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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

10 Signs of Horrible Open Source Projects

Drinking the Bitter Kool-Aid 

Many believe that being able to use open source over  commercial  software open source is like a sweet, cool and refreshing drink on a hot summer day. But what happens when the drink being served is warm kool-aid and it's taste is  harsh and bitter?

Open source is a method of software development that tries to promote transparency and collaboration.
But much like American politics money has ruined many of those tenants. So nowadays open source is not as open as the name implies.

This is a list of things you may encounter when tempted to help or join a project. It is also a list of reasons why you should not take that sip of Kool-aid regardless of  it's refreshing lure. Because what you are seeing is not what they are serving.

Free of costs only

These projects are commercial entities only interested in getting free development not  freedoms for their users. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. Not specifically commercial software but something worse. If you are interested in getting something for nothing making use of their product is okay.  But if you are interested in their altruistic motivations then becoming part of their ecosystem is not for you.

Post installation is the point where end-users and developers have to make a decision. Join the collective ecosystem surrounding the software or take the win and move on to the next installation. It's a hard choice one that requires investigation. Many choose to become part of  "something bigger" because the marketing  of the project has appealed to their ego.  It's egotism that they are counting on when bringing you into the fold and stripping you of freedoms they supposedly are supporting.

Victims or Students?

What happens to many developers is they become victims of the Tom Sawyer effect.

When a project is open source, not only can you download and use it, but you can view its source code too. This means that you can fix bugs, add new features, and generally make changes to the project. Being able to view the source code, also gives you a greater understanding of how the software works.

Helping out, is a seemingly benign way to learn in the beginning.  But can later turn into something entirely different. It can be a  hindrance to personal potential and financial advancement. Possibly  financially benefiting a single entity at a  cost to others when they are unaware of the reality of  the situation. It might take years before they realize their mistake.

This is especially true when it comes to content management system projects.  Learning about what  happens in the project is publicly accessible but not always made public.

In the Samuel Clemens book,  Tom Sawyer. The main character turned his punishment into a moneymaker? Ordered to whitewash Aunt Polly's long front fence, he convinced his friends into thinking fence painting was so much fun that they paid him for the privilege of doing just that.

You  never want to be a part of a project that asks you to give back.

GPL  & Protectionism

If you read that a open source project is trademarking a name rather than putting it into the public domain then you should immediately drop all ties with the governing body of the project. Trademarking a name in combination with the GPL is just a point or two removed from a software patent or a propietary commercial software protection.
patent - a government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention without the permission of the owner. The right conferred by the patent grant is "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling
It also means that the project has gone from being a cool hobby company with altruistic intentions to a  corporation willing to do anything and go on the attack to win.  Exhibiting behaviors before only associated with corporation that sell closed source software,  only worse because they still hide their true nature behind the words "open source".

On June 16th, Automattic struck back by filing a petition for cancellation with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In their petition, Automattic argues that the three trademarks owned by Pearson, DIYTHEMES, THESIS THEME, and THESIS, should be cancelled.

This is very important thing to understand as the GPL does the same and gives more power for a  longer period than a patent. It also removes some of the rights to innovation  that a patent gives.
When you're looking for patent possible innovations, be sure to consider improvements made to existing products. This class of patents -- called improvement inventions -- are issued frequently. Improvement patents can add something to an existing product, incorporate new technology into an old product, or find a new use for an existing product.
If you are a person filled with ideas or an entreprenuer you never want to base your main revenue source on an open source project that is covered by the GPL. It is imporatant to your future to be aware of  how sideways it can make things go at some later date. People don't really understand what the GPL is ... to explain it simply ...evil. If Microsoft or any large company should release software under the GPL  this would save them money on development costs.  While giving them more rights to intellectual properties of developments than  provided by any of the patent laws in any sovereign nation on the globe. Regardless of how bad software patents are for  intellectual freedoms. The GPL with the catalyst of  money poses a greater threat.

The GPL has become like taxes. Everyone has to pay them but given the right opportunity and enough income they can be avoided using loopholes and influence. This is one of the reasons that companies outside of the project host do not want to fund or invest in GPL licensed projects.  They realize that they are locked out from parts of the revenue stream and financing a competitive advantage to the host.

Michael Widenius helped create the MariaDB database after selling MySQL to Sun Microsystems in 2008 for $1bn, which was then bought by Oracle for $7.4bn in 2010. MySQL is a key component in the widely-used LAMP open-source web application software stack.

After such a big payout Widenius did not go from scratch and a more permissive license. He went back to the GPL and then is baffled as to why no one wants to fund MariaDB. It could be because after the 90's the audience for open source became more savvy to the fact that they were lied to about the motives of the originators.

"We did get customers who were prepared to pay for features. The problem is when you are driving an open-source project like MariaDB it costs me €1m a year. Half of that is just community management doing builds. You can get people to pay for the features but not for managing the community, doing reviews, working, doing builds — that costs me €500,000 a year."

Funny how he does not see that doing something as simple as changing to the Apache 2.0 or BSD2 would capture more interest and funding. But it does bring up the question that with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into popular open source host companies why are they not able to finance the project themselves? Why beg for financial help through proxies like certifications and association fees?

They do this to further evangelize their projects. The money these programs bring in are trivial in comparison to the connection to a network of users. More users almost directly translates into more financial capital.

Evangelism and not the Good Kind

If asked to join an association for a donation that goes to a fund that does not benefit the entire community. If there is not public accounting or access to information concerning  funding. Don't do it. Save your money for kickstarter or another crowd funding site where you can get tangible evidence of a problem and the solution that you are being a part of creating.

