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Web Services and Open Source at OSCON 77

I spend a lot of time with my head buried in code, and every time I pick my head up it feels like the future is closer than I thought. So I like coming to OSCON. A week of looking ahead leaves me more confident I won't get future shock anytime soon. OSCON, like all conferences, is aimed at corporations, the intangible entities that send humans as their proxies. But open source has its roots in individuals working outside the corporation for their community of programmers. Are the two cultures coming together, or colliding? And how will the "open source ideal" evolve, as the chief social act of programming changes from trading disks of source code to processing each others' data and mashing up web APIs?

I'm an open-source programmer who's lucky enough to be paid by a corporation. Between sessions this week I'm working on turning Slash's metamoderation into a plugin, making Slash more useful for other site admins. I'm a human first and employee second. And I'm concerned about how the community based around this software ideal of not welding shut the car's hood is going to hold together.

Markets aren't designed for goods with zero cost of reproduction, but because property is such a powerful tool for efficiency and prosperity, societies have been artificially constructing markets for creative works since even before the founders wrote up their support for "science and the useful arts." Often, markets in ideas work pretty well.

There have been three societal "bow shocks" in the collision between programming and capitalism. The first hit in 1976 when Bill Gates insisted that charging for software made sense. The second was in the late 90s when open source proved better than corporate hierarchy at certain types of development. And then there's the one that's about to hit now, when web services and interoperability concerns obviate open source licenses.

There's a growing understanding here that web services are big: that the laptops and desktops of the future will rely not on software goods that have been bought for those machines, but software services that run on a server a thousand miles away. Google calls its Ajax web services "the world's largest platform."

Yesterday, Tim O'Reilly hosted a stimulating all-day series of panels and talks on web services and "Web 2.0" generally. The most interesting part of the discussion was about tying web services together. Web mashups are hot. It's hard to look at a list of websites offering an API -- Google Maps, Yahoo Geocoding, eBay, craigslist, Flickr, YouTube -- and not start thinking about great ways to combine them. Interoperability plus programming creativity equals... well, something pretty neat, we're hoping.

But a web services API doesn't necessarily offer the freedom that might seem analogous to open source, which is why Tim is also putting out the call for an "open services" definition. Flickr offers its corporate API to some sites, and refuses to permit it to others. Zooomr was judged to be too much of a potential competitor, so Zooomr users don't get to copy the photos they've uploaded to Flickr. [Update: Sorta. Read that comment thread to see important context for Flickr's decision. To be clear, given that context, Tim thinks Flickr found a good answer, and I tend to agree.]

As Flickr says, and they have a very good point, "why should we burn bandwidth and CPU cycles sending stuff directly to [a potential competitor's] server?" That makes sense from a corporate point of view, but a user who's uploaded a thousand of their photos might be puzzled why it's no longer exactly "their" data. Is that a right that user should have, or not? I ran into Julian Cash, who vehemently argues that it is; he's started MoveMyData.org to try to build a client-side way for users to route around APIs, to suck down "their" data and maybe reupload it to other sites. No code yet, but he's looking for volunteers.

AttentionTrust goes even further, starting off its manifesto with "you own your attention and can store it wherever you wish." That's something I hadn't considered before but it has an interesting ring to it. They have a Firefox extension I haven't tried yet (does it work? post comments).

Interoperability is a concern even without the web. Yesterday morning, Danese Cooper got a half-hour to grill Bill Hilf, Microsoft's General Manager of Platform Strategy, on Microsoft's relationship with open-source. Some think that's the same relationship as the butcher to the hog, and Bill's job is to persuade them Microsoft has no such intentions.

Asked directly, in the context of embrace-extend-extinguish and web APIs that can be crushed at any time, "why should we trust Microsoft?", Bill's answer was to look at the company's actions: "consistent action, over time, in the right direction."

