Open Source

Oracle wins the 2010 Open Source Enemies Prize

Oracle has demonstrated a relentless dedication to damaging open source software projects to the best of its ability in 2010, but it was not the only enemy of open source software.

The year 2010 has seen a number of enemies of open source software making waves. After thinking about it long and hard -- about five minutes or so -- I have determined the proper winner of the 2010 Open Source Enemies Prize, though some other contenders deserve a Dishonorable Mention.

Winner: Oracle Corporation

Larry Ellison, one of Oracle Corporation's three founders, helms the software vendor as its CEO. On 27 January 2010, Oracle announced its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, at that time the corporate steward of a number of prominent software projects that had -- to one degree or another -- been distributed under the auspices of open source licensing. Among these are:

  • Java: Sun Microsystems has been the copyright holder for the core Java software ecosystem since its creation. Over time, the Java Development Kit and its prerequisites have been increasingly released under open source licenses, though even in the last days before Oracle acquired Sun one had to agree to a decidedly non-open end user license agreement to install the Java platform.
  • MySQL: One of the most widely deployed SQL DBMSes on the planet, possibly running second place only to SQLite, MySQL is the darling of uncountable masses of open source PHP-based Web applications. It is the M in the all-too-familiar LAMP acronym. Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL AB, which means that when Oracle acquired Sun it got the MySQL codebase and trademark as well.
  • OpenOffice.org: Sun created an open source community around a derivative of its StarOffice suite, called OpenOffice.org. That application has become a major open source "household name", and perhaps the biggest effective competitor to the otherwise dominant Microsoft Office suite. It has also tended to leverage Sun's Java technology heavily.
  • OpenSolaris: The flagship software of the Sun Microsystems hardware platforms, Solaris, was turned into an open source project by prepending the word Open and releasing the whole shebang primarily under the CDDL. While some components of the official OS distribution are not open source, a fully open source installation of the system could be cobbled together. Unlike Linux-based systems and even BSD Unix systems, OpenSolaris is the basis for a complete, open source SysV UNIX, complete with certification for using the all-capitals UNIX trademark.

Oracle has never had much of a positive reputation in the open source community at large. The relationship of the corporation with that community has been as rocky and contentious as Microsoft's, in many ways, though less prominently so in the news until 2010. It has offered its own distribution of Linux, but then essentially smothered the popularity of the project in the crib through mismanagement -- if the popularity of an Oracle branded Linux distribution was ever the real goal of the effort.

During 2010, some interesting developments have caught the attention of the open source community:

  • On 12 August, Oracle announced a lawsuit naming Google Inc. as the defendant over patents pertaining to the Java VM. This lawsuit for some recalls echoes of a Sun lawsuit against Microsoft some years ago, but in this case the suit is targeting an open source reimplementation of the JVM for the (mostly) open source Android smartphone OS. Google's implementation is called Dalvik, and Oracle's suit may ultimately result in the legal precedent that allows Oracle to maintain an iron grip on all "open" source development of Java-related technologies for the foreseeable future.
  • In something of a one-two punch, the Google lawsuit was followed up on 13 August, the very next day, by a leaked internal memo containing references to plans to discontinue the OpenSolaris project and disbanding its community. A fork of OpenSolaris core components has continued open development under the name Illumos, and seems to be free of troubling patents in Oracle's hands so far. Still, the big news at present on the OpenSolaris front appears to be Oracle's attempt to destroy any open source community built around the core of the OS. Only time will tell how fully it has succeeded.
  • Several OpenOffice.org developers formed the Open Document Foundation, soliciting (and receiving) support from prominent corporations with an interest in open source software development, including Canonical, Google, Novell, and Red Hat. The intention was to create a largely independent stewardship for the open source OpenOffice.org software, but Oracle not only did not lend its support to the organization, but effectively eliminated its original purpose for existence by refusing to part with its trademark interest in the OpenOffice.org name. The result is that the Open Document foundation had to fork OpenOffice.org to create the LibreOffice project. Adding insult to injury, Oracle declared that involvement in the ODF and the LibreOffice project constitutes a conflict of interest for Oracle employees, and the former OpenOffice.org developers were told to resign from one or the other of the ODF and Oracle. As of 1 November, 33 OpenOffice.org developers handed Oracle management their letters of resignation.
  • The Apache Software Foundation has been deeply involved in the Java Community Process, and developed its Apache Harmony implementation, distributed under the copyfree Apache License. Oracle, through the JCP, stated its intent to eliminate the provisions that allowed Apache's alternative implementation to be distributed under the terms of an open source license, effectively declaring war on Apache Harmony. In response to this action, and the subsequent confirmation in December that the Java Specification Participation Agreement would effectively disallow open source alternative implementations, Apache withdrew from the JCP as it promised it would when this issue first came to a head in November.
  • A number of MySQL forks have been in progress since before the Oracle acquisition of Sun, but the urgency of these projects has certainly increased in 2010 as news of Oracle's behavior toward its acquired open source software projects has been perceived as becoming increasingly hostile. Some believe that a de facto end to the MySQL project at Oracle is just around the corner, and are just waiting for that shoe to drop. Despite this, there is little news of popular open source PHP-based Web application projects migrating from MySQL to one of its forks or to alternative SQL DBMS architectures such as PostgreSQL.

