Re: [unrev-II] Leadership and licenses

From: Paul Fernhout (
Date: Tue Jun 13 2000 - 19:22:59 PDT

  • Next message: Eugene Eric Kim: "Re: [unrev-II] Leadership and licenses"

    Eugene -

    Thanks for the clarifications.

    Eugene Eric Kim wrote:
    > Several things are clear from Paul's post, first of which is that there
    > are several misconceptions that need to be clarified. I'll try to do that
    > here.
    > On Tue, 13 Jun 2000, Paul Fernhout wrote:
    > > * Doug is looking for SRI (or a similar group) to do the heavy lifting
    > > again. Frankly I believe many of the same forces that killed his work at
    > > SRI in the past will in the future prevent SRI from doing the right
    > > thing with it -- not "something", but "the right thing". While SRI
    > > personnel have done incredible things, SRI is still an entrenched part
    > > of the pre-internet economic order. It would be a great coup for Doug to
    > > get SRI to implicitly admit their mistake in letting go of Augment by
    > > taking it back (like an old lover admitting how wrong they were to push
    > > one away). The question is, has SRI really changed since then?
    > First, SRI didn't kill the original NLS project; DARPA did by not funding
    > the project. Second, Doug isn't looking for SRI to do any "heavy
    > lifting"; SRI is currently acting as an umbrella group to provide
    > infrastructure, such as the office space we use for our meetings. Third,
    > Pat Lincoln and Lee Iverson, two SRI representatives, have been tremendous
    > contributors to the group.

    What I meant by "the same forces that killed his work" was that SRI
    chose not to go way out of its way to secure additional funding for the
    visionary in its midst. SRI could have also invested its own funds to
    develop the work after the DARPA money ended. It did not.

    SRI in my opinion made a major mistake that has cost it tens or hundreds
    of billions of dollars in licensing revenues through the years (had
    Augment gotten a major investment), and saddled the rest of us with icky
    software. Obviously, this is easy to point out with 20/20 hindsight.

    Of course, now SRI probably can't make substantial money from licensing
    Augment IP, but there is still money to be made from deployment,
    servicing, security, selling related hardware, etc. -- although SRI
    isn't in the best position for something liked that compared to say IBM,
    EDS, Sun, or HP.

    I think SRI's current participation in the OHS/DKR effort is great. I
    had been under the impression SRI was considering a major effort in the
    OHS/DKR direction if they could figure out a way to make a commercial
    venture / offering on top of the open source part. I don't begrudge them
    that! That's what RedHat does. However, the interaction with profit and
    other motives at the start creates an awkward situation (especially for
    lurking third parties).

    > > * Bootstrap is a for-profit company and is having trouble making the
    > > transition to open source, and also lacks some credibility because it is
    > > for-profit.
    > Who here on the list thinks that this project lacks some credibility
    > because of its legal status? Legal complications over BI's status is one
    > of the reasons Doug sought SRI's help. SRI is a non-profit organization
    > -- a point I think people on this list miss. It also has in-house
    > counsel, a luxury that BI does not. The reason BI is not currently
    > nonprofit is that it lacked the manpower to fill out the proper
    > forms. But I don't see how the legal status of BI has affected the
    > project in any way thus far.

    I feel it does. However, I thought the Bootstrap Alliance is a
    non-profit, so there is an umbrella. Actually, I've known of non-profits
    that go sour and it isn't pretty, but that's another story -- there is
    always issues of leadership, control, and resources.

    > > * Many of the participants who could contribute are more busy looking
    > > for a way to survive economically (possibly by selling DKR products or
    > > services). Those who could contribute a small amount of effort or code
    > > gratis are somewhat repulsed by this. (These two tensions can also exist
    > > within the same person!) This is one reason the license has not been
    > > worked out -- the commercial survival group is still looking to hold on
    > > to something for an economic edge. However, there are also several open
    > > source possibilities for licensing, so this is a compelx issue.
    > Tension between factions is not why the license has not been worked
    > out. The license has not been worked out because open source licensing is
    > very complex, as you note. However, I feel like we are close to reaching
    > consensus on a license. Once the minutes from last week's meeting comes
    > out, you'll note that we have chosen a date for committing to a
    > license: July 6.

    Looking forward to it!

    > > * Taking handouts from Sun and Stanford has created implicit bonds
    > > (choice of Java, "Permission to use" license) that make various options
    > > less attractive or prevents them altogether.
    > There haven't been any handouts yet. BI uses some equipment that was
    > donated by Sun several years ago. I don't think Stanford has ever donated
    > a penny to BI. Is there a specific instance you can see of the group
    > being limited by "bonds" to either Sun or Stanford?

    Stanford "handouts" include running the whole Colloquium and the
    Webcast. What they got out of that is another course for their
    professional development series. Thus, we got the "permission to use"
    license which still causes liability and fairness issues for "open
    source" software development. This is a major impediment to open source
    development of the OHS/DKR, and I am glad to see it is being addressed
    (from your other comments).