I sat down with him afterwords to probe into this a little more (with someone from Waggener Edstrom standing nearby). He has some examples of Microsoft working with open-source projects like JBoss and SugarCRM, but I asked for specifics of how we know Microsoft isn't going to try to kill more-directly competing projects like Mono or OpenOffice by eliminating interoperability, possibly with patents, at any random time in the future. The only real sign I got was the Covenant Not to Sue (over patents) that came with the OpenXML format earlier this year. That's a step in the right direction. I don't think it's a terribly big one.

I asked if we'd see more steps from Microsoft disavowing patents as weapons against open-source projects. Obviously that's a big risk for a company to take, but one that's probably necessary to convince skeptics Microsoft is friendlier than the butcher. While Bill couldn't make any promises, he affirmed the CNS was "not a one-off... and not just to placate people." I'll keep an eye out for more action in the right direction.

Exciting as the opportunities are for different projects' software working together, one thing's for sure: the remote sites that run their algorithms and store your data leapfrog open source licensing. The server a thousand miles away can run software with its hood welded shut, with no obligations to the open-source community that come along with the benefits. Today, while some companies are trying to build goodwill with that community, there is nothing like a GPL for web services. No one's discovered a legal foundation that would establish open services, openly shared web services, with the same kinds of rights that we insist on in open-source code. No one's even sure what "open services" might mean, indeed, there's no consensus that we even need such a thing.

Even the FSF is unable to decide how v3 of the GPL should read. And I'm not smart enough to know if the GPL is even the right tool for this. Maybe tacking clever licensing terms on top of copyright's restriction is a temporary hack whose time has passed (you know, like the RIAA). Maybe the next hack to build a community of software sharing and tinkering will have to be totally different.

I don't think I know the answers but maybe one of you does. If you have thoughts about the open-source community in the age of capitalism, please post them to this story. If you're at OSCON and want to chat about it, email me (or AIM 'jamiekzoo' if you catch me online). At the end of the week, I'll have more updates on what's happening here -- it's not all philosophy and futurism.

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Web Services and Open Source at OSCON

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  • by rowama ( 907743 )
    ...it feels like the future is closer than I thought

    The future can be no closer than the next Planck moment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_time [wikipedia.org]), unless you have a new discovery you would like to share;-)
  • grrr (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    god I hate the phrase Web 2.0, every way I think of the web I end up at numbers higher than 2.0, or just something like Web 1.0.5.25-3.8762. Where the hell did they get "2.0" from? and even if they can explain this, why would it be new?

    It doesn't relate to who can put information on the internet, because even if you said web 1.0 was elite users puting up content and web 2.0 is light users then surely geocities heralded web 2.0... and now with blog's and ultra easy updating we'd be at least on 3.0...

    If
    • The term Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages.

      - Wikipedia
  • Open Source (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Future Man 3000 ( 706329 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:18PM (#15785375) Homepage

    It's easy to confuse the success of open source with the degree of its acceptance and promotion within the business world. The ideal has always been to find some means of getting paid for developing software you can share for free.

    But the strength of open source has always been in its community of people with common goals who develop and exchange software freely. Perhaps this will include the WWW; perhaps not. It's worth noting that most of the problems open source faces have come with its commercial acceptance -- legal threats, negative PR, unreasonable support demands -- and it's probable that if open source is not at the forefront of the next IT fad it'll simply grow in a different direction.

    • "most of the problems open source faces have come with its commercial acceptance"


      Conversely some of open source's greatest successes have come from its commercial acceptance. OpenOffice and the growth of commercial Linux distros have definitely aided the movement. I never would have considered using anything other than MSFT Office until OoO 2.0 was released. Now I use that program and love it.

  • by Dystopian Rebel ( 714995 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:19PM (#15785381) Journal
    My employment terms essentially say that any code of any sort that I create at any time (even after regular work-hours) during my period of employment belongs to my employer.

    I dislike this very much in principle and also because it forces me to contribute anonymously, where possible.

    I believe open-source is the best thing that could have happened to software to benefit users of software and help make computing a more popular interest.

