Keynote #2 – Simon Phipps on what’s driving open source

Simon Phipps opened the keynote by explaining how Richard Stallman got sick of vendors not making source code available. By the end of the 1990s, there was a crisis. The web was emerging as a force for tremendous change in the topology of how information was spread around the world, and the choice of Apache here was crucial in opening the web. OSI was formed in 1998 to open gateways to open source with the mission of de-emphasising the ethical imperative, and a focus on practicalities such as education and building understanding.

License choice evolution

The original drivers of open source were to provide a stack of web server software – and this led to business model innovation; where you don’t have to rely on selling source code to generate revenue. Phipps explained how licenses are the ‘constitution for the community’ (attributed to Eben Moglen), and that the sign of discord in a community is when people start to care about what licenses are being used.

Phipps covered trends in open source licensing, and explained that there has been a move to ‘plus’ licenses; a base license is given and then additional rights are granted. Open source licenses are now also avoiding copyright assignment – which helps to sidestep acrimony in a community where one umbrella partner has an unequal stake in the project/source code. It is clear that Phipps is also a strong anti-patent campaigner; he explained how open source licenses are now also including umambiguous wording for dealing with patents to stop the problem of ‘parallel filing‘; where developers are encouraged by their employing organisation to patent their ideas and methods for solving computing problems as they undertake development. He was adamant that any open source licenses in the future need to contain explicit patent language.

He went on to categorise the classes of open source license that exist;

  • Class A – is unrestricted – you can use the code to create any work, and there are no restrictions on licensing. Examples are BSD and Apache. This is a ‘market creating’ license.
  • Class B – is file based – the files derived from commons must use license B, while files added may use any license. This is a ‘community protecting’ license.
  • Class C – is project based – all files in project C must use license C if derived from project C. This is a ‘transparency imposing’ license. Examples of this are GPLv2 and GPLv3.

Phipps explained that it is easy to scare businesses about open source licensing. They are terrified of having to release their source code – and want to hold on to it. The approach of businesses is changing though and instead of ‘vanity licensing’ companies are now realising the benefits of having wide, far-reaching communities – such as reduced barriers to the re-used of code. Hence we’re seeing a shift to ‘market creating’ liceses such as the Apache license as the governance structure of open source communities change.

Open source foundations

Phipps showed how corporations are increasingly thinking about open source as a way to bring together the commity rather than as a marketing tool. This has driven the need for open source foundations. He explained that the role of a foundation is to manage fiscal and other financial resources – such as trademarks, copyrights, staff and to act as an enable for governance, infrastructure provider and liability firewall for community participants, providing legal protection against litigation, and identifying risky contributions and patent rights.

Software patents

Phipps explained how a lot of companies use software patents for profit; fat patent troll companies exist whose sole business model is to buy patents and then explit them by demanding money from those they believe are infringing their patents. He emphasised the threat of dual filing – where a colleague working on a project will file a patent, the company will go bankrupt, the patent portfolio will be purchased and then used for litigation. Phipps argued that open source needs protection from litigation.

Some of the attempts to get around this include;

Patent pools – are not a lot of use according to Phipps; control can still be exercised by a dominant party as to who has the right to use the patent pool and gave the Google/Oracle example as a case in point.

  • Convenants – a way of contributors saying that patents generated by a community can be used by anyone – “any implementation of standard x is immune to a patent suit”. These are generally a good thing.
  • Software licenses – these are the best defence against parallel filing as they contain language that explicitly grants license over patents – and provide retribution against aggressors
  • Patron – a patron is able to stand up to the patent troll companies that exist simply to acquire patents and then demand money from those they believe are infringing the patents.

Cloud computing

The cloud means many things – including internet accessed storage, remote APIs, web app toolkits, essentially every kind of computing plus a network. Open source is everywhere. Software in the cloud needs the involvement of many parties to succeed, and this is giving rise to new business models. Companies like CloudBees take open source components and remodel them into service offerings; the differentiator here is the way the components are combined rather than the source code itself.

