Friday, February 26, 2010

Android forks: ho, hum

A friend sent me an article this week from InfoWorld entitled “Google Android's self-destruction derby begins.” The author seems to think it’s a big deal that the Android source code base is forking all over the place, although similar (and less apocalyptic) stories appeared last year in The Register and Business Week.

The reality is that forking is against the Free Software religion, and it’s also an inevitable outcome of any open source (or free software) license. People (or firms) make their own unique variants of the source code because they can: that was true 15 years ago with the BSD proliferation (BSDi, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD), and it’s true with Linux today.

Forking is an organizational and economic issue, not a legal or technical one. The economic benefit of avoiding forks is to avoid re-inventing the wheel (on a daily basis for decades).

Forking long predates open source. In my first job out of college,I made it my mission to merge back all the source code forks in our proprietary code base (for our SIMSCRIPT II.5 compiler). The nominal goal was to facilitate maintenance and reduce incompatibilities, but the real reason was that merging changes across forks was tedious work, prone to errors,and that no one wanted to do.

However, the problem — then as now — is that maintaining a common code base requires surrendering control: if everyone is going to agree, then no one is going to get exactly what they want. Or — as in many open source projects — egalitarianism and meritocracy is ala Animal Farm: all contributors are created equal, but some are more equal than others. (What human endeavor is without politics? I can’t think of one.)

Android‘s cellphone licensees don’t want to surrender that control — and for that matter, neither does Google.

Thus (as InfoWorld notes) the Android handsets are shipping in a wide range of OS versions: 1.5, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.1. Part of this is that Android (like any new code base) is a rapidly moving target. The issue is compounded by the fact that Android handset makers all want to have their own custom user interfaces. (It seems as though Android is making the Symbian UI proliferation mistake all over again, which seems consistent with the high concentration of hubris in Mountain View).

In addition to the fragmentation of user experiences, the handset makers are having trouble updating their UIs to the latest Android OS — apparently due to (again not surprising) rapidly changing Android APIs. So in 2010 Sony Ericsson will be shipping an Xperia Mini based on Android 1.6, while the Nexus One (and its flashier half-sibling, the HTC Desire) will ship with Android 2.1

Of course, Google has also chosen to fork from the Linux kernel, because its own widespread code changes are both incompatible and (now) rejected by the Kernel team. If Google wanted to get along, it would have had to slowly and delicately negotiate with the Kernel honchos to come up with a consensus solution, but (not unrealistically) that it decide it would rather ship product in 2008 and 2009.

At some point, the Android APIs will stabilize (3.0? 4.0?) and the handset makers will be able to track the latest OS releases without major changes. They’ll still have their own GUIs — and for now Android will remain separate from the Linux code base — but things will be a little more efficient and a little less hectic.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Leading the mobile revolution — for now

Feb. 22: see the updated artwork below.

As I’ve remarked before, the Silicon Valley hometown crowd seems convinced that this is the best possible place in the world and will remain so until the end of time. Like onetime Stanford prof Andy Grove, my view is that it’s better to run scared.

So to my eyes, the headline in Friday’s SJ Mercury (over an AP story) seemed to veer onto the dangerous side of triumphalism:

Cell Phones
Wireless Turf Fight
Valley giants Google, Apple moving in on carriers

By Peter Svensson
Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain—Silicon Valley is looking like a winner in the tug-of-war with wireless carriers over who will control the new world of Internet-connected phones.
I’ve remarked on the Merc’s excessive optimism before, which earlier this year included overstating the influence of our still-small local cleantech industry (when clearly China is dominating key high-volume, cost-sensitive segments like solar panels.)

The sidebar — which appears nowhere on the Merc website (or the web) — is even more upbeat because (I’m guessing) it was written by a Merc editor:
Score One for the Valley

What's happening: Developments in the wireless world are playing into the hands of Silicon Valley's PC- and Internet-oriented industry, led by Google and Apple.

The opposition: Wireless carriers see Web companies reaping revenue from add-on services such as Internet searches and downloaded applications, and ned to figure out how to profit in an Internet-dominated industry.