    I wish I could work for Canonical. Mr Shuttleworth, I've sent my CV. Please consider it!
    • If your employment terms state that all your code are belong to them, then contributing anonymously violates the terms of your employment. If you're caught, don't be surprised to find yourself on the street. I agree that those terms are onerous, but from a company's point of view they don't have any way to verify which code you wrote on their time with their resources, and which code you wrote on your time with your resources. It sounds like you're already looking for a new job. That's probably the best a
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In many states, e.g. California, such terms in an employment agreement are superseeded by state law. Do some research, you may be protected by the laws of your state. (but always read the fine print, and always pay a lawyer for an opinion before actually doing something that might get you into trouble, etc...)
      • Superseeding is what you can do to a BitTorrent swarm using Azureus.

        Superseded is the appropriate word regarding California law and employment contracts.
    • Mine is similar. Anything I on billable working hours, or on hardware/software licensed by the company is theirs. They offered to give me a copy of VS.Net for working at home and I said no. I have my own copy, my own license, and my own projects. So long as I'm not billing my company for the hours, anything I do at home on my PC with my licenses, is mine. Anything I do on the company supplied laptop how ever, even while not billing them, is theirs.

      -Rick
    • You don't have to contribute anonymously. Just make sure your code depends on something GPL'd, and the viral effect will ensure that your software stays Free forever. Your employer wouldn't want to get in a big GPL lawsuit just because you send in a patch to your favorite project. And they can't just remove the GPL clause, because your work is a derived work.

      Everybody wins :)
      • Your employer wouldn't want to get in a big GPL lawsuit just because you send in a patch to your favorite project.

        IANAL, but I want to warn against this way of thinking.

        Let's suppose his company actually holds the copyright of a patch he sent to the FreeFoo project. Now the FreeFoo project (and everyone distributing it) is infringing the copyright, unless they can argue that he was actually acting on behalf of the company when he donated the code. That is surely not made any easier by the fact that he

        • Whether the contract is disgusting or not doesn't matter. It matters whether or not it is binding. If it is binding, he could lose his job and wind up in a law suit. I agree with you that contributing code anonymously actually admits that you have knowledge your actions are a breach of contract - which just adds to a lawsuit being viable.

          If he is contributing something, technically based on his contract all of his contributions are owned by his employer. GPL based or not, that company could possibly stak
        • I'm saying not that you license your company's source code under the GPL, I'm saying that you make sure your company's source code is a "derived work". For example, if SCO's kernel patches touch any GPL'd part of the code, SCO has to distribute them under the GPL. This isn't a choice someone makes at SCO, it's the law. So in that case, the employee (who wants to help Linux) is helped by the GPL; the GPL requires that modifications also be GPL'd.

          Now if you write some software completely in house, and then
          • However, if your program links against libreadline (say), then your employer is required by law to GPL the entire program

            But wouldn't you want to ask your employer before including "virally" licensed code like that? If you didn't he'd probably be rather pissed. (I would be.)

            In any case that's not really the situation he describes. As I understand the situation one could claim that since he's acting alone, and knowingly against his contract, the company has not actually distributed the hypothetical Fre

    • While your employer's IP terms may seem restrictive, they are common. The difference between your situation and that of others is that you have not received your employer's consent. - if the code you are interested in is code you use at work, then your company benefits by having you as a contributor. - if it is not used in your work, then convince them that it is important to your technical vitality and career development ( and free to the company ).
    • My employment terms essentially say that any code of any sort that I create at any time (even after regular work-hours) during my period of employment belongs to my employer.

      Is a contract such as that legal where you live? Enforcable/binding?

      I've never worked where there was such a contract 'forced down your throat'. I can understand an employer not wanting an employee working on a competing product. But other then that, what they apparently have had you sign is ridiculous and should not be, in my world, bi
  • Anyone know if you work on a project in grad school if your school owns it? Is there anything that prevents a grad student from open sourcing their project code? What about patenting or starting a business based on things that come out of your project? What about side projects?
    • Generally you must get permission from the school involved to use/release anything you create in Grad School during or afterwards, especially for business purposes.

