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Management 'Scared' by Open Source 373

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the following-with-a-firm-push dept.
A discussion panel at EclipseCon exposed how managers are freaking out over open source. Apparently a disconnect exists between managers who set corporate open source policies and developers supposed to follow them, but who end up covering their tracks to make it seem like they are not using open source. Developers, though, end up using open source because of its ubiquity and not using it 'puts them at a competitive disadvantage because their competitors are.' And the Lawyers are in a panic.
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Management 'Scared' by Open Source

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  • by OffTheLip (636691) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @07:44AM (#18298818)
    Managers may be afraid of unknown open source packages but much of what they do is governed, managed if you will, by open source software. As has been said time and again here the internet and much of the global communication grid is dependent on open source offerings. It what they don't know that they fear. Nobody ever got fired for choosing Microsoft.
  • by mvdwege (243851) <mvdwege@mail.com> on Saturday March 10, 2007 @07:55AM (#18298844) Homepage Journal

    [...] all the talk on whether or not Novell is violating GPL (perhaps by simply partnering with another vendor - Microsoft) [...]

    Stop spreading FUD. Novell was doing more than simply partnering with Microsoft. They took out what amounted to a patent license in all but words, which would call into question their ability to distribute GPL code. The patent clause in the GPL is quite clear: if you have a patent license to code under the GPL, you must be able to transfer that license along with the code, or you can't distribute under the GPL.

    Novell's problem is caused by the fact that they are hemming and hawing around whether or not they actually do have a patent license agreement with Microsoft and what its exact terms are.

    Mart
  • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday March 10, 2007 @08:12AM (#18298918) Homepage

    Give me one example of a company being forced to release previously proprietary software under the GNU GPL. One.

    Do a Google search [google.com] will ya?

    How about Cisco [infoworld.com] for example, uhm? Or Linksys [wi-fiplanet.com]:

    In June 2003 some folks on the Linux Kernel Mailing List sniffed around the WRT54G and found that its firmware was based on Linux components. Because Linux is released under the GNU General Public License, or GPL, the terms of the license obliged Linksys to make available the source code to the WRT54G firmware. As most router firmware is proprietary code, vendors have no such obligation. It remains unclear whether Linksys was aware of the WRT54G's Linux lineage, and its associated source requirements, at the time they released the router. But ultimately, under outside pressure to deliver on their legal obligation under the GPL, Linksys open sourced the WRT54G firmware in July 2003.

    Now, you could say, the open-sourced firmware was never proprietary to begin with somehow, but that's just semantics — clearly, Linksys thought of it as proprietary and weren't planning to release the sources until the outside pressure made them do it. I'm not aware of anybody benefiting from this open-sourcing, however, and this lack of benefits (from vendors being wrestled into releasing their "GPL-tainted" code) was my main point.

    I dare you.

    Now that I've successfully responded to your dare, what will you do? If you are a female, you can scratch my back for 5 minutes. If you are a male, you can take out my garbage — once, this Monday. Make your pick.

  • by LinuxDon (925232) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @08:27AM (#18298978)
    Quote: "I'm not aware of anybody benefiting from this open-sourcing, however, and this lack of benefits (from vendors being wrestled into releasing their "GPL-tainted" code) was my main point."

    There are a lot of people benefiting from this actually.
    Ever heard of http://www.hyperwrt.org/ [hyperwrt.org] and http://openwrt.org/ [openwrt.org] ?

    Now you can actually run a webserver on this device.

    Granted, you can create a discussion about the commercial value of it all, but it certainly has a very high educational value. Also, this code (with some modifications) could be used on other/similar devices as well.
    The way I see it, this is a big win. Instead of reinventing the wheel people can now start off with the already existing code. And I bet Linksys is actually selling more devices because of openwrt instead of less, so Linksys has won too.
  • Re:Best Buy (Score:3, Informative)

    by chill (34294) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @08:45AM (#18299058) Journal
    That's amusing. Wasn't it Geek Squad just had their pants sued off for distributing and not paying for internal copies of Winternals software? They licensed ONE copy and made it, and other tools, available on an internal FTP server for everyone.

    WTF then is the problem with FOSS? At least it would have made what they were doing legal. Or do they WANT to be criminal scum?
  • by Alex (342) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @08:57AM (#18299092)
    No one could give me a clear reason why we chose to pay $75 per license for Office XP instead of going to OpenOffice for free.

    I use openoffice all of the time - and the answer to your question is "open office is only an acceptable replacement for basic users of office applications" - have you tried opening a complex spreadsheet in openoffice ? it'll take ages. On my 3 year old windows laptop similar spreadsheets open in 20% of the time in Excel.

    Openoffice is very good - but for a small % of users it is a very poor replacement, 75$ is also a bargain for MS Office.