For consumers: Internet-oriented smartphones provide more choice and freedom. But the way we pay for wireless service is likely to change, as data becomes more important than voice minutes.
Sure, claims made 5 years ago that the US is irrelevant to the mobile industry now appear foolish. And the success of Apple and Google also show how the value proposition of the Mobile Internet owes more to the Internet companies than the Mobile ones, and that carrier power has been eroded by their success. I remarked on all three points in my forthcoming iPhone paper (now available at Telecom Policy)

And, in fact, a later AP article by Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki conveys the concerns of the industry’s longtime leader:
Nokia Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo concedes the Finnish company is under pressure. "There is no doubt the center of mobile innovation has shifted from Europe to Silicon Valley. We are working to tap into this innovation," Kallasvuo told analysts earlier this month. He said Nokia had installed more than 3,300 employees in North America to redress the balance.
Certainly in the near term, Google’s mobile platform bet seems like a sure thing — since for mobile search revenues, they have a “heads I win, tails you lose” bet on any platform with a decent web browser. But all the local tech companies know they can be dislodged — with names like Sun Microsystems and Netscape to remind them that market share in IT (unlike sugar water) is highly transitory.

Overall, I doubt many established SV companies are coasting on their laurels. Meanwhile, the small ones are a long way from having the option of coasting, trying to survive the second VC “nuclear winter” scenario in less than a decade.

Update Monday 8:30am: From England, David Wood comments on a similarly triumphalist article in Fast Company, and in response quotes this Steinberg-inspired poster by Rubicon Consulting (7 miles from where I sit) that suggests such boosterism is chronic in the Valley.

Note to readers: Normally I’m reluctant to comment on the local paper, but I keep getting emails from readers elsewhere in the US and world — including one this morning from Hyderabad (via Philadelphia).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MeeGo: Nokia and Intel learn to let go

For years, I was trying to figure out why the world needed two Linux-based tablet operating systems: Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin. Almost three years ago, Intel created Moblin as a fork of Maemo and its Hildon UI (inherited from Symbian).

The reality was that the world didn’t need a forked niche mobile platform, but of course forking is the reality of open source. The changes may be available, but when not invented here and an unwillingness to share control get involved, corporate egos trump the nominal openness of an open source license.

The two factions have been flirting with cooperation but had been unwilling to consummate the deal. On Monday, they finally did.

In an announcement at the European cellphone industry’s global big tradeshow — Mobile World Congress — the two factions announced plans to merge the two code bases. As Nokia’s open source guru reported in his blog:

We’ve been busy with our friends @ Intel.

We decided to expand the relationship we started already last spring. We merge Maemo and Moblin projects into one single project called MeeGo. MeeGo is an open software platform – an operating system – for a wide range of devices. It’ll run on X86 and on Arm based hardware. It will be developed as an open project hosted by the Linux Foundation.

So what does it mean? Many things.

Joint development
We will merge Maemo and Moblin projects. Their architecture is already very similar. They share many components but sometimes use different versions. But they build and integrate releases independently. And while Maemo is for ARM, Moblin is for X86. Now we merge them to get the best of both. A good Moblin build and integration, Maemo’s mobile optimizations and ARM support, Qt etc. We can also now make the bright engineers of Intel and Nokia to work close together.
Of course, the announcement is less about saving R&D engineers and more about combining installed bases, APIs, ecosystems, and third party developers. Neither platform was very interesting on its own, but together the hope is Meego will be the future for both ARM and x86 devices. Both will use Nokia’s QT and Nokia will peddle applications via its (struggling) Ovi store.

More importantly, both Nokia and Intel let go, and turned control over to a neutral broker — the Linux Foundation. LF (like its predecessors OSDL and FSG) has plenty of experience contending with giant corporate egos.

The one thing that seems ambiguous is the positioning vs. the world’s most famous (quasi) Linux mobile platform, i.e. Android. Are sponsors being coy about avoiding comparisons to Android, or is this really an up-market alternative, between handsets and PCs? In an era of iPads and netbooks, will such distinctions remain a year or two from now?