Dishonorable Mentions

The FBI: On 11 December, Theo de Raadt surprised the open source world by announcing to the openbsd-tech mailing list that he had received an email alleging backdoor vulnerabilities in OpenBSD's networking software. Specifically, he quoted the text of an email from former NETSEC CTO Gregory Perry wherein he claimed that, because a nondisclosure agreement has expired, he was free to inform the OpenBSD project head that the FBI had paid NETSEC and several of its developers to make contributions to the IPsec implementation for the security-focused open source OS.

The potential fallout of this announcement is not yet certain by any means, though it is quickly blowing up into quite a storm of scandal in open source communities. The OpenBSD core developers are surely working overtime to verify these allegations; so far, nobody is quite certain how much truth they contain.

The IIPA: In other news, the IIPA -- an umbrella group for copyright industry lobbies like the MPAA and RIAA -- actually petitioned the US government to add nations whose governments recommend use of open source software for inclusion in its Special 301 Report Watch List. This essentially identifies a list of nations considered by the United States Trade Representative to be enemies of capitalism, just because countries like Indonesia and Brazil have made recommendations to their own government agencies to consider the use of open source software.

Indonesia was actually placed on the USTR's Special 301 Report Priority Watch List (emphasis added), after the IIPA urged it to do so merely for making a non-binding recommendation. An argument could be made that the truly immediate enemy of open source here is the USTR, because it did in fact add such countries to its watchlists as anti-capitalist regimes, but the IIPA definitely deserves recognition given that its sole reason for making such recommendations to the US government's Trade Representative was the use of open source software.

Other notable contestants

Microsoft, the perennial favorite poster boy for corporate antipathy toward open source software, has continued to engage in its somewhat schizophrenic behavior toward open source software. On one hand it creates new software under open source licenses, and even creates new licenses that get certified as open source compliant by the Open Source Initiative, and at the same time threatens open source developers with lawsuits, makes claims about the inferiority of open source software development models, and generally acts like exactly the enemy of open source that is its image in the open source community. Compared to the concerted efforts of Oracle and the revelations of possible FBI involvement in undermining OpenBSD security, however, Microsoft's behavior in 2010 has been decidedly lackluster on this front. Richard Stallman, regarded by many as the titular ruler of the open source community, is simultaneously regarded by many others as the cancer at the community's heart, an accidental enemy eating at it from within. His occasional PR disasters include things like eating toejamb while giving public speeches, attacking the efforts of open source software developers and advocates who do not toe the GNU and FSF line, and generally causing problems while simultaneously soaking up accolades. His status as an enemy of open source software is certainly subject to argument, however, as the majority in the open source community tends to think of him as a legendary, heroic figure, or at least a harmlessly benevolent crank. Furthermore, though Stallman's FSF and the associated SFLC have done so in the past, these organizations have not made waves with obvious threats of legal action against small open source software projects in 2010. Autodesk, Inc. won a lawsuit against a private reseller of its AutoCAD software, under the theory that nobody has a right to resell software if such a right was not explicitly granted in licensing. The specific phrasing of the court decision could potentially have a chilling effect on certain corporately stewarded open source projects as well, as discussed in the article, "Court decision clamps down on our rights to software that we 'own'." As chilling as this ruling is, however, its direct effect on open source software is uncertain at worst so far, and quite possibly positive overall. Perhaps Autodesk should receive an award for being its own worst enemy in 2010, instead. Whether further appeals will reverse this decision or not is uncertain, but news has not been forthcoming since September.