      I personally intend on releasing the "channels" architecture for Java that I developed during my masters degree, which encourages strict partitioning of threads (almost as entirely separate processes) on sourceforge, however I will have to get the permission of my former advisor (should not be a problem, it's nothing worth any money, just somet
      • Re:grad school (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AlXtreme ( 223728 )
        This is something I've been wondering about. To those people in grad school: have you ever signed a contract that states that the university gets copyright of everything you make? I sure as hell know I haven't and I can't imagine that a university would be so anal as to claim copyright, but then again I don't live in the States and IANAL.

        It would be different if you had a contract as an assistent or something. But even with my current employer I can freely contribute code made under work if the project is

        • It varies a lot from university to university. Generally grad students in the sciences, and also in computer science, work as employees of the university, which is where the university gets the leverage to possibly expropriate their intellectual work and turn it into intellectual property. Some years ago I bought a book entitled, "Who owns intellectual work?" about this issue, but I never got around to reading it.
  • by mindtriggerz ( 914619 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:29PM (#15785438)
    Web services, by their very nature, are open. We don't need a GPL for web services, that's quite redundant. What we need are unified standards for content transfer and the movement of data cross-services.
    APIs can be a double edged sword if you're a company (Flickr for example)
    • Web services, by their very nature, are open. We don't need a GPL for web services, that's quite redundant.

      I'm not so sure - APIs come with usage restrictions, and we really need usage licenses, similar to GPL/BSD/CC licenses to ensure that information produced by these APIs can be freely used/distributed.
    • Web services, by their very nature, are open.

      Not necessarily. A company can make it so their web service is in fact free, but will only run using (say) Internet Explorer. Being a web service doesn't stop you from vendor-locking. So you give out a free web service, and make money from selling the only OS that it can be used with.

      What we need are unified standards for content transfer and the movement of data cross-services.

      I agree. But in addition to that we need to prevent vendor lock-in, as I said
      • Not necessarily. A company can make it so their web service is in fact free, but will only run using (say) Internet Explorer. Being a web service doesn't stop you from vendor-locking. So you give out a free web service, and make money from selling the only OS that it can be used with.

        Your definition of web service is diffrent from mine. Web Services are Web-based APIs, most often using SOAP.
      • Nothing in the GPL prevents me from writing an application that only works with IE.

        There are dozens and dozens of XUL projects that only work with Mozilla/Firefox.

        • Nothing in the GPL prevents me from writing an application that only works with IE.

          You're right, and perhaps I shouldn't have used 'GPL' in my post (even though I did put it in scare-quotes, in the title at least). My point was that we need some sort of 'honorable pact' that web services should uphold.
    • Web services, by their very nature, are open. We don't need a GPL for web services, that's quite redundant.
      Well, everything is open by nature until someone finds a creative way to close it and make money from this. What disturbs me, is that in order to assure WS openness *we* need to invent ways to close them! Isn't this some kind of provocation? Why invent things that don't justify their existence (yet)?
  • Mashups (Score:4, Insightful)

    by daeg ( 828071 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:35PM (#15785477)
    Mashups are not "hot". My mother has no idea wha ta "mashup" is. Nor will she ever. Just because you have a circle jerk of blogging buddies that look at your Craigslist Google Map that shows you where the most Male4Male posts come from doesn't make it useful or remotely usable to the general population.

    I will never trust a mashup as much as I would trust the originating websites. How do I know you aren't altering the data from the Sexual Predators Database to include your ex-husband? How do I know that you aren't filtering eBay auctions to remove auctions that don't fit your political beliefs? Sure, I can go look for the data, but with API license restrictions, I may not be able to access the information myself.
    • I will never trust a mashup as much as I would trust the originating websites. How do I know you aren't altering the data from the Sexual Predators Database to include your ex-husband?