Hat tip: tweeter David Wood, live from Mobile World Congress.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carly reconsidered (II): she was right, I was wrong

Even before her November announcement that she was running for the US Senate on a pro-business platform, I had begun to wonder whether I needed to reconsider my long-time antipathy to former HP CEO Carly Fiorina.

I hadn’t thought about Fiorina in years until she announced her candidacy. I also ended up examining new information when I had my students examine HP’s recent business during all three of my courses last fall.

In fact, in the face of new information, over the past few months I’ve had to admit that I was wrong (at least in part) about Fiorina’s strategy, even if I have no new information about her winning personality.

Destroying the HP Way
During her tenure at HP (July 1999-February 2005), I thought she was destroying the company. As an HP contractor — with my company at one point supplying most of the Mac software for HP’s inkjet printers — we worked closely with HP engineers and watched the company cut quality to save pennies. The engineers who wanted to make great technologies like those that had made the company famous were getting shoved aside by boot-licking MBA types that would do Fiorina’s bidding.

Carly’s top priority was obliterating the “HP Way” — to break the culture of Bill & Dave and remake it in her own image. A symbolic example was the mandate that every voicemail recording proclaim “The New HP” — to the point that if a worker didn’t change his/her voicemail, her manager would do so. At the time, this seemed like a massive ego-driven (successful) effort to get her face on the cover of Forbes, Fortune and Business Week.

Fiorina’s signature proposal — and the flashpoint for opposition to her — was the 2001 Compaq acquisition, then sold as a “merger.” I agreed with Walter Hewlett — and HP hagiographer Mike Malone — that the “merger” was a terrible idea. On March 19, 2002 — a few months before taking a job here in Silicon Valley — I even flew up to the shareholder’s meeting where employees and shareholders voiced their futile opposition to it.

The merger went through, I commiserated with my HP friends about how terrible the merger and culture change were, and shared in their schaudenfreude when the resulting acrimony cost Fiorina her job.

The initial results of the merger were inconclusive, and after railing against Carly in my undergraduate strategy class from 2002-2003, I lost interest and went back to studying open source and later mobile phones.

Carly, Mike and Mark
HP’s finances have turned around around under the operational focus of Mark Hurd, CEO since 2005. Current employees say that Hurd is really just executing on Fiorina’s strategy — he’s providing the execution skills that Fiorina lacked (but might have had available if she’d kept Michael Capellas around.)

How has Hurd done it? Reporter Chris O’Brien decided to answer that question by reporting facts that have been sitting in plain sight. As he wrote in Sunday’s Merc:

When their companies stumble — as HP did in the 1990s — most CEOs generally use only two strategies to fix things: fire lots of people, or buy another company.

Beginning with the arrival of Carly Fiorina in 1999, and continuing under her successor, Mark Hurd, HP has undertaken a staggering transformation, as it pursued both strategies with a vengeance.
What O’Brien found interesting is that (according to SEC filings) HP has fired 75,505 employees over the past decade, a number expected to hit 84,000 by the end of this fiscal year. (HP had 88,000 employees in 2000).

O’Brien continued
Why do I find HP's job cutting so extraordinary?

First, let's start with some context. To find job-cut numbers of this magnitude, you have to look to the automotive or airline industries. General Motors, for instance, has announced 195,000 jobs cut since 2001, according to outplacement firm Challenger Grey & Christmas, and Delta Air Lines announced cuts of 51,154.

But when we talk about those industries, we talk about failure. As they dance in and out of bankruptcy and receive government intervention to stay afloat, we wonder whether they will collapse completely.

By comparison, HP is a fairly healthy company.
O’Brien’s reporting is remarkable, because the overall magnitude of the job cuts has been ignored for a decade. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by current (and now-former) HP employees, who have been whispering about the massive layoffs and the end of the former culture for years — as well as the use of the current economic crisis to cut salaries permanently.

Commoditizing HP
In 2000-2002, I thought Fiorina was destroying HP’s traditional business model and turning it into a commodity, low-innovation company. As both an engineer and an academic researcher, I felt she was destroying the great engineer-driven culture of the founders and replacing it with a by-the-numbers, penny-pinching, bean-counting mentality.