Congratulations are in order

Other contestants exist, of course, but the winner must truly be both noteworthy and noted. Anyone who does not spring immediately to mind for pretty much everyone who pauses to think about the matter is not suited to stealing the prize from Oracle this year.

Congratulations, Oracle: you have truly earned the dubious distinction of being one of open source software's greatest enemies.

About

Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.

14 comments
victoria2403
victoria2403

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RealGem
RealGem

Don't expect a gracious acceptance speech. Oracle is a for-profit company, first and foremost. Open source will always be a sideline for them, at best.

Ventaur
Ventaur

Oracle's practices are (and have been for some time) a detriment to closed source software as well. Their pursuit and use of copyrights for IP that is considered by all that know to be "commonwealth" knowledge is a blatant abuse of our broken patent system. Sure, we need more knowledgeable agents in the US Patent Office (especially with regards to technology), but abusing that fact is heinous. To be fair, Oracle is far from the only company abusing the system for its own gains.

bsauer
bsauer

Again the Open Source conmmunity thinks they have a right to all existing technologies out there. Oracle owns the rights to the listed objects and also has the right to license them, charge for them or restrict their use as they see fit. If you want to make your products work then you come up with a way to do so either by your own innovation or paying for the use of others innovations as they dictate. That is "Free" enterprise. The Open Source community has absolutely no right to other entity's property unless that entity gives it's permission.

lightweight
lightweight

To the author: I'm very sad to see you include Richard Stallman (better known as RMS) in your list of "Other Notable Contestants" alongside such justly reviled perennial misanthropes as Microsoft. Your explanation for this inclusion simply identifies your lack of understanding of RMS and his life's purpose: software freedom for people like you. First, he never uses the term "open source" (he founded the Free Software movement, of which the "open source" movement is a somewhat diluted derivative, which focuses on code availability rather than the freedom to use/improve/distribute that code) and would rightly slap you for characterising him as the "titular ruler" of that community. He's hardly a cancer "eating [the open source] community from within"... he's the one who placed the stake in the ground defining the freedom which open source now enjoys. His GPL (and associated/subsequent) licenses are used by most open source projects (and nearly all Free Software projects). Second, your ad hominem attacks on him simply demonstrate your lack of appreciation for what he's actually done for you and the rest of the world, undoubtedly at great cost to himself, if he was to take personally the unflattering and largely unjustified characterisations of him which "journalists" such as you tend to parrot in articles like this. Under the circumstances, I think one should indulge him whatever personality quirks or other defense mechanisms he might have developed, given the degree to which he has cope with those who don't even try to characterise him accurately. Putting him on the same list as Microsoft is a completely unacceptable slander for someone who has lived up to his principles, just as completely as corporations like Microsoft eshew them (principles that is). I encourage you to explore further your glib statement (which, I suspect, was used to cover your lack of research) about him being "controversial" in the open source community because, at least in that area, I suspect you don't understand either side of what you're writing about.

apotheon
apotheon

Oracle is one of those companies that regards others' failure as its own successes, and thus spends as much time trying to destroy others' profits as to elevate its own -- even when there is no reasonable expectation that it will notably bolster its own profits. Its behavior is destructive and antisocial; it is one of the poster boys for the concept of the public corporation as sociopath. You're right; Oracle wouldn't care. The fact it "won" this "award" should be no surprise to anyone who pays any attention.

