker and documentation wiki.

Neil, thanks for continuing to work on the project even though you were no longer paid to so. Welcome to the world of volunteerism I write this blog as a volunteer effort, on my own time and my own dime; however, I do have the advantage of a day-job that puts the food on our family’s table.

The project owners also decided that as an act of good faith (and without any prompting from Sun) that we should elect a fifth owner who was a Sun employee, since Sun had certainly made a significant contribution to the project. We appointed Ludovic Poitou to this position, as he had served as the architect for Sun’s proprietary Directory Server product for several years, and further suggested that we should amend the project governance to ensure that Sun Microsystems was granted a permanent seat in the project ownership. On November 13, 2007, the OpenDS project owners (including Ludovic) met via conference call with the intention of discussing this governance change. However, during that meeting Ludovic informed us that Sun’s intention was to change the OpenDS governance policy so that the project was controlled entirely by a Sun-selected committee. This was a surprise to us, and we indicated that while we were willing to discuss this further to better understand what was involved, we were concerned that this was not necessarily in the best interests of the OpenDS project or its associated open source community. We noted that the current OpenDS governance policy stated that governance changes could only be made by a consensus of the project owners, and therefore we would be required to approve any potential change.

Neil, when I started up IBM’s first open-source project, Jikes (a plug-compatible but much faster version of Sun’s own javac), I made it my first order of business to have the majority of the Core Team members not be IBM employees. I wanted to insure IBM could not control the project.

On November 14, 2007, a member of executive management within Sun’s software division contacted one of the recently-laid-off OpenDS project owners and demanded that the owners approve a governance change that would grant Sun full control of the OpenDS project. During this call, we were threatened that if we did not make this change we could face immediate termination and loss of all severance benefits. The four former-Sun owners discussed this and decided that we could not in good conscience approve the requested change as we did not believe that it would be in the best interests of the project, but we were also not willing to risk the considerable financial loss that could result if Sun decided to make good on that threat. After first trying to resolve the issue through more amicable avenues, we were ultimately compelled to resign our ownership and end our association with the project on November 19, 2007.

Sigh, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sun still doesn’t “get it” when it comes to open-source.

This was a very disappointing and hurtful turn of events. I believe that we acted only in good faith and in the best interests of the community, and we had clearly taken action to protect Sun’s position in the project even after our own jobs had been eliminated. OpenDS was founded as a community-focused “doacracy”, and no one has done more than I have to help ensure its success, or to ensure Sun’s success through OpenDS. However, Sun management has shown that at least in this case they are willing to resort to rather hostile tactics to preserve absolute control. This is most certainly not in the spirit of open source and open development that we tried to foster or that Sun claims to embody.

Neil, as we say in New York, “Good faith and a subway token will get you a ride on the subway. (You just need the token.)

Please note that I don’t feel that this action was representative of Sun’s true open source strategy, but was a relatively isolated incident brought on by middle management acting of their own accord. I believe and certainly hope that the public statements made by individuals like CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps are honest and that Sun truly does want to be a genuine community-focused open source company, and I have no reason to believe that they were aware of or involved with any of what happened with OpenDS. Similarly, I sympathize with the remaining Sun-employed OpenDS engineers who may have been unwittingly drawn into this turmoil, and am disappointed that we will no longer be able to work together, but it was not my choice. Unfortunately, if Sun is unable to ensure that their middle management is on the same page as the senior management setting the open source strategy and the engineers making it happen, then it won’t take too many more incidents like this (or the Project Indiana / OpenSolaris Developer Preview naming fiasco) for people to start to question Sun’s true intentions.

Neil, intentions don’t count here. Actions speak louder than words. As for “too many more incidents,” yours is but the latest in a long series.

In order to avoid potential retaliation from Sun, I have remained silent on this matter through the duration of the two-month period following the layoff notification during which I was still technically a Sun employee. Now that this time has elapsed, I am no longer at risk of losing severance benefits and I believe that it is important to clear the air. I have no desire to pursue this matter any further through legal or other channels, but simply wish to explain why I am no longer able to be involved with the OpenDS project.

Neil, there is hope. Read on to read the “Yogi Yarns.”

I am passionate about the technology and hope to continue working in this area in the future, but I am not yet prepared to discuss where I’m going from here. You may watch my new blog at http://directorymanager.wordpress.com/ for more information in the future.