It turned out that I was right, because that’s what Fiorina (and then Hurd) did: end what had made HP great.

The problem with my argument was that I assumed that HP had a choice. In retrospect, it didn’t: Fiorina saw this and I didn’t.

HP during its heyday created the HP 35, various minicomputers, workstations, calculators and other innovative products. (That’s not counting the test instruments that Fiorina’s predecessor dumped into Agilent in 1999). There were many opportunities for innovation, and HP exploited them.

However, the reality is that overall IT industry growth ended with the NASDAQ peak of March 2000, and since then the industry’s revenues have been about replacing existing products rather than growing its overall share of the economy.

These issues were highly salient in the arguments for and against the Compaq merger. Re-examining the claimed costs and benefits of the merger:
  • Opponents’s Claim: The merger would increase HP’s exposure to the commodity PC industry. Reality: True.
  • Supporters’s Claim: The merger would give HP’s commodity business cost advantages through superior scale. Reality: True. Under Hurd, HP is a better commodity PC maker than even Dell.
  • Supporters’s Claim: The merger would help HP increase service revenues. Reality: False. What was left of DEC wasn’t worth much, and so in 2008 HP spent $14 billion to buy EDS.
  • Opponents’s Claim: Adding Compaq would dilute HP’s printer cash cow. Reality: True, but it didn’t matter.
It was this last point that I should have seen coming as someone who spent almost 15 years working full-time writing printer software. I had a front-row seat watching the commoditization of HP’s printer business as it was dragged into price wars with Epson. Its HP DeskJet 900 of 1999 ($400) — strong enough for our toddler to sit on — was supplanted a couple of years later by the disposable HP DeskJet 3300 ($100).

In retrospect, the period from about 1984-1999 was a period of rapid innovation for inkjet and laser printers. HP was able to gain competitive advantage by being only a few years ahead of its rivals at a time when a few years mattered. In 15 years, HP went from a 96dpi monochrome printer (the 1984 ThinkJet) to a 300 dpi monochrome printer (the 1988 DeskJet), and then a decade later to 600 dpi color with the 1999 DeskJet 900. While dozens of new models have been created since then, chances to offer users dramatically better print quality have not.

In other words, there was 15 years of innovation-based differentiation, but when opportunities for meaningful differentiation disappeared the emphasis of necessity shifted from innovation to cost cutting. With or without Carly Fiorina, around 2000 it was clear that HP’s printing margins were eventually going away, and new sources of revenues were needed to replace them.

Conclusion: Carly Was Right
Fiorina and Hurd have destroyed the old innovative, employee-friendly HP. The HP that once had a no-layoff policy has fired a quarter of its workers. The company that once had great labs and R&D is now a commodity, penny-pinching company that’s trying to (and succeeding at) out-Delling Dell.

Alas, commoditization is the future of the ICT industry: it’s happened to HP, Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Acer, Lenovo making PCs, and HP, IBM and Sun making larger computers.

Even with its quasi-monopolies, Microsoft is having to worry about open source, SaaS and other price pressures as it’s unable to add new features that buyers will pay for. IBM, SAP, Oracle, and other firms are facing the maturation of the industry and limited growth.

Meanwhile, the one type of computing devices that have recently witnessed dramatic innovation and growth — smartphones — are at the brink of commoditization if (as predicted) Android doubles its market share in 2010.

There’s only one differentiated systems company left — and that only as long as Steve Jobs is healthy. For most of the remaining IT industry, such differentiation is but a pipe dream: it’s either make commodity products cheaply or lose money.

[Bill & Dave]Under Bill & Dave, HP was an engineer’s paradise that was a role model for what a Silicon Valley company should be, at one time emulated by Apple and the other startups of the 1970s and 1980s. Under Mark Hurd, HP no longer makes the lists (like Fortune’s) of the best companies to work for — while higher margin companies like Intel, Microsoft, Intuit and Qualcomm do. (Interestingly, neither Apple nor IBM make the lists anymore, even though their respective financial positions over the past decade have been much more secure than HP’s.)