    Alex
  • by l0ne (915881) <millenomi AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday March 10, 2007 @09:32AM (#18299272)

    Use how? What if one of the engineers needs a snippet of code, copies it from Spring, and incorporates it into their product without attribution? Suddenly, that company is legally vulnerable.

    Oh, come on! The dev community has worked twenty years to get to the point where you can reuse existing code without having to copy and paste it. We were calling this inheritance if I'm not mistaken.

    Also, it's common sense that other people's code is other people's. If your developers are not intelligent enough to understand that and actively research the license for the code they're taking, they should not be your developers. I can do it, and I'm just a Slashdot-reading moron!

    No, that is not correct - the Spring framework does not require you to distribute your changes. You just proved the point: licensing mistakes are easy to make.

    They're also easy not to make. Not as easy as they are to make, but easy enough. Think safe sex.

    If any contributions are properly documented (it's easy with a proper source management system), and made by a group of competent developers, as above, things work out correctly. If you cannot keep your devs in check, you have more to worry than just licensing problems. Google does this, Apple does this, Microsoft (!) might be even doing this, and none of them ever had licensing problems of any kind.

    Open source hacks is another fear they have: the fear that somehow using open source tools will make their client sue them.

    And that's a reasonable fear. If I sell code that violates a license to a client, that client becomes legally vulnerable and might sue me. Because open source software is so accessible, it becomes easier to inadvertently violate a license.

    Using an open source tool and modifying it are two deeply different things. No FOSS tool that I know of limits what you can do with its output. OS X is compiled with GCC, but it's a commercial OS, for instance.

  • by rlauzon (770025) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @09:37AM (#18299292)

    I use openoffice all of the time - and the answer to your question is "open office is only an acceptable replacement for basic users of office applications" - have you tried opening a complex spreadsheet in openoffice? it'll take ages. On my 3 year old windows laptop similar spreadsheets open in 20% of the time in Excel.

    Yup. Just did it. Opened quicker than Excel for me.

    Openoffice is very good - but for a small % of users it is a very poor replacement, 75$ is also a bargain for MS Office.

    I would agree that for a small percentage of users OO is probably a poor replacement.

    But I would argue that those people are using the wrong tool for the job and that the only reason they are using MS Office is because it's the only tool they know about (or the only one that their IT dept will let them have).

    And we are back again to letting the wrong people make technical decisions.

  • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @09:40AM (#18299300)

    No one could give me a clear reason why we chose to pay $75 per license for Office XP instead of going to OpenOffice for free.
    Here's a clear reason. Open Office is a toy. I am actually not a power user of Excel, but every time I try Open Office Calc (spreadsheet) it is very disappointing. Just the other day I wanted to graph 2048 data pairs contained in a CSV file. I am using a dual core machine with 2GB of RAM, and nothing else is running. In Open Office's spreadsheet program it takes 15 seconds just to create a simple line graph (default parameters) and then for some bizarre reason it simply hangs, unresponsive for another 12 seconds before it accepts UI commands again - 27 seconds in total!. I tried this on two different machines, not believing what I was seeing. And for reference, the memory footprint of Open Office with the data loaded and the graph displayed is 74MB. In Excel, by comparison, on the same machine the graph is displayed in less than a second (a blink of an eye actually). That's a factor of about 50 faster! And the memory footprint is 4MB (a factor of 18 less than Open Office). I don't know about you, but I won't wait 30 seconds for a simple graph to be displayed - that would drive me nuts. One more thing. The default graph in Open Office is poorly formatted and requires some tweaking before being usable. In Excel the default is quite acceptable so I don't have to fiddle to get it to look decent.

    Open Office may be an alternative someday, but at least as far as the spreadsheet goes (which is arguably the key application in office for business users), it seems still to be a long way off. And I have yet to try Office 2007 wherein Microsoft presumably raised the bar yet again (though maybe not, they do have an unfortunate tendency to sometimes take steps backwards).
  • by Bent Mind (853241) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @10:24AM (#18299456)
    It was a striped down Linux distro. Ok, they had to put it together, perhaps write some shell scripts. I'm not sure where the web interface came from. But did they have to release any super-secret proprietary source code? I doubt it.

    Just off the top of my head, it's been a while.

    They took the Linux kernel and patched to support a Broadcom wireless NIC. They then sold the compiled version as their own software. Someone found a bug in the interface that dropped them into a shell and discovered it was Linux. Linksys responded by offering the Linux kernel source without the patch. People complained when it didn't work and legal again was threatened. So Linksys rewrote the patch to use a binary blob. Nothing proprietary was lost.

    Open Source developers then used the patch and blob to reverse engineer a Broadcom driver for BSD, and latter, Linux.