Neil, welcome to the blogosphere. It’s fun.

Neil Wilson


I wasn’t familiar with Neil’s project, OpenDS. I’m surprised I hadn’t come across it, if only because the first two letters of its name are my own initials, Dave Shields. Hoping the project might be named in my honor, for after all I write this blog about promoting the use of open-source and other technologies to help educators and librarians in their vital mission, I headed right on over to the OpenDS website.

It turns out that, according to this site, “OpenDS is an open source community project building a free and comprehensive next generation directory service.” This would be a nice project to have, so it’s good news that folks have been working on it for some time.

I saw that OpenDS is an “open source community project.” I then put on my Thinking Cap, replacing “XO” with “Open-Source Strategy.

I then checked out the license, to see if OpenDS was really “open-source.” (I was hoping it might be using my own License Dave Shields, but I knew that was unlikely since it hasn’t yet been approved by the Open Source Initiative.) Since Neil once worked for Sun the most likely suspect seemed Sun’s own “cuddly” license, COMMON DEVELOPMENT AND DISTRIBUTION LICENSE (CDDL).

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. To explore them fully I need here cite some of the additional grist from Blogger Dave’s mill: the “Yogi Yarns”:

  1. Yogi Yarns – On forking
  2. Yogi Yarns – On the definition of open-source fork
  3. Yogi Yarns – Inbound and Outbound Licenses
  4. Yogi Yarns – Forks aren’t good or bad, they are just … forks
  5. Yogi Yarns – Yogi hits it out of the park on Wall Street
  6. Yogi Yarns – IBM throws in the towel
  7. Yogi Yarns – On being lucky. First is not always best
  8. Yogi Yarns — On forking and plenipotentiaries
  9. Yogi Yarns — If you come to a fork in the road, pick it up

(By the way, I had a lot of fun writing those posts. It took nine posts, but I was finally able to add a new variant to Yogi-lore, “If you come to a fork in the road, pick it up,” extending his own, “If you come to a fork in road, take it.”)

The reason I dug up all the grist from Blogger Dave’s mill is that it can be ground up and then used to a make a large pie, a large Humble Pie.

For you see, the folks at Sun who thought they were “plenipotentiaries” and so could control the OpenDS project, forgot the full consequences of putting out code out under an approved open-source license. Code placed outside the firewall under an open-source license can’t be taken back. It is there for the taking by anyone willing to respect the terms of the license.

Neil and his colleagues thus have an option:

Fork the OpenDSproject.

To do so you just need to fork your currently running shell, connect to the the OpenDS website, and suck the latest tarball to your machine. Then use that tarball to start up your own project.

You would, however, have to pick a new name for the project. Though my permission is not required, let me remind you that my full initials are LDS (Lynwood David Shields), and you could make them part of the name of your new project:

OpenLDS: Open Liberated DS

Sun has claimed great expertise in open-source issues. For example, I have lost track of the number of times Sun has claimed to have donated more open source than any other company.

Indeed, I would venture they think they are sly old dogs when it comes to open-source.

However, this is a case where you can teach an old dog a new trick:

taking some bytes out of the hands of the company that once fed you

Notes:

1. I originally used “ul” to display this an unordered list. Wondering how many entries there were in the list, I started to count them. Then I realized a quicker way, so I changed the “ul” (unordered list) tags at the start and end of the list to “ol” (ordered list) tags, and then let the browser compute the number of posts, 29.

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5 Trackbacks

  1. By People Over Process » links for 2007-12-01 on December 1, 2007 at 02:19

    […] OpenDS: On Being Bitten By The Hand That Once Fed You « The Wayward Word Press (tags: opends sunw opensource scandal) […]

  2. By Open Source mobile edition on December 2, 2007 at 10:44

    […] gave Dave Shields a chance to detail, through links to his own blog, a host of elbow tosses by Sun regarding Java. Since placing Java under the GPL Sun has worked to take what amounts to proprietary control over […]

  3. […] I see Sun executives trying to position OpenSolaris as “like Linux”, but those who do research and homework, will likely understand the reality the hype-driving-community often ignores. Is this the […]

  4. […] OpenDS: On Being Bitten By The Hand That Once Fed You […]

  5. […] I see Sun executives trying to position OpenSolaris as “like Linux”, but those who do research and homework, will likely understand the reality the hype-driving-community often ignores. Is this the […]

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