So while I accurately diagnosed Fiorina’s impact on HP employees and their morale, I completely missed that the environment was changing under HP’s feet and it had to change with it. As an engineer, entrepreneur, researcher and teacher whose career spanned the glory years of the PC and the Internet, it took me several years to recognize (or admit) that the world had changed forever.

The IT industry has become a slow/no-growth mature industry where commoditization is the unescapable reality. Economies of scale and scope are the only hope for even successful differentiated companies like Google to maintain their lead.

Now I admit it: Commodities are HP’s future, and recently it’s been working well. Today, the only alternative seems like more of the same — good for shareholders, but bad for employees.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Making platform friends and enemies

This morning I was struck by how Apple, Google and Adobe are making more enemies while IBM and Microsoft are making more friends.

This was prompted by reading an article from Thursday’s WSJ, which rehashed last week’s story of Apple diss’ing Flash with its iPhone and now its iPad. The article reminded me that 25 years ago — in another millennium — Apple and Adobe were key strategic allies. As a Mac software developer, I recall how Apple saved Adobe when in 1985 (unlike HP) it used PostScript in its laser printers.

In the early 90s, when I (unsuccessfully) interviewed for a job managing Adobe’s Mac application group for my friend Eric Zocher, Photoshop was the engine of growth both for Adobe and Apple’s efforts to find new reasons to prefer the Mac over Windoze. Adobe was also talking about Carousel and the new PDF file format — and since 2001 native PDF file support has been a key feature of Mac OS X.

However, when Apple got into video editing applications, Adobe pulled resources from Mac updates to is Premier video editing program. Meanwhile, Adobe’s Flash-everywhere strategy (based on acquiring the company that acquired the startup that created Flash in 1996) has gone over about as well with Apple as Sun’s Java-everywhere strategy did a decade earlier with Microsoft.

Similarly, Google has had Apple as a frenemy for several years, While both dream of eventually replacing Flash with HTML5, things otherwise seem less friendly by the month as Google as chosen to compete with Apple’s browser, OS and smartphones.

Google was once a friend to the Mozilla Foundation, as its search payments and other resources have fueled the recent explosive growth of Mozilla paid staff. However, the Google Chrome browser have strained relationships and raise questions about future cooperation.

The common thread seems to be twofold. First, as the size and revenues of firms grow, they enter new markets and forward and/or backward integrate — both to provide new revenues and control their own destiny. Second, success provides brings market power and also an arrogance in which go-it-alone supplants previously cooperative attitudes.

This seems to apply to enterprise technologies as well, as growth and success strain previous alliances. When Java got hot, Sun asserted unilateral control, pissing off HP and IBM, its two natural allies in any anti-Microsoft coalition.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is in a relative (if not absolute) decline in its market power, and so alliances that previously would have been unheard of are now the norm. Now that Microsoft’s failure to mobile market appears irreversible, both Nokia and Apple smartphones use Microsoft’s enterprise mail server technology rather than the BlackBerry from their mutual rival.

Nokia is also getting Microsoft Office on its phones, perhaps something neither would have thought possible in 1998 when Nokia co-founded Symbian to prevent Microsoft from taking over mobile phones.

And of course IBM’s transformation in the 1990s under Lou Gerstner into an open partner is now old news. People now forget how suspicious rivals were when IBM created Eclipse in 2001. Now it’s the role model for open source openness by an IT firm, something Nokia’s deliberately emulated with its Symbian Foundation and perhaps someday Google might eventually approach.

So my axiom for IT vendor arrogance is essentially the same story as that for Hollywood actors presented 50+ years ago in A Star is Born. Market climbers seek friends on the way up, discard them as they near the peak of their power and influence, and then desperately scramble to repair and build new friendships on the way down.

