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Open Source in Telco

Tellme_logo

In the last year, we've seen open source software explode into the telecommunications market.  Typically telco equipment manufacturers, carriers and the like are on the bleeding edge of technology adoption, so this is really no big surprise.  The only surprise is how fast they've migrated from home-grown and proprietary software to open source.  Some of the largest deals MySQL closed in the last year were in the telecommunications industry, who are heavy users of MySQL Enterprise and MySQL Cluster.  This includes such well known companies as Alcatel, Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, France Telecom, Motorola, Nokia, Nortel, Telio, Vodafone and many others.

We've also started to see a new generation of "Web meets Telco" companies, like Tellme Networks, build almost completely on open source.  Tellme was able to reduce the costs of their mission critical applications and improve availability by using MySQL.  They use it in their core distributed data cluster handling more than 2 terabytes of data per week as well as for data warehousing and as a general data store for their applications.  Tellme has grown tremendously in the last few years.  They are the market leader in Directory Assistance handling nearly 2 billion call sper year and over 80% of all automated calls in Amercia including customers like American Airlines, Amazon, E*Trade, FedEdx, Merrill Lynch, Dominos and many others. They are also now powering all Cingular Wireless 411 calls.  If you've ever used an automated voice recognition system to make reservations or check on the status of an order, you've most likely been using Tellme's service. You can also use Tellme to do any kind of general web searching by calling 1-800-555-TELL (or 1-800-555-1212).

Seeing widespread use of Open Source in mission-critical telecommunications applications shows how far the technology has come in recent years.  It's not just about web application front-ends anymore.  The new generation of business critical applications are web-based now and it seems clear that this trend towards web convergence will continue.  My believe is that the Web 2.0 companies we regard as leading edge today will showcase an architecture that becomes mainstream for Enterprise 2.0 in the next few years.


5 Things You Don't Know About Me

Zack_svm_small_1

Matt Asay tagged me with a blog meme (sounds worse than it is) to write 5 things that most people probably don't know about me.  Let me apologize in advance for such a self-centered posting; I swear I'm just following orders!  Here are few little known facts, though people who read this blog regularly may know a couple of these already. 

  1. I'm a marathon runner
    Running a marathon is harder than almost anything else you can do. Harder than working in a startup, harder than writing humor, harder than marriage.  But it's also a very rewarding experience.  I learned more in running my first marathon than almost anything else in life.  I've run 10 marathons in ten years as well as many half-marathons.  I may be overly proud of it, but my fastest time is 3:18, which qualified me to run Boston earlier this year. Woo hoo!
     
  2. I have a sense of humor
    I can be pretty focused, so sometimes people miss this. A few years ago when I wasn't in training, I developed a web site called Valley of the Geeks. You can also buy the book at Amazon.  Film rights still available.
        
  3. I have a twin brother
    He's like me, but more serious.  Mike's a former financial analyst and runs as a consulting firm called The Disruption Group.  He also writes a blog called OnDisruption which is great for anyone trying to build a business that stands out from the crowd.
     
  4. I play bad guitar
    I'm learning to play electric guitar.  I swear this is not a mid-life crisis; it's something I've wanted to do for many years, despite my lack of musical ability.  In the meantime, my best contribution to music may be the occasional posting on my other blog, GuitarVibe.
     
  5. I am a retro computer geek
    Maybe this is not such a secret, but I think old computers are cool.  For a while I was collecting all kinds of 80s computers, but things started to get a bit out of hand and I agreed with my wife that a DEC VAX was not a good housewarming gift. I still have a soft spot for the Apple ][ which was my first computer many years back, interactive fiction, hand-held computers as well as programming languages and IDEs in general.

Ok, now I tag Kaj Arno, Jay Pipes, Ben Riga, Brian Aker, Stephen Walli.  Please thank Matt for pushing this meme onto all of you.  I'm not sure what you'll get out of it, but he's promised me a fruit pie.


Time: Person of the Year: You

Time_you

Time magazine has selected You as the person of the year. Not me, you!  You as in YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, SecondLife, FaceBook, HotOrNot, Blogs, Mashups and everything else that symbolizes the democratization of a participative internet culture.  Congratulations to Time for recognizing how the internet and Web 2.0 are changing the world. More importantly, congratulations also to open source developers from MySQL and other projects around the world for enabling the infrastructure that makes this new generation of applications.  Every one of these applications mentioned in Time is powered by MySQL! 

I think we are seeing the very beginning of how Web 2.0 shapes everyone's life from individuals to mass medea to enterprise companies.  Read the full stories on line at the links below.


MySQL User Survey

Dev_uc_surveyright

MySQL has posted a user survey on the web.  The survey takes about 15-20 minutes to complete and the input helps guide us in the product planning for 2007 and beyond.  This is a great way to make sure that your input is heard.  And if you complete the whole thing, you may win a pass to the 2007 MySQL Conference in Santa Clara in April.  Click on the link below (not on the picture) to get started.

Update: Doh!  Fixed the link and a type!


Open Source and Attribution

Recently there's been several interesting blogs on the issue of open source licensing and attribution.  Let me try to summarize the discussion and see if I can highlight some areas of concern.

