Subject: Re: Open-sourcing business operations code?
From: kmself@ix.netcom.com
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 03:10:45 -0800
Mon, 30 Oct 2000 03:10:45 -0800
on Sun, Oct 29, 2000 at 08:40:13PM -0800, David Fetter (shackle@fetter.org) wrote:
> Russell Nelson wrote:
> 
> > I'm working with a vendor on his proprietary POS program.  He's open
> > to the idea of running it under Linux; no problem there.  Since they
> > solely use the program in-house, they seem like a perfect case for
> > freeing their software.  He's wondering, though, if anyone else has
> > done this.  They're a Microsoft shop, so they're not at all familiar
> > with this open source stuff.  Anybody have any experience with a
> > retail vendor open-sourcing their business operations code?
> 
> I've seen a few cautionary tales go on this way.  Basically, all the
> short cuts they took documenting the code, sticking to coding
> standards, etc. have to be gone before that code leaves your shop.
> Otherwise, it looks *really* bad, and nobody picks it up.  It also
> helps to put somebody in-house on the release full-time for about a
> month for every 10,000 lines of code in the code base.

See various studies of the Netscape experience, this should be a strong
cautionary tale for anyone considering open-sourcing proprietary code.
It took a lot of work to get the code into shape to even open up to the
world, let alone run.  StarOffice appears to be following a similar
tack.  As much as I'd like to see SO succeed (particularly if it cuts
itself into smaller pieces), I see it violating a number of core
principles of well-formed free software, and am going to consider it a
likely failure target, if not in a functional sense (Scott McNeily's ego
can feed the project for a long time to come, and it will serve some of
its purposes even if it is a wholly Sun-sponsored effort), in the core
metric of garnering external developer effort.  Note that I'd love to be
proved wrong, and will be interested in seeing stats on the projects
progress.

Hell, it's hard enough getting people to look at 40k lines of Perl code
which more or less works as advertised.  Though yes, we are seeing
developer interest, in suitably significant numbers.

Back to the original quesiton:  I'd go to the vendor and find out what
specific benefits he expects to see from free software.  From Russ's
description, this sounds like something not already on the market as
proprietary SW.  There are risks (and costs) associated with opening
source, and the decision should not be made lightly.

WRT licensing, the issue hasn't been mentioned, but I'd suggest that a
staged approach might be a good one.  It's what a number of
commercial-to-free projects have more or less done de-facto -- starting
with a "source available", but not truly free, license, and moving to
more free as time goes on.  While this generates some rancor from the
free software community, I believe it actually is helpful in allowing a
company to start moving its software assets to open source in a
controlled manner.  Doing this deliberately, as opposed to the tracks
we've seen traced by Netscape and Sun, might help make clear that this
is a progression that is being tried tentatively.  No guarantees, but a
roadmap exists and can be pointed to.

That's strategic advice, I'll leave the legal stuff to the lawyers.

-- 
Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>     http://www.netcom.com/~kmself
 Evangelist, Opensales, Inc.                    http://www.opensales.org
  What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?      There is no K5 cabal
   http://gestalt-system.sourceforge.net/        http://www.kuro5hin.org


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