Instead of Orson Welles crying out for his sled, I’d love to see James Mason play Eric Schmidt or Steve Jobs in the twilight of their careers, trying to get Hollywood or Silicon Valley to return their calls. If they’re lucky, the two fiftysomething tech moguls will be able to retire on top — like Tom Watson Sr. and Jr. or Paul and Bob Galvin — and leave the unpleasantry of managing the inevitable decline to their respective successors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

FOSS 2010, Day 1

Third #FOSS2010 posting of many.

Day 1 of FOSS 2010 has concluded, with only dinner left to go. I wanted to convey a sense of the session, although with 40 people in the room, it’s just a sense.

Of the 40, about 25 are either computer science or information systems (information school?) academics, 5 are social scientists, 7 are industry and 3 are from open source nonprofits. (There are some overlaps and that was from a show of hands).

There was live note taking on EtherPad. (EtherPad is a collaboration engine with lower latency than Google Wave, which is why Google bought its maker AppJet Inc.). Due to their freemium business model, only 16 of us could be typing simultaneously in the free version, but still the live updates were impressive. At some point the EtherPad stream-of-consciousness may be released to the public, or maybe not.

Definitely in the public was the huge stream of Tweets. If you want to drink open source snippets from a firehose, 140 characters at a time, check it out. By my count, I contributed (about) 36 of them.

As an experiment, below is (by my definition) an interesting excerpt of tweets from the conference:

openITstrat At FOSS 2010 workshop @ UCI, among 40 academics recommending to NSF future directions for open source research

openITstrat John L. King: open source is outlier in computing research to Congress, NSF,, CCC — none of the heavyweights are arguing it's core.

dirkriehle John L. King pointing out that #foss2010 can have a major impact on future funding of open source research

openITstrat #FOSS2010 Stormy Peters [@storming] of GNOME: we're upstream project, we get less feedback from users than a user-facing project. How do we reach users?

openITstrat #FOSS2010 Bob Gobeille of HP Linux/Open Source office: 85% of HP products have open source software in them.

storming "FOSS after Google" - interesting slide title [by Chris Kelty]. (Was more about cloud, group identity, etc.) #foss2010

cdknutson Joel West at #foss2010 throwing down the gauntlet on motivation, terminology, perspectives. Good to see courage and conviction.

jerenkrantz Ok. I can't stop from laughing at Joel West bashing Sun. #foss2010

openITstrat RT @jerenkrantz I can't stop from laughing at Joel West bashing Sun. #foss2010 I didn't bash Sun, I bashed bad OSS investments by Sun CEOs

openITstrat #FOSS2010 Not all bugs are shallow. Apache pres Justin Erenkrantz [@jerenkrantz]: Debian introduced security bugs into Linux distro, but no one spotted it.

jerenkrantz @openITstrat is BenL's post about that event #foss2010

klakhani @openITstrat maybe there were not enough eyeballs? i think ESR meant it as an average effect and not absolute..

openITstrat @klakhani The point of @jerenkrantz is that it's eyeball quality, not quantity. Monkeys could type Shakespeare, but how many would you need?

openITstrat #FOSS2010 Tony Wasserman [@twasserman], CMU: software startups now longer need to buy tools (unless developing for MS). OSS wiped out SW tools industry.

openITstrat #FOSS2010 Tony Wasserman, CMU: startups can just go to for stacks and applications ready to use — no new code or bugs

openITstrat #FOSS2010 Shoba Chengalur-Smith of SUNY Albany: "If a product is open source and the user does not know it, does it make a sound?"

felipecerda RT @fielding: Open source term should only apply if product can be modified and rebuilt by (or for) a user. Complex is no better than closed. #foss2010 [Fielding's comments: Mozilla can only be built by machine; can anyone outside RedHat build RH?]

divacanto @twasserman "Software Engineering books are outdated" #FOSS2010

dirkriehle John Noll at #foss2010: I wonder how many other fields have so much disdain for their textbooks

openITstrat #FOSS2010 @benevolentprof (Susan Sim): “not everyone can contribute to open source.” Me: not everyone can win American Idol, either.

