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With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

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Links: Case Studies In Corporate Open Source

The last week has provided a number of interesting - and perhaps surprising - case studies in corporate engagement with open source. This Monday's Link Post takes a look.

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  • Microsoft: Our Strategy With Silverlight Has Shifted

    “Silverlight is our development platform for Windows Phone,” [Bob Muglia] said. Silverlight also has some “sweet spots” in media and line-of-business applications, he said.

    But when it comes to touting Silverlight as Microsoft’s vehicle for delivering a cross-platform runtime, “our strategy has shifted,” Muglia told me."

    At Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference last week, executives repositioned Silverlight - Microsoft's competitor to Adobe Flash - as a framework for mobile applications rather than for all rich media applications, and talked up the emerging HTML 5 standard as the best approach for closs-platform rich media applications.

    While not directly related to open source, this is a very interesting development from Microsoft (which was also covered at GigaOm). Microsoft are trying to lead the race to the bottom with HTML 5, presumably in the hope of killing Adobe, rather than cascading money faster and faster into Silverlight in an attempt to fight the old way using proprietary might as if it were possible to hire all the smart people into one team. They only place Silverlight is still strategic is on mobile, and honestly they probably realise HTML 5 is the future there too.

    This suggests Microsoft are finally awakening to the power of community. Instead of trying to fight their competitors alone, they are teaming up with open standards - and increasingly open source - to achieve that effect. You can tell where they think they are strong - those are the places they are still fighting with communities and consequently losing. Ironically, their HTML 5 browser, IE9, is among them.

  • Symbian: A Lesson on the Wrong Way to Use Open Source
    "[No-one] can hope to use open source as a purely palliative remedy for what ails them. Open source can be used to inspire and complement successful products. It can accelerate momentum. What it can’t do is resurrect dying technology products."
    In this article Matt Asay correctly observes that the corporate attempt to use open source by Nokia to solve their problems around Symbian was ill conceived and doomed to failure. They created, staffed and initially funded a non-profit Foundation, gave it all the code and waited for the support to come, in best Field of Dreams style.

    It was obvious to me right from the moment I heard the strategy (from an insider about 6 months before launch) that it was going to crater unless there was a serious focus on developers in general and open source developers in particular. I responded to the insider that they needed two leaders; one to wrangle the sponsors, the other to wow the developers. They hired the former and ignored the latter, and the rest is history. It’s hard to see how the situation could possibly be redeemed now, and honestly it’s looked doomed for a long time.

    The key lesson we should all take to heart is that creating a Foundation solves nothing on its own. All it does is facilitate and crystallise other solutions to systemic problems. If the other problems are ignored and left unsolved, all creating a Foundation does is accelerate failure.

  • Oracle Responds to JCP Concerns
    "It is rare that I respond to posts, but in this case I wanted to clear up some misconceptions."
    As Eclipse marketing director Ian Skerrett colourfully explained a week ago, this is exactly the sort of public statement that needs making by Oracle, bravo (even if I am not sure I agree with it). Let’s hope there is a whole lot more of this and it stops being necessary for the community to yell before there’s explanation or (even better) dialogue. There are plenty of other areas where some community dialogue would be more than welcome (preferably in a less abrasive voice, though).

  • Canonical: A Modest Proposal re. Unity
    "In situations like this, no-one is 100% right, no-one is 100% wrong. All we can do is look at the current situation, and ask ourselves: how do we get to where we want to go, from where we are? We have two choices - we can, like the Mayoman asked for directions to Galway by tourists, respond “If I was going to Galway I wouldn’t start from here at all”, or we can roll up our sleeves and try to make things a little better."
    To many eyes, the use of a word like "Harmony" or "Unity" as the name for a project is at best hopeful and at worst marketing spin. Quite a few community members suspect Canonical - the company that has created the Ubuntu Linux distribution and generated a remarkable deployer community around it - of the latter.

    The post linked above takes a bit of explaining. Unity is the name of the shell - the software the desktop user interacts with - in the netbook versions of Ubuntu. At the Ubuntu Developer Summit last week, Mark Shuttleworth announced that Unity would be promoted to desktop shell for the mainstream Ubuntu from the next (11.04) release. Although there are hints of a prior awareness of controversy, I suspect Canonical were taken aback by the intensity of the opposition. The post above is the "morning after" post for the earlier well-argued critique from key GNOME community member Dave Neary
    (well worth reading).

    What's the problem? Well, it's that Canonical were previously found to have benefited greatly from GNOME and yet contributed little, and now instead of making good they are creating a project outside the scope of GNOME which most GNOME community members will be unwilling or unable to join because Canonical is insisting on copyright assignment, giving them unequal status and rendering co-development by competitors essentially impossible. Naturally the clarification coming from Canonical's spokespeople concentrates on technical issues, and completely ignores this elephant in the room.

    As GNOME is one of the most successful communities of co-developing competitors in open source, this is a serious faux pas and I am very surprised Canonical have sailed into it - no matter how much "clarification" they give. Presumably we now know one of the key motivations for Project Harmony, which they are sponsoring.

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