Historically there have been many different licenses used for open source products.  While there are not as many open source licenses as there are closed source, it has at times been confusing for users of open source to understand the subtle distinctions in the terms of different licenses.  In fact that's one of the reasons MySQL adopted the GPL license many years back. Originally, MySQL had its own open source license, but so many people were familiar with the GPL from its use on Linux, that we figured if it was good enough for Linus it was good enough for us.  We also liked the reciprocity of the GPL license since it enabled us to have a "quid pro quo" approach that enables people to use MySQL under the GPL if they are GPL and we were able to provide it under a commercial license for those who did not want to use GPL.  And in fact, we extended this freedom to other FOSS software users to ensure there is compatibility between MySQL's GPL license and many other licenses out there including the BSD License, Apache License, PHP license etc.  (Technically this is called the MySQL FLOSS Exception which sounds like its about dental hygiene, but its really about extending the freedom of MySQL to other open source licenses.)

When we looked at how to decide which licenses we would be compatible with, we didn't want to review every license under the sun, so we explicitly referenced licenses declared open source by the OSI (Open Source Initiative). Despite it's fancy sounding name, the OSI definition of open source is really an opinion. It's not an official standards body, it's not sanctioned by legislation, they do not have a trademark on the words "open source', and there are no requirements to adhere to it's definition.  So anyone can call software open source without the OSI's approval.  It's like if you decided to formally announce your definition for good taste and encouraged others to follow it.

That being said, the OSI's definition is a pretty good one and it recognizes that while there is no "one size fits all" license, it's good to have some common elements that make up open source.   For example, the OSI definition includes such clauses as Free Redistribution, Availability of Source Code, Ability to Create Derived Works, No Discrimination, and so on. 

They also list on their web site the latest OSI approved licenses which they consider to have met the OSI definition of open source.  There are several dozen licenses listed there ranging from Apache 2.0 to the Zope Public license with all of the popular licenses as well as some rather obscure ones from private companies like Apple,Mitre, Nokia and Sybase among others. 

The OSI is actually a very modest non-profit organization and while it does not have formalized membership programs, MySQL has been an occasional contributor. They do offer OSI-certification of licenses, though I must admit, I've never actually seen anyone advertize an open source license as being OSI approved. 

These days, the trend has been away from so-called "vanity licenses" whereby companies introduce their own distinct open source license. Sun for example, released Java under the GPL 2 rather than under their earlier open source licenses.  And it turns out that by some accounts as much as 70% of all open source projects on sourceforge use the GPL or related LGPL license. Still, there are plenty of new projects out there under the BSD License or under variations of the Mozilla MPL. 

Still, in the last two years, many new companies have sprung up that have open source products and services they sell and while some have selected the GPL, many others have used variations on the Mozilla MPL.  This includes venture-backed open source application companies such as SugarCRM, Zimbra, Alfresco and others.  None of these companies claim to have OSI-approved licenses and I don't think it's hurt them at all. Generally, they follow a common understanding of open source, but where they deviate from the OSI definition is around attribution.  For most users of their software, they can be regarded as open source and having a fairly liberal license; you can modify the software, use it, copy it and so on.  Of course "fairly liberal" is my view of their licenses, and others may have their own views. (And you can also find a response from SugarCRM CEO John Roberts on why attribution matters.)

Attribution is not uncommon in the open source world and there's been a history of many projects and licenses enabling people to use or modify the software, but requiring that they acknowledge the original authorship.  Works published under a Creative Commons license also frequently include an attribution clause.  I consider it very generous that Cory Doctorow publishes his books under Creative Commons and I respect that the Creative Commons license does not enable me to publish his book, change all the character names to friends of mine and claim that I am the author.  Most writers or programmers understand that part of the reason you publish something under an open source license is that you want people to recognize and acknowledge your work.

In the case of applications companies, there is a good question as to what is legitimate attribution and how much is too much.  Some folks seem to feel that the OSI should have some lock on approving all open source licenses and that companies should have to acknowledge that their license is not approved by the OSI. This is crazy talk!  I have tremendous respect for the OSI and the work that Bruce Perens undertook to create the OSI defnition, but, hey, it's a free country.  I don't ask anyone to approve that my blog is following the standards of blogging (whatever those might be), why should someone have to follow the OSI's definition of open source if they don't want to? 

Open Source is about freedom.  And that also includes the freedom to have many different licenses that serve different purposes.  Personally, I think that the attribution clauses from SugarCRM are quite reasonable.  They protect SugarCRM from being poached by someone who might otherwise decide to just fork their software and present it as their own.  Which if you get down to it, is pretty much what Oracle is doing with Red Hat.  So it makes sense for open source companies to protect their hard work by requiring attribution.  You can argue that the attribution clauses might be too strict or too precise, but I think that's again a very subjective evaluation.  It's entirely up to these companies to decide what they think is right for their market. 

The funny thing is, I don't see any users complaining about this.  While it makes for interesting reading among open source cognoscenti, I think that for most users, it's a moot point.  Users are very well served by the companies mentioned regardless of the attribution clause.  And you could argue, they are better served with the clause since their vendor's business is more defensible. 

There's also poll below on Dana Blankenhorn's ZDNet blog asking whether SugarCRM is open source based.  While I think it's perhaps comical to ask this question in a poll, feel free to give your views. (And you can guess how I voted.)

Update:
Ross Mayfield from SocialText has proposed a Generic Attribution Provision