cdknutson @openITstrat @benevolentprof "not everyone can win American Idol, either." American Idol is a cathedral. OS claims to be a bazaar. #foss2010

jerenkrantz @cdknutson I think Idol is certainly more bazaar than cathedral - at least compared to the rest of the music industry. #foss2010

cdknutson Walt Scacchi at #foss2010: "Software Engineering is becoming an empirical science

dirkriehle Walt Scacchi at #foss2010 - Software engineering is becoming an empirical science << pls tell that the program committees I'm on!

openITstrat #FOSS2010 @cdknutson likes Armour "The 5 orders of ignorance" (CACM 2000 & 1. answers 2. questions 3. asking questions

The [bracketed comments] are changes I made later, particularly when learning people’s Twitter handles. Update: For an alternate summary, see John King’s CCC blog post.

What was particularly fun was having Karim Lakhani join the conversation, even though he’s not here, but instead (AFAIK) teaching in snow-bound Boston.

See also my open source bibliography on the open innovation blog.


Second #FOSS2010 posting.

I was invited to a small conference at UCI this week with “FOSS” in the title, even though I have always called it “open source.” (The only exception was a book chapter on the irrelevance of the free software movement to Linux adoption — ironically for a 2005 conference here at UCI.)

One problem is that the term “FOSS” has always had the ideological baggage of Stallmanism. Those within the Reality Distortion Field of the Free Software Foundation will always say F/OSS, unless of course they say “Free Software” and ignore the open source types as heretics.

A related problem is the neutrality issue. Among academics, saying FOSS (or F/OSS) was a proxy marker for those who saw themselves as advocates for open source. My attitude has always been that I’m studying a phenomenon, not taking sides; I believe my research shows that, while my consulting has included both firms promoting open source and competing with it.

During the first two hours of the so-called “FOSS 2010” workshop it was gratifying to hear the industry people (including reps of GNOME and Apache) all say “open source” rather than “free software,” “free and open source software,” or any other variants. (I’m guessing we don’t have enough Europeans in the room to promote the F/L/OSS dogma).

So when I got the podium, I offered one slide about the use of the terminology.

“Free” and “Open Source” Software
  • Licenses:
    • OSI says “Free” ⊂ “Open Source”
  • Movements
    • “Free” is a movement, “Open Source” isn’t
  • Industry
    • “Free” is an ideology
    • “Open Source” is a business model (often with GPL dual-licensed code)
I didn’t even mention the issue of “open” projects that are open only in their IP, not in their organization.

Finally, aside from ideology there is the communication advantage. If we use words (“open source”) instead of TLAs and FLAs (OSS, FOSS, FLOSS) in our communication, there is less of an insider/outsider boundary as well as risk of misunderstanding.

NB: Later in my talk, I referred to hypothetical “gullible 19-year-olds” who join an OSS project for a year until they burn out — and had to concede that this intentionally provocative terminology was value laden as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

iPad for sports addicts?

The CEO of Walt Disney seems to be aligned to his largest shareholder’s latest toy, the “magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.”

The most interesting comment in the AP interview of Bob Iger is the potential of the iPad for couch potatoes — not the geeks but the jocks:

"We find that the iPad has a lot of potential. We think it's a really compelling device. We think it could be a game changer in terms of enabling us to create essentially new forms of content."

"ESPN ScoreCenter, which is a great app on the iPhone, and provides relatively rudimentary information, scores, basically, suddenly we have an opportunity with a platform where you can really make the scores come to life."
This to me is a major opportunity for the iPad — a portable device with hypertext-linked videos.

Of course, that assumes the content provider is willing to deliver the content without Flash. ABC (and ESPN) are willing to do so — and perhaps Hulu will too.

Apple the open innovator

Macworld Expo opened today in San Francisco — unlike the first one 1985, without Apple and also without me.

In honor of the news peg, Forbes writes about Apple’s system integration strategies:

As good as Jobs and his team are at marketing their own inventions, they're even better at repackaging other people's enthusiasm, technology and ideas into something beautiful, and selling them.…

Just take apart Apple's signature product, the Macintosh computer. Crack open the glossy shell and you'll find a machine that runs on the same sorts of Intel processors, Seagate hard drives and Nvidia graphics chips as any machine from Dell or Hewlett-Packard.