Big data

Big data is leading to the attitude that ‘software doesn’t matter’. Companies like Twitter and Facebook are releasing the code that they use internally – they don’t regard it as a differentiator anymore. Their offering, their competitive edge – is in the platform they provide, not the source code that delivers it. Their real assets are their operational skills. There is also a benefit to these companies in sharing the software  – it enriches their business and business model. Opensource is a component to business success – when you’re Twitter you don’t sell your software.

Future of Open Source Initiative

Phipps talked about how OSI is evolving, and how they want to invert OSI – so that the community is first rather than the board of directors. They will soon be restructuring and providing individual and corporate membership classes. He invited people to be part of the solution.

Footnote: I was very lucky to be able to sit next to Simon at the conference dinner, and found him to be an engaging and very knowledgeable conversationalist. One of the topics we discussed was that the general public doesn’t have an understanding of direct causality; they can only see cause and effect in one step. Hence, demonstrating to lay-people how privacy or rights are slowly eroded step by step by seemingly unrelated actions is a very difficult thing to do. It’s not that people are apathetic or don’t care; they just don’t comprehend the multiple steps of causality involved.

Ruins of Carthage

The second day in Tunisia started at 0630 – by which time it was already 30 degrees and about 95% humidity! The long-ingrained Australian habit of carrying water with you wherever you go definitely served me well 🙂

Getting out early meant that the souk wasn’t yet open – and it was relaxing to walk through the cobbled alleyways without the hassle of people trying to sell me trinkets. To be fair though, a lot of the economy around Hammamet and Tunisia is built on tourism – and the sellers rely on the income of tourists to eke out a livelihood.

The Yasmine Hammamet complex is so named for the jasmine plants that are around the resort – although there aren’t that many. The resort staff have continued the theme – and even the soap in the room smells of jasmine.

There’s a definite social hierarchy in the Residence too. At the top are the reception and management staff, dressed immaculately in business suits. Next are the staff who help take bags to the room and at the bottom are the blue and white-clad domestic staff – all women – who clean rooms and do laundry. Their uniform – floor-length long sleeve white tunic with blue edging – is reminiscent of a nun’s habit. I haven’t quite figured out yet where the street vendors sit in the hierarchy – I think they’re around the same level as the gents who help take bags to the rooms. The separation of genders and gender roles is quite marked. Disappointing, but unsurpringly, there seems to be a correlation between the social hierarchy and ethnicity. Many of the domestic ladies are African, and there are also many Indian ladies. The staff who help take bags to rooms are invariably African, while the management and reception staff are predominantly Arab or French-Arab.

The staff here are very friendly – they’re probably instructed to be so – but I’ve had the opportunity to chat to a few in my broken French. When asked where I come from, there’s definite surprise at the response of ‘je suis Australien‘ – Aussies are rarities en Tunisie. Often I’m mistaken for Austrian instead! One of the gents – Hesham – turned out to be rather friendly and wanted to walk everywhere arm in arm. He seemed to take it rather well when I explained my boyfriend wouldn’t approve 🙂 Next time it might be a good idea to wear a wedding ring (as I did when travelling in Indonesia) – it just stops a lot of questions – “Madame et mademoiselle“?

My first taste of breakfast at Yasmine Hammamet was delicious. The area around Tunisia grows a lot of grapes and stone fruit, and breakfast consisted of la grillade with tomatoes, scrambled eggs (yum) and sausage and ham (avoided), generally catering to English and German tastes. There were also a lot of breakfast pastries and toast, served with huge bowlfuls of fig jam, apricot jam and quince jam – delicious! Oh, and the coffee here is hot, brewed, and strong. Delice!