      That's a very, very interesting point. One way to solve this would be for the server code to be open sourced, allowing it to be replicated on other sites. Another would be cryptographic signing of records from the source APIs, which can be used to verify their authenticity on the client side.
      • One way to solve this would be for the server code to be open sourced,

        Yes, but you still don't know what of the source has been patched, unless you've got admin access.
  • mashups (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:36PM (#15785486)
    Web mashups are hot. It's hard to look at a list of websites offering an API -- Google Maps, Yahoo Geocoding, eBay, craigslist, Flickr, YouTube -- and not start thinking about great ways to combine them.

    Some links of interest:
    API list is here. [programmableweb.com]
    GPS Tracking demo here. [mindspring.com]
    Map projects at Google Mapki. [mapki.com]
    Recent Earthquakes here. [lessthanthree.us]
  • by Klostrophobik ( 692577 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:43PM (#15785535) Homepage
    I was upset this past weekend, when I saw OSCON was back, and I wanted to go (I just moved to Portland).
    Since when I checked the page for directions, and saw the hefty price just to get past the exibit hall. Over a $1000 just to see anything interesting. Open source must now also mean open wallet.
  • I'm certainly no marketing expert, however it seems that some (though not all) of these "mashups" may potentially dilute the brand of the services being provided, by adding an extra layer of abstraction/"confusion" overtop of the data.

    Personally I see nothing wrong with this, but will this prevent some companies from releasing their API? Flickr seemed to have an interesting solution to the problem of API release, in that it would share its photos with other sites if and only if they shared theirs back...
  • blah blah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:45PM (#15785550)

    There's a growing understanding here that web services are big: that the laptops and desktops of the future will rely not on software goods that have been bought for those machines, but software services that run on a server a thousand miles away.

    Maybe it's because I've been in this business a couple decades now, but I'm having trouble getting excited about Yet Another Paradigm Shift. Computing power has been oscillating between the endpoints and the central servers for a long time. In a few years, we'll see if shift back.

    But a web services API doesn't necessarily offer the freedom that might seem analogous to open source,

    This of course is why we'll see things shift back. Another reason is security. Do you really want to put your personal finances on Spreadsheet 2.0?

    Just like everything else in the computer world, you gotta study Web 2.0, digest it, see how it's just a reconfiguration of something you did 10 years ago, and move on.

    • Wouldn't that depend on who is hosting the spreadsheet? If it was a third party, I wouldn't trust it. As an inhouse hosted application with source available, I might (though I don't find web apps very useful in the first place).

      Thin clients are better for such things. A centralised installation and a remote display. Thin clients can vary from VT100 to intelligent sunrays, so you don't need to worry about processing power either. Why waste money on those power hungry CPUs and hard disks all over the place, w
  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * <justin DOT wick AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @01:47PM (#15785568)
    What APIs out there are people really wanting to be openned? What would be useful to have? How can the FOSS community come together to help provide direction for companies wishing to open APIs, and incentives to help corporations along in doing so?
  • You know...markets and conversations...never mind.

    It seems to me that the answer lies with people of the same type and caliber as those who made open-source what it is. We don't know them, yet. They may not know who they are or what they will become. However, over the next few years they will distinguish themselves. They are the guys and gals who see the challenge represented in jamie's post and immediately start thinking of it with some unique perspective. Then they will think some more, and think and
    • Doc Searls gave a tutorial yesterday that I wanted to go to but had a conflict (darnit). I haven't actually read anything of his on this, but the idea of treating your markets more like conversations makes a lot of sense to me...
      • Do they atleast let you download the presentation materials from other concurrent sessions?

        Or download a video (or podcast) of it?

        After shelling out the $ to attend the sessions, I would hope they'd do this.
  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @02:05PM (#15785726) Homepage Journal
    "I asked for specifics of how we know Microsoft isn't going to try to kill more-directly competing projects like Mono"

    Mono doesn't 'compete' with a MS product. Mono allows .Net applications to run in Linux. The windows equivalent is the .Net Framework, which is a free download. If anything, MS has a motivation to improve Mono as having Mono perform as well on Linux as the .Net framework does on Windows will increase the penetration of .Net development tools in non-windows environments, thus increasing the market share of Visual Studio.Net, and other paid for development tools. Not only that, but more .Net developers in Linux means more developers to train, more seminars to hold, more control over the business sector software development area.