    My memory of the events is hazy. I'm sure there is a Wiki article somewhere with more/better details.
  • by init100 (915886) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @10:25AM (#18299464)

    No FOSS tool that I know of limits what you can do with its output.

    One category of programs that may cause such issues are lexical and syntactical analyzers (also known as lexer and parser generators), since they often include parts of themselves in their output.

  • by TobascoKid (82629) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @10:33AM (#18299488) Homepage
    So because OO.org is not suited to some business users it's unsuited for all business users?

    Looking at your post, why are you using a spreadsheet to do that kind of graphing in the first place (even Excel)? You seem to be claiming that your particular use of spreadsheets shows that OO.org is not suitable for all business use, even though you are using it in a way that is non-representative of typical business use cases.
  • by shaitand (626655) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @10:41AM (#18299524) Journal
    Funny you should mention that. I just got my first chance to work with excel in Office 2007. I can certainly say that it was a nightmare.

    I am not an excel user nor am I tied to a UI scheme. I am a frequent game player (each UI unique with different levels of quality) and also commonly use various new open source tools (again, many have unique UI's of various quality levels). I can truly say that I have never seen anything quite so horrid as the user interface in 2007. It took a full 10 seconds just to figure out how to print my spreadsheet. The standard File, Edit, View, etc menubar that is found in every windows application known to man no longer exists. The set of toolbars that is used instead is an absolute clusterfuck. There are options scattered about. You might have two options on top of one another and then the next option is skinnier but as tall as the two before; a third segment will again have two elements but that are as thick as 1.5 of the first elements. It hurts just trying to find an element in that.

    I couldn't tell you how quickly you could graph data in office 2007 because I'll be damned if anyone could ever figure out how to do such a thing.

  • by g2devi (898503) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @10:48AM (#18299562)
    > Use how? What if one of the engineers needs a snippet of code, copies it from Spring, and incorporates it into their product without attribution?

    This is a valid concern, but it goes deeper than you think. It's been a few years since I programmed for Win32 and MFC, but back then, it was quite common for Windows programmer to google for hacks^H^H^H^H^H solutions to problems or copy code from book CDs to solve problems and to cut and paste them into code. In web programming, it's even more common to look for libraries or snippets that solve a problem rather than reinvent the wheel.

    Years of blindly clicking book-long EULAs or online EULAs that change silently on you without your notice have taught people that licenses don't matter and are things to be ignored. Most developers who do this don't seem to be aware of licensing issue and assume that if it's on the internet or if it came with or on a book, then it must be public domain and fair game. In a large number of case, this is not the case, and a stricter license ("you may use this code in non commercial code" or "you may use this code but not modify it" or even "this code is for demonstration purposes only, do not use it") is attached. Shared source muddles the issue further since it leaves you to SCO-like "you looked at the code so anything you write is contaminated" type lawsuits.

    This is what managers are really afraid of.

    What many managers haven't clued in on is that open source makes managing this concern easier because most open source software falls into 10 or so licenses that can be divided into three or so categories "share quid pro quo" (e.g. GPL), "library quid pro quo alike" (e.g. LGPL), "attribution" (e.g. BSD, MIT). So it should be easy to define a policy for them and provide a mechanism for new licenses to be added. If you enforce the policy to make your developers actually *look* at the license and *care*, there's little reason to fear and reason to be more confident than you aren't accidentally setting yourself for IP lawsuits from *non-open source* publishers since your developers will be avoiding those like the plague in favour of open source software of the appropriate type.

  • by NickFortune (613926) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @11:16AM (#18299720) Homepage Journal

    No FOSS tool that I know of limits what you can do with its output.
    One category of programs that may cause such issues are lexical and syntactical analyzers (also known as lexer and parser generators), since they often include parts of themselves in their output.

    Got any examples?

    The most common lex and yacc tools distributed with Linux are Flex and Bison - or at least they were when last I had occasion to use such things. It's not true in either of those cases.

    Flex, if you look at its sourceforge page [sourceforge.net] is distributed under the BSD licence. So there are no problems with flex.

    Bison is more problematical, since it's released under the full GPL. The problem is acknowledged by the FSF [gnu.org]

    Some programs copy parts of themselves into the output for technical reasons--for example, Bison copies a standard parser program into its output file. In such cases, the copied text in the output is covered by the same license that covers it in the source code. Meanwhile, the part of the output which is derived from the program's input inherits the copyright status of the input.

    However the same FAQ entry continues:

    As it happens, Bison can also be used to develop non-free programs. This is because we decided to explicitly permit the use of the Bison standard parser program in Bison output files without restriction.

    So Bison isn't a threat either.