apotheon
apotheon

Of course, because this article was intended for the Open Source column here at TechRepublic, it necessarily focused on the open source side of Oracle's predatory behavior, but your point about its misbehavior being unconfined solely to open source software is well taken.

apotheon
apotheon

Again, someone responds by making bizarre statements that do not actually have anything to do with the matter at hand. > Again the Open Source conmmunity thinks they have a right to all existing technologies out there. This has absolutely zero to do with the subject matter of the article. Why are you launching this non-sequitur attack on the open source software community? Also . . . AnsuGisalas makes an excellent point. Before something can be "free enterprise", it first has to be "enterprising".

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

And then Oracle bought that entity - solely to make a strike against open source, and to squeeze money out of patent lawsuits for things they did nothing to create. Corporarchy is not "free" enterprise, nor is it any other kind of enterprise.

apotheon
apotheon

While his phrasing may be obscure and somewhat confounding at times, I think santeewelding's summation of your response to the article was succinct and apt. Despite that, I will offer my two cents' worth as well. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. > Your explanation for this inclusion simply identifies your lack of understanding of RMS and his life's purpose: software freedom for people like you. As the author of this article, I actually understand that about him. I did not address his intended purpose, however, because this was about his methods and their effects. I notice that you claim I do not understand him or his aims, but ignore such concerns as the SFLC's and FSF's attacks on small open source software development projects, or the simple fact that RMS' bizarre behavior at public speaking engagements has a detrimental effect on the public perception of open source software in general. > First, he never uses the term "open source" I never said he did. I'm using the term "open source"; I'm not saying he uses the term. What is your point? I notice, by the way, that you too use the term "open source" in your professional life, with your Drupal installation, migration, and configuration business. > the Free Software movement, of which the "open source" movement is a somewhat diluted derivative, which focuses on code availability rather than the freedom to use/improve/distribute that code Actually, the difference is not exactly what you describe. It's a bit more like this: 1. Free Software, as defined by RMS and the FSF, is an ideology a means of judging software licenses worthy of that ideology. 2. Open Source Software, as defined by the ESR, Bruce Perens, and the OSI, is software produced under the aegis of a given development and/or licensing model. Mere availability of source code is the definition of neither of the above. The term "Source-Available Software" is more appropriate a label for software whose source is (legally) available, regardless of any other licensing terms or ideological concerns. > would rightly slap you for characterising him as the "titular ruler" of that community. I think your suggestion that he has the right to enact violence against me for referring to how other people regard him is lacking in ethical rectitude, and is in fact indicative of poor character on your part. I think the only right to violence in that circumstances would be my own right to use violence to defend myself against such a violent act on his part. On the other hand, I sincerely doubt RMS is as bad a person as you, and thus believe he would not try to slap me for making that comment, which was actually about other people (and not him, per se) anyway. > He's hardly a cancer "eating [the open source] community from within"... he's the one who placed the stake in the ground defining the freedom which open source now enjoys. He offered a definition. It is not a universally accepted definition. Educate yourself about some of the differences people have, and the alternatives to his copyleft philosophy. As it happens, I also have an article in the works describing the different licensing philosophies for software -- maybe you should read that when it's done too, so you will learn enough to know when you are misusing terms in accordance with ideological bias while trying to "correct" me. > His GPL (and associated/subsequent) licenses are used by most open source projects (and nearly all Free Software projects). I think you overestimate the influence of the GPL and other GNU licenses. Most? Really? What about the MPL, the CDDL, the Perl Artistic License, the BSD License, the MIT/X11 License, and grants to the public domain? Then, of course, there's the collective weight of the hundreds of other licenses, including the Beerware License, the WTFPL, and the Open Works License. > Second, your ad hominem attacks on him simply demonstrate your lack of appreciation for what he's actually done for you and the rest of the world As an idol and figurehead, as well as in his capacity as a spokesman, RMS' character is the point in determining how much help or damage he offers to the cause of acceptance and adoption of open source software (by whatever name you choose to use for it, and whatever ideology you attach to it). Sure, it's "ad hominem" in that it targets the man, but it's not an ad hominem fallacy because it does not stand in for a logical point. As I already said, it is the point. In any case, I rendered no final judgments in the article. While I do not think of him as the titanic, heroic figure standing bestride the world of software freedom that is your evident impression of RMS, I did not actually render judgment when I described his eligibility (or ineligibility) for the 2010 prize. I merely presented the arguments others might use, and left it at that. Despite the fact that my description of RMS was not spontaneous adoration sufficient to serve the purpose of qualifying him for Catholic sainthood, I am likewise no Antichrist to RMS' free software religion. > the unflattering and largely unjustified characterisations of him which "journalists" such as you tend to parrot in articles like this 1. I parroted nothing. I collected, and paraphrased. 2. I am not really a journalist. I am, however, a security professional and an open source developer who has been pretty steadily involved in a number of open source subcommunities over the years, and have in fact started such a small community or two of my own in that time. 3. The "unjustified" characterizations are merely recountings of actual events. What is required to justify reporting facts? What do you require of me to justify the truth? > Under the circumstances, I think one should indulge him whatever personality quirks or other defense mechanisms he might have developed, given the degree to which he has cope with those who don't even try to characterise him accurately. As long as he is held up as an icon of the free and open source software community as a whole, and as long as he presents himself as its representative, people within that community (such as me, but not limited to me) are perfectly justified in questioning his effectiveness in such roles. As an advocate and policy-setter, I happen to believe he is well past his prime, and should be put out to pasture in favor of those whose approaches are more valuable and less controversial in detrimental ways -- or he should change his approach to suit the needs of that community. It has been suggested in a number of different contexts that questioning one's leaders, in terms of their value to what they lead, is an act of patriotism. This applies to the open source community as much as to governments and religions. > Putting him on the same list as Microsoft is a completely unacceptable slander for someone who has lived up to his principles, just as completely as corporations like Microsoft eshew them (principles that is). There are those who would make the opposite argument -- that Microsoft is slandered by being included in the same list as a crackpot zealot and self-deifying "communist" (their words, not mine) like RMS. I simply refer to the reasons people might like or dislike each, and leave it at that -- because the point here is that Oracle is far worse in 2010 than either of them. > I encourage you to explore further your glib statement (which, I suspect, was used to cover your lack of research) I encourage you to further explore the matter as well, given that your statements are -- I suspect -- based on a snap decision to qualify someone as an enemy just because that person disagrees with you on the proper way to worship a figurehead.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

