Monday, September 24, 2007

Open Source FTW!

Wow, I write one little blog and the heavy hitters take notice. First, thanks to all who read and commented. I'll try not to let success go to my head. Second, there are a lot of touchy political things going on in this discussion, and while I don't wish to offend anyone, being honest about my beliefs and my practices is bound to piss someone off. To that person I say "sorry, but I'm famous now". :)

Seriously, there are a couple of things I want to look at.

From Rod's blog, where he paraphrases my support company point into an incorrect metaphor:

Rod claims that dependable car repairs requires trained mechanics. This must come as a surprise to all the non-mechanics employed by every other garage in the world. Someone has to do the sales and run the business and fix the building and keep the website updated and find new customers, etc., etc. Mechanics don't get you any of these, and who's going to tell me they're not required for a successful garage?
As Rod surely knows, car mechanics almost never design or build the cars they are paid to repair. A very small group of designers produce almost all the automobile designs used in the world. The guy at your local Fix-It-Cheap Auto Service doesn't work for Toyota and probably never has, but (assuming he's a competent mechanic) you don't insist that he has to before you trust him to fix your car; he's read the manuals, studied the engine specs, read the latest bulletins and recall notices, and worked on dozens of cars very similar to yours. He fixes your car for a hopefully reasonable price and you're out and happy.

Rod, Juergen, and the other i21 engineers are like the car designers. They decide how Spring should be architected, and then they write code that implements the design they've settled on. While they certainly can support Spring, there's no reason some other engineer (me) can't study the same code and achieve the same level of expertise as far as a customer's support needs require. In my experience, a customer wants their immediate needs met when they open a support case. If we help them fix their problem, they're happy, and if we educate them on how to avoid similar problems in the future, they're very happy. Working with the community to find the best long-term solution that works the best for all Spring users is the second problem and one any good developer is happy to help with.

One thing i21 might look into is having a certified Spring technician program backed up by a rigorous curriculum that makes that really mean something. Toyota certifies mechanics on very strict tests. Cisco, Microsoft, Red Hat, etc., all have similar programs. The companies make money on course and training fees and crank out qualified engineers that spread the mindshare into every corner of every company they serve.

Rod speaks out against companies who, he says, try to make money off open source without fairly compensating the original developers of that code. SourceLabs is not such a company, as our active participation, including committer access, to several projects will show. By implying that these companies are parasites, he makes the fallacious implication that the original developers are always owed a cut of revenue derived from the code. If that's not what he means, it's hard for me to suss out any other interpretation of his statements on this issue. I strongly disagree with this opinion; a true open source project (the FSF term "free software" might even be applicable here) does not belong to any one person or entity, but rather to the community of its users. Rod seems to think that the purpose of Spring is to enrich Interface21; I believe the purpose of Spring is to make developers' lives easier. I make this claim because Spring is licensed under the Apache Software License, which explicitly allows free distribution and even (urk) proprietary forking. If Spring does not truly belong to all of us, then it is mislicensed. If Interface21 honestly feels that Spring belongs to them, they should change the license to reflect that instead of misleadingly claiming to be an open source company.

Finally, Rod claims that SourceLabs has not committed anything back to Spring. I could make the admittedly weak argument that I've personally sent two little tiny patches to the build file which were both accepted, but Rod has also said that valuable contributions to Spring include evangelizing and helping to broaden its community. We have been doing this since the company's inception. I've personally given one of my canned "Spring rocks" speeches to customers, and I've also encouraged other people I know in my professional sphere to use it. Such contributions are valuable not just because Rod says they are but also because they make life easier for everybody using the Java platform, whether they're our customers, i21's, or nobody's.

I'd like to close by offering my help in a professional capacity as a Spring enthusiast with time on his hands to Rod and Interface21. It is explicitly part of my job description to improve Spring however possible. Guys, where can I help? I'm happy to assist with anything you'd like assistance with: code, test cases, documentation, even giving speeches or talks at conferences and venues I visit. My offer is not contingent even on future employment at SourceLabs; I'm volunteering as an open source developer. Have Juergen (or whoever handles this sort of thing for you) drop me a line. I don't want committer access unless and until you've decided I earn it. I don't insist you adopt my patches. I don't insist on helping design the car. But I will help you however you'd like to make Spring better with dedicated time each and every working week.

So how about it? Would you like the help? Let me know.

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