    Which tools were you thinking of, specifically? I'm sure the authors of such tools don't intend to lay traps for proprietary developers, and I expect they'd be happy to make the relevant changes if it meant wider use of their tools.

    Failing that, it would be a worthwhile exercise to publicise any such tools that are incompatible with proprietary development processes. As opposed to just going "Open Source! Be Very Afraid!" which doesn't seem to contribute anything of value to the debate

  • by Presence1 (524732) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @11:23AM (#18299764) Homepage
    Lack of knowledge may sometimes be the cause, but not always.

    I use the OO apps every day on my machines. They are pretty good, the price is right, and I prefer to avoid the MS tax where possible. I also think MS Word sucks because it tries to do WAY too much for me (turn off all that crap, and just let me write!), and I think Excel 3 was the best version (very nice but still lean).

    Yet, in most recent software company I co-founded and served as CTO (building self-service web apps), we made a decision to use MS Office instead.

    Why? Compatibility. The business-side partners, while sympathetic to the open source cause, and certainly liking the price, were emphatic that they needed to frequently exchange files with suppliers and customers. I would have liked to make the case for OO, but I could easily find files in Word, Excel and PowerPoint that OO would fail to properly display or edit. So, with these inconvenient facts, I agreed that MS Office was the way to go.

    Am I disgusted with MS practices in making compatibility so difficult? Absolutely. But I still needed to make decisions based on the actual facts on the ground, not the ideal that OO will (someday) be fully compatible. We had a company to build and needed the best, most cost-effective tools to get the work done, even if we are being oppressed by a monopoly compatiility issue.

    A few years later, my current startup is in development and fabrication of high-performance composite products. We are starting out with OO, and compatibility is better, and MS Office is even more bloated, but I have a suspicion that the same decision will ultimately be made again.

    Either way, neither decision will have been made from ignorance, and certainly not from any kind of "nobody got fired for buying XYZ" attitude.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 10, 2007 @12:46PM (#18300296)
    Are you aware of the fact, that parameter separator in Excel depends on current locale? It also means, that in languages using comma for decimal separator you cannot use comma for delimiting parameters. Instead, Excel uses - yes, semicolons!

    In en_US locale you seem to be using, semicolon is used to delimit rows in constant arrays. Other locales are supposed to use pipe, but it doesn't work in any version prior 2007 (it is fixed in 2007). So basically when you are in wrong country (let's say, any European country), you are unable to use constants arrays.
  • NMAP (Score:3, Informative)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Saturday March 10, 2007 @01:02PM (#18300402) Homepage

    No FOSS tool that I know of limits what you can do with its output.

    NMAP [insecure.org] does.

    Try integrating NMAP with yoru commercial product. You won't be allowed to distirbute it if you use it's output to integrate into your own stuff.

    Check out their wacky addition to the GPL:

    * Note that the GPL places important restrictions on "derived works", yet * it does not provide a detailed definition of that term. To avoid * misunderstandings, we consider an application to constitute a * "derivative work" for the purpose of this license if it does any of the * following: * Integrates source code from Nmap * Reads or includes Nmap copyrighted data files, such as * nmap-os-fingerprints or nmap-service-probes. * Executes Nmap and parses the results (as opposed to typical shell or * execution-menu apps, which simply display raw Nmap output and so are * not derivative works.) * Integrates/includes/aggregates Nmap into a proprietary executable * installer, such as those produced by InstallShield. * Links to a library or executes a program that does any of the above
  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @02:04PM (#18300744)
    '' Does that now mean that any Perl script that "includes" mine is now subject to the GPL? How big does an "inclusion" have to be to trigger the GPL? One line of code? Ten? One hundred? ''

    No matter what the size, it doesn't "trigger the GPL".

    Lets say I have written an identical two liner and published it, but without GPL, so nobody is allowed to duplicate it. What's the difference between including your code and mine? Each one is copyright infringement and treated identically. The only difference is that the person copying your code has one more way to make his copying legal (by publishing everything under GPL) which someone who copies my code doesn't have. But nobody can ever be forced to publish their code under the GPL.
  • by jelle (14827) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @02:43PM (#18300996) Homepage
    'Using OO, I invite you to create 2 columns of 2048 numbers, select them, and create a line graph. Nothing fancy or exotic. Then tell me graphing is "easily well done" using OO.'

    Ok, I had never used openoffice spreadsheets to make a graph, but I took your challenge and it was surprisingly easy, with most time spent on the 'pg dn' key going down to row 2048.

    So here it is: "Graphing is easily well done using OO".

    It took me longer to make this post than to startup openoffice (without quickstart), open a spreadsheet, make two columns, the second the sqrt() of the first, make aline graph of it, and resize it a bitto appreciate the curve.

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