    -Rick
    • That's a good point, I could have been more precise. What I am worried about could come to pass if Mono becomes a popular platform for significant Linux applications. Microsoft could suddenly "realize" that it violates patents, and shut it down with the threat of lawsuits. The applications would go away, creating powerful incentive for people to switch from Linux to Windows (both for the functionality at the time, and because Linux would be perceived as a less certain and viable operating system). Microsoft
    • Firefox doesn't 'compete' with a MS product. Firefox allows IIS applications to run in Linux. The windows equivalent is the Internet Explorer, which is a free download. If anything, MS has a motivation to improve Firefox as having Firefox perform as well on Linux as Internet Explorer does on Windows will increase the penetration of IIS development tools in non-windows environments, thus increasing the market share of IIS, and other paid for development tools. Not only that, but more IIS developers in Linux
  • by Asim ( 20552 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @02:16PM (#15785815) Homepage
    Flickr offers its corporate API to some sites, and refuses to permit it to others. Zooomr was judged to be too much of a potential competitor, so Zooomr users don't get to copy [sitepoint.com] the photos they've uploaded to Flickr.

    Flickr ended up, after some rough comments and self-reflection, changing their minds [techcrunch.com] (see the "Update:" at the bottom of the post).

    • Good point, thanks. I updated that part of the story to link to your comment. As I understand it, Flickr is refusing to send data to Zooomr because Zooomr hasn't committed to allowing its users to send data back to Flickr. Maybe that kind of reciprocity (which is the term Tim O'Reilly used in his keynote a couple of hours ago) should be part of what we think of as "open services" -- in which case it's Zooomr who's not being friendly!
  • or AIM 'jamiekzoo' if you catch me online

    I can already see your IM Client choking on the "Fr1st iM p0st" storm that is sure to follow.

    Tom Caudron
    http://tom.digitalelite.com/ [digitalelite.com]
  • Convention Sessions + 4 Tutorials: $1990.00

    These conventions are not about sharing information. They are about selling "key speakers" to HRM departments of devevelopers in big businesses who like to get away from things. It's a selling trick. I don't know why any non corporate open source developer would pay that amount of money, so O'Reilly can become even richer, the same key speakers from the ol' boys network get richer, and the talk is all yada yada, mostly repeated what has been said on the net alrea

    • -or talk to the people at OSCamp, at FOSCON (thrown by FreeGeek tonight), or just browse the exhibits and talk to the locals from Sun, Oracle, MS, Google, Yahoo, and many others. The exhibit hall pass is free, and there are people in all directions here.
      • The problem is, the prime motivation of a convention should be sharing information. But in the convention business that has spawned, the primary motivation is, of course, making money. I know these conventions have "entry level products" for no costs where you can wander around etc., that's just part of the game. Just as calling it a "convention" is, and trying to give it reputation and a sense of authority, for example by hiring "key speakers." The better convention marketeers atatch some kind of "you must
        • It's a tough call whether or not the prime motivation is sharing information. O'Reilly is going to have several motives: advertise their books, raise their visibility, make money*. They can draw people first with the tutorials (and various discounts for students and corporate employees), second with the presence of speakers and employees with recognized names, third with the token free access to the booths. On the flip side, they need to worry about their expenses: they've brought a dozen of their own e
  • From TFA
    There have been three societal "bow shocks" in the collision between programming and capitalism. The first hit in 1976 when Bill Gates insisted that charging for software made sense
    The implication is that Bill Gates invented the idea of charging for software. I would like to see some proof of this.
  • I have been thinking about this for a long time [gnu.org], but I really like the way Jamie has focused the question here. I will write an essay in answer to the question --- "What's the equivalent of free software for web services?" --- and post it to kragen-tol [canonical.org] as soon as I can.

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