The land around Hammamet is sandy and rocky; the city is flanked by tall mountains with evergreen trees – mostly conifers and cypress. The land seems too barren to yield such beauties. Travelling by road, you see piles of rubble in many places, where it seems buildings have been knocked down and not yet rebuilt. Many buildings seem to be either dishevilled or in a state of disrepair; like the carpenters have downed tools and are waiting to come back from lunch. Again, the sense of Tunisia being a country trapped between the past and the future is echoed. On one building you will see massive solar panels and satellite dishes; the next will have washing strung across an open roof house.

The houses are interesting; square, generally clay or mud brick that is rendered in various shades of white, grey or brown, and on the more expensive ones there will be blue- or green-painted iron work, harking back to Tunisia’s French colonial history. There does not seem to be a sense of pride about many of them though; weedy plants line streets, punctuated with litter and piles of rubble and broken tiles. The French influence is seen too in the cars on the road; many are Peugeot or Citroen.

The highlight of today was definitely the ruins in Carthage. This ancient civilisation was quite advanced; the remains of a fully operational aquaduct system can still be seem amongst the tile and marble in the ruins. Evidence of master stonemasonry can be seen in the intricate carvings and marble columns; in one way it makes you wonder whether the automation of today that is supposed to give us so much free time is worth it. Here, it would have taken months to carve a single stone plinth, but it’s lasted for millenia. Palms and date trees would have flanked hand-cut stone arches, while women did washing and cooking in ceramic pots that still exist to this day.

Next on the sightseeing tour was Sidi Bou Said, where the main attraction are the houses painted white with blue trim; this was lovely, but very touristy.


The journey so far..

As with every journey, this one began with a small step. From the Gull Bus to Melbourne Airport (MEL) I boarded a flight to Dubai (DXB) – and rested peacefully on the plane. DXB was beautiful – and there was even a miniature lake in the middle of the airport. The Emirates food was superb, and I got to catch up on some movies to while away the time.

DSC_6141Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘ was an appropriate choice given the corner of the world I was headed to. Expecting a soppy romantic comedy (and somewhat – pardon the pun – disheartened – at this prospect), instead this bittersweet and at times hilarious movie examines the dissatisfaction of the main character with his mundane academic life and loveless marriage, and follows his journey as his passion for life – and for fishing – is reignited through an unlikely project.

The characters in ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘ also follow a journey; most of them reaching their senior years, various reasons lead them to be staying at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. For some it is the end of the journey of life, but for others their time there opens new doors, and gives them renewed vigour.

Margaret Thatcher follows a journey of a different kind in ‘Iron Lady‘; Meryl Streep’s performance of this one-imperious and internationally formidable woman in late stage dementia conversing with her long-dead husband is one of the best biopics of recent years. The story portrays her progression from grocer’s daughter, breaking with convention to win a safe Conservative seat, and successfully challenging for the leadership of the British Conservative party. The poignancy comes as her strong will, refusal to be swayed from her fiercely held convictions and self-belief eventually lead to her betrayal by her cabinet. Iron eventually rusts.

In Dubai, there was a four-hour layover before the connecting flight to Tunis; I used the time to get re-acquainted with parted to repartition an SD card that had previously been used for Raspberry Pi goodnes, but was now my spare camera card. After much referral to the man pages, I eventually managed to partition the card and create a new filesystem. Win.

Arriving in Tunis, I was taken aback at customs; carrying foodstuffs I chose to declare and the customs officials as good as laughed at me. “We love food!” they exclaimed. We Aussies must be so used to not bringing anything back into the country!

From Tunis it was an hour’s drive to Hammamet, the tourist resort south of Tunis. The contrasts here couldn’t be sharper; in the space of 100km you see desert, mountain region, and flowers planted by the roadside in rich bloom. The traffic is best described as ‘batshit crazy’; he who honks the loudest has right of way. Tunisia appears to be a country torn between two ages; an historic past echoed in the clay-walled, open-roofed houses and at the same time looking towards the future with the development of tourist centres such as Yasmine Hammamet.