A brave, new post open source world, or Fly-by Software License pollution

I just read an interesting article with the title We’re in a brave, new post open source world. The article goes into the evolution of Open Source movement and the numerous licensing policies. On particularly notable phrase I saw read as follows:

…if you use someone else’s code revision from Stack Overflow, you would have to add a comment in your code that attributes the code to them.

What this means is that, if a developer uses a snippet of code taken from StackOverflow, and fail to add such an attribution, then technically the project might be in breach of StackOverflow license. I am curious how many organisations actually check this.

The whole article is a good read.

Original Article: We’re in a brave, new post open source world — Medium

Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. by Richard Stallman

I just read a nice essay by Richard Stallman with the title Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software – GNU Project – Free Software Foundation. A chosen quote from this essay poses perfectly the problem

Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.

Most people probably aren’t even aware of this difference. I never understood why and how the term open source came to be applied to hardware, government and many other areas when in fact even the English language doesn’t see any notion of source in such contexts.

The article I refer to is concerned about correct definitions, I want to look at some  of the misunderstandings.

There is an angle to this discussion, a lot of people and organisations look to Open Source Software (OSS) in search for cheap (but not cheerful) opportunities to solve their problems.  You can’t blame them for it, but this can raise several issues. I will ignore any moral aspects for now, and focus on a few practical implications.

  • Some individuals or organisations release their work as Open Source with the explicit intention to invite others to contribute to it. This is often an acknowledgement that one’s work can be bettered and perfected if others would gain access and be allowed to contribute.
  • By releasing a work as open source, there is no implicit or explicit guarantee of quality or defect. It just means use it at your own risks, your contribution would be appreciated if only in terms of signalling any defects found, or improvements that you might have been able to add to it.
  • FOSS doesn’t  opposed nor condone gainful use. Statistically however, there exist far fewer people and organisations able to contribute than those who actually use OSS. This is well understood and accepted by most. However, it is astonishing to see some people throwing a tantrum and launching on diatribes when they get frustrated by some open source software. This is just plain crazy behaviour, they not only miss the point and are showing preposterous entitlement that deserves to be frowned at.
  • Increasingly, many organisations are using OSS as a mean for attracting and retaining talent. This is an instance that stretches the notions of free and open in an interesting way, a subtle form of free promotion and marketing.

Article: Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software – GNU Project – Free Software Foundation

Leverage the best of community and agile approaches for results

It is a good idea to leverage the best of communities and agile approaches to product development in Software Architecture practices. Last semester product releases from Microsoft are indication that they are applying these concepts, Architects should learn from that.

It seems to me that Microsoft is applying some valuable lessons from open-source and community driven software processes: get user buy-in as early as possible, deliver early and frequently incomplete or partially flawed products. People will happily participate, you would get a more accurate feel for the reception when the product finally ships. I don’t know what the pundits are saying, but to me (as a software architect and user), this strategy pays off handsomely.

Every new Microsoft product I laid my hands on over last half-year has been nicely thought out and clearly user-oriented by design. You can almost feel that product development received a lot of attention, and that is good news for the 90% of us who use Microsoft software.

I’ve started using Microsoft Office 2010 Beta on my Windows 7 box. You immediately see the impact of some of the lessons they’ve learned with the previous major release, the ribbon concept has been tweaked, the experience feels more natural yet innovative. I’ve not had to spend any time reading documentation (though that would be a mistake for a final product, reading the documentation is always for the best), I had no troubles working just like before.

Similarly, when I first learned about the early Microsoft Azure visions, I was having a strange feeling of “lipstick on a pig” treatment. After PDC2009, I saw lots of improvements and change of heart on some early ideas that seem to be, without a doubt, the result of extensive community participation.

The early concepts and beta releases of SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 have stunned me in their clarity of vision, for the first time I’m getting excited about Microsoft’s web-based software. Having spent the best part of last decade delivering non-Microsoft solutions, albeit I’ve never lost sight of what they were doing, I am seeing a lot of good vibes coming from Redmont these days.

Another potential idea that can be read here, would be that Microsoft is directly engaging users and hence doing away with their former approach where their partners supplied the bulk of feature requirements (I’ve read a lot of Michael Cusumano and Mary Jo Foley throughout the years, any misreading would be mine).

To me, these are all signs that Microsoft’s products are improving, they are increasingly addressing unmet user needs. This would be a software delivery equivalent of a “growth business”, I buy it.

I see a parallel with the practice of software architecture, whether its Enterprise Architecture or Solution Architecture on a smaller scoped project. Software Architects can achieve much success by adopting some of the same recipes hinted at earlier, by no means a complete list:

  • don’t seek completeness on any significant topic before getting stakeholder communities fully engaged (no, they won’t think you’re daft)
  • don’t think you have all the answers (many thought leaders are saying this), actively seek and incorporate ideas from the receiving parties – they’d have a hard-time to reject their own input, wouldn’t they?
  • delegate major chunks to smaller and dedicated groups, see to it that the inter-group communication is fluid and sustained (I don’t know if Microsoft does this, it seems many of their products are still large silos).

With this type of approach, the outcome tend to feel much more natural and the acceptance will probably be easier. You see it for example when, using the product, you guess how something might work and could verify that the feature was implemented almost exactly as you guessed. This happens a lot when I use Apple products. I used to think that Microsoft would never be able to match such feat, but I now see that they are changing their approach for the better.