    As far as the Sun server (past or now present), that probably does make
    it slightly harder to consider non-Java alternatives (in my opinion),
    but that may not be a very big deal (after all, you've got Zope on it

    > > * The project did not start with "a gift of code", and so has no open
    > > source credibility beyond Doug's reputation in saying that is what
    > > Bootstrap wants to do. Releasing anything related to Augment under an
    > > open source license would increase this credibility.
    > Your first point is correct, but I don't see this hurting our
    > credibility. It certainly hasn't affected our credibility with the
    > various members of the open source community we've been in touch
    > with. Once we choose a license, open source credibility issues shouldn't
    > be a factor.

    OK. But to the rank-and-file open source developer who considers
    actually contributing code, it might make more of a difference. You need
    a "stone" to make "stone soup".

    > Second, releasing Augment as open source will be a bureaucratic nightmare
    > with limited benefits. Lockheed currently owns the right to Augment, and
    > negotiating with them would be major pain in the rear. Also, Augment was
    > written in a custom language -- L-10 -- and the compilers were written in
    > DEC assembler. I'd like to see this available for historical reasons, but
    > it won't have any real technical value to us.

    It's certainly of symbolic value (to me at least)...

    Also, I think the code data structures would have inspirational value,
    and translating current Augment repositories to a new format would
    provide a ready technical challenge that might inspire some good work,
    and roll forward Augment's history.

    People write translators and interpreters all the time; I've written
    several myself. If the code is well commented, and L-10 makes any sense,
    perhaps some of this could prove useful and made to run on top of Squeak
    or Python.

    Agreed, the negotiation cost with Boeing might outweigh the advantages.
    However, consider -- if Doug can't get the rights to Augment because
    Boeing considers it valuable Intellectual Property, that potentially
    casts an IP shadow over related Bootstrap developments (i.e. the
    potential for patent & copyright infringement implicit in the OHS/DKR

    > > * The weekly meetings in CA have created an in-group / out-group
    > > situation with regards to this list. Those who are physically located in
    > > CA become the in-group with privileged interactions (although thankfully
    > > summarized on the list), those elsewhere geographically become the
    > > out-group. While much progress is undoubtedly made with face to face
    > > meetings, the Apache group didn't meet face to face for years. The
    > > "in-group" does not seem to have license as a priority, because it seems
    > > more composed of people figuring out a business model for funding. I
    > > don't fault them for this, but it creates a tension between them and
    > > open source advocates on the list who just want to proceed without
    > > funding.
    > This is a very valid point. As someone who has attended the physical
    > meetings and who follows this list, let me try to clear up some
    > misconceptions. First, any time anyone has spent trying to figure out
    > business models has been his or her own. Second, Doug and Pat Lincoln
    > have been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work trying to get funding for
    > the group, but that hasn't been what's slowing us down.

    OK. Thanks for clearing this up. One of the things that causes this
    confusion is that it is not clear who speaks for Bootstrap or in what
    capacity. I do appreciate that there are many people trying to do great

    By the way, I don't begrudge anyone the right to make a business related
    to knowledge management -- companies do it all the time. It is an issue
    though when commercial intent relates more directly with the core of the
    system in its early stages.

    This wouldn't be an issue if we felt like a bunch of equal developers
    around an open source fire, each with status proportional to
    contributions. However, this is a corporate sponsored activity (Stanford
    and BI) with various one-sided legal agreements ("permission to use")
    which centralize power with the "official" institutions who own the
    rights to the results. That is the legal reality -- stated intentions to
    go open source aside (and Stanford has no such stated intentions).

    Also, clearly Doug has high status here based on his previous
    accomplishments, and others have status related to organizational
    accomplishments (running the colloquium), or postings to the list. But
    pretty much no one has status related to code contributed to the project
    -- and that would seem to need to be primary in an open source effort.

    > What's prevented this from taking off at the pace people would like is the
    > fact that there is no technical starting point yet. As you pointed out,
    > successful open source projects start with code. Apache had the NCSA
    > code; Linux has Linus's code; Mozilla had the Netscape code. Before you
    > can have code, you need to have design. This is what we've been working
    > on. Once we finish a preliminary design, we can build a prototype,
    > release the code, and start gearing up the community.

    I think the original design requirements here were quite good:

    Even without code, there is much one can do. See for example:
      Union of International Associations

    > > I don't quite know how to explain this, but I feel like this group has
    > > both too much structure and too little structure.
    > I agree. But I'm confident the group is streamlining. It's probably more
    > evident in the physical meetings right now, but it will start becoming
    > more evident here as well.
    > -Eugene

    Looking forward to it.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful reply.

    Hope others can post their own comments to Michael's original post.
    Surely someone else (other than Eric :-) can do a much better job than I
    did summarizing the current status and other issues Michael raised.

    -Paul Fernhout
    Kurtz-Fernhout Software
    Developers of custom software and educational simulations
    Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

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