While Jobs touts that Apple is different because it makes the "whole widget," the company actually relies heavily on outside innovations. Intel and Nvidia supply the Mac's processors. Companies such as Toshiba and LG provide its glossy displays. Open-source programmers have helped build Apple's signature OS X operating system. And in China, manufacturers such as Foxconn bolt it all together.
In other words, Apple is practicing open innovation. Yes, it is more integrated (with more internal software R&D) than Dell or HP. But compared to IBM in the 1970s or DEC in the 1980s — or even Sun in the 1990s — Apple’s success as a system integrator is more based on external technology sourcing than previous market leaders.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Drive time open innovation platitudes

Many of my friends using podcasts for their daily commutes or for jogging. A new podcast posted at talks about the basics of open innovation from the standpoint of the IT industry and IT users.

The podcast reflects a telephone interview host Tom Parish did with me a few months ago. It’s a good starting point on open innovation, although much more detailed information is available at our open innovation website.

Cross posted from the Open Innovation blog.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Flash-free iPad: leading or trailing edge?

For three years, Apple has been intentionally strong-arming Adobe’s efforts to bring Flash to the iPhone. Of course, a Flash-free iPhone also means no Flash on the iPod Touch and now the iPad too.

With Flash 10.1 due Real Soon Now on every major smartphone platform except Apple’s phone/PDA/tablet OS, does that make the iPhone OS a laggard? Or is it the leading edge of a larger trend?

The controversy flared up in the past week in an (indirect) exchange between Apple’s CEO and Adobe’s CTO.

An internal (and presumably confidential) speech at Apple last week by Steve Jobs was reported Saturday by Wired — which quotes an (obviously) unnamed employee (or contractor) providing this paraphrase:

About Adobe: They are lazy, Jobs says. They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it. They don’t do anything with the approaches that Apple is taking, like Carbon. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, he says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.
In response, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch wrote a detailed justification for why the world needs Flash, how most of the world has it, and the iPhone (and iPad) could have it too if only Apple would be nice:
We are ready to enable Flash in the browser on these devices if and when Apple chooses to allow that for its users, but to date we have not had the required cooperation from Apple to make this happen.
Why is Steve being so mean? It’s silly to say “there’s no technical reason” Flash is not on the iPhone. Of course there are technical reasons: Flash is a resource pig and is buggy — it’s the only thing that crashes the browser on my laptop. As Microsoft did with Windows 4,5 and 6, Adobe’s priority has been adding features rather than solving the complexity/reliability problems.

On the other hand, is bugginess enough reason to rule out Flash permanently? Of course not.

At one point, it might have been possible to conclude that Apple was trying to extract leverage — as when Steve Jobs claimed two years ago that Apple wanted a new version of Flash between Flash and Flash Lite, that played Flash websites with less demands than the desktop Flash.

Now, of course, it’s pretty clear that all that is window dressing, and basically what we have is a repeat of the Windows vs. Java platform war, with Apple trying to prevent Flash from layering itself on top of its existing platform.

Last time, much of the world was cheering on Sun’s efforts to promulgate Java as a cross-platform standard. Today, Google, Microsoft, the Free Software Foundation (and most of the Chinese software industry) share Apple’s goal to create a world where an enhanced open standard HTML (HTML5? HTML9?) obviates the need for Adobe’s proprietary, royalty-bearing de facto standard. This is a noble goal if the majority of the world’s Internet users will be using mobile phones — but it isn’t going to be a reality any time soon.

Still — unlike the PDF standard that Adobe (mostly) controls — there will be increasing alternatives to Flash in the future (and not just Silverlight). For three years Apple has been gambling that Flash needs the iPhone more than the iPhone needs Flash: so far it has been right.

What’s different this year is the rising market share of Android — and Flash coming to both it and North America’s most popular smartphone platform, the BlackBerry. That’s market pressure that the Jesus phone hasn’t faced before — but if I had to guess, I’d (make a small) wager that the iPhone (and iPad) will end 2010 the same way they began: Flash-free.