[b]"His status as an enemy of open source software is certainly subject to argument, however, as the majority in the open source community tends to think of him as a legendary, heroic figure, or at least a harmlessly benevolent crank."[/b] Obviously the Prize Outhanding Committee has to qualify their decisions, hereunder qualifying why to not chose a nominee - provided that there is cause to think the nomination is valid, seeing as how the Prize Outhanding Authority could otherwise be used as a tool for character assassination. Hence, the Prize Outhanding Committee has followed due practice by first qualifying the nomination (said qualification occurred in the segment to which you, Dear Sir/Madam, took offense) and hereafter qualifying the decision not to award said nominee (which qualification occurred in the segment I quoted above). All in concordance with Right Upstanding Prize Outhanding Rites and Disciplines. + "-" and "/Madam"

apotheon
apotheon

Oracle hasn't had a chance to substantially affect the public perception of the open source software whose copyrights it holds, yet. The "reader's choice" awards won by software Oracle now "owns" are the result of goodwill built over years preceding Oracle's acquisition of Sun. Give it time. It's also worth nothing that those awards really don't measure software quality at all. MySQL's wins of such awards over a period of years are kind of laughable examples of why popularity contests like that are a bit less than meaningful. The people who voted for MySQL are mostly the kinds of people who think it's the most widely used database software in the world -- which it simply is not. Even merely within the limited realm of open source SQL DBMSes, that title belongs to a competitor: most likely SQLite, unless there's some other dark horse that escapes my awareness at the moment.

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