One big lie is the size and activity of the community.  Communities can be like urban legends Conference photos and news on websites that are like a  TV evangelists program.

It was by far the most human conference I’d ever been to. Nearly all the people who presented brief "Lightning Talks" or breakout sessions were asked questions that they didn’t know the answer to, and in nearly all cases, another audience member had the answer. It was very gratifying to be in a room full of people who were openly supportive of each other, open to questions, open to making mistakes, open to learning and sharing, and champions of open source software in libraries.

A Roadmap to Nowhere

Better-managed projects have functionality roadmaps, a clearly defined release process, coding standards, and use practices like unit tests which automatically verify that additions do not break other parts of the code base. Reading through the developer site should make it clear how the community decides how functionality is assigned to releases and what kind of testing occurs.

These decision can be considered minor similar to employees deciding on what to have for lunch as a group with the actual major decisions of  when and where to have lunch goes to the boss or owner running the company. Which is pretty much the situation with both Wordpress and Drupal where decisions are not made by the community as they would have you believe.  Both communities are taken by surprise at every turn.

Standing on shoulders or under the thumb?

Does the license allow you to sell your hard work without question? Themes have become the defacto sell for the open source CMS because licensing does not allow extension developers to sell and compete. Themes are fairly immune from this though Automattic's Matt Mullenweg is in opposition to any divergence from something that might lead to a loss of protection of commercial capital by the GPL.

Is the host company large and powerful enough to strictly enforce the rule of law? If you wanted to sell an extension as proprietary would they try and force you to the GPL and prevent any dual licensing schemes so that they could gain free access to your intellectual property? The answer is yes.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
  -- Isaac Newton

This is a consistently used quote that is not true in most open source projects that are backed  by a spin-off company.  The problem here is that the projects host company does not see itself as a supporting entity willing to help small businesses. They see them more as worker bees in a hive network of free development resources. They have moved on to the enterprise and no longer have time for the small companies and individual that continue to help them gain a large share of the market. They some how view themselves more as bankers that collect and curate anything of value surrounding the project. Bankers that also want a percentage of any and all financial gains because they own a trademark. If that sounds like royalties it because it is, only without saying so explicitly. 

Don't Ask Don't Tell

There is a consistent effort to silence users and companies on the subject of multi-million dollar venture capital revenue streams.  This done by restricting communication to venues not appropriate for discussions because the persons in charge are never personally available.

Many of you have probably read the initial account of what happened on WP Tavern along with all of the comments. Unfortunately, as is customary with legal disputes involving WordPress that receive widespread criticism, Jeffr0 closed the comments on that post, effectively shutting down the conversation. -- Chris Pearson

Users through licensing and trademarks they are restricted to competing for the leftovers of services revenues which they are grateful for and so do not push to ask so often about much else.

Because open-source software presents more support options commercial, consulting, and community, some thought should be given to the support needs of the organization. Many companies, due to policy or habit, always purchase support contracts. In some cases, when tech support is frequently requested, those investments are justified. In other cases, when the software just runs without much need for human intervention, or if the organization has experienced technical staff that has knowledge of the technology, subscription-style support packages make less sense. Frequently, developers find access to the knowledge base and public search engines more expedient and useful than phone or e-mail-based support.

If commercial software-style support is desired, it may be offered by the company hosting the open-source project or by a third party.  Hosting were not the norm when open source was becoming popular. They seem to have popped up in the aftermath of an increasing market share.

Open Source Software started the movement in the late 1990s. Since then, open source software has transformed the software industry. Today, many infrastructure software startups employ open source strategies to market their software and win dominant market share.
Open source is a disruptive distribution strategy. It allows potential users and buyers of a software to try it, evaluate it, and understand exactly how it works because the source code is freely available. Open source companies market to developers exactly how developers would like to be marketed to - with code.

The company leaders never talk about or discuss the inner workings of their business. With most of their blog posts going to talking about the periphery of the internet.  They avoid any discussions surrounding money involvement and their taking the lions share of a services market created by others. A familiar form trickle down economics.

The founders of such open source start-ups  really do not want to be asked about the financial side of the project. They also become quiet and well "un" informed when asked about it. If pursued in any venue they pretty much say no one and no company is bound by their decision to use the software. They can select any of the open source alternatives.  Founders can in fact go from "benevolent dictator" to "tyrant" as quickly as the first  million dollar check is cashed.

the outbreak

The original  purpose of  open source licensing was not only to prevent commercial profiting of software. To give an equal share to all by sharing in the cost of development. But no one could foresee that the host company of a project could become the very thing that they were trying to fight against. That when large corporations finally embraced open source projects they would be infected with influence of money. That the GPL licensing was not a vaccine against the infection by the carrier.

Now the lessons have been learned and examples made. The problem is they are the wrong kind of lessons and examples. Open source has become not a different kind of  economy  but the other side of the commercial coin so thin that it is transparent. 

When given the choice between paying  for the software or giving back.

You should pay and  enjoy or get it cost free and enjoy. Giving back makes you a  victim of the Tom Sawyer effect. Giving on your own is better than hoping for some reward or notoriety.

The Sponsorship Lie

There is a constant  market ploy of say this extension or  theme is sponsored by. This leads one to believe that  someone had a good idea and received supporting capital to develop the idea. The truth is they worked for a company to write code. The code was later uploaded to a project in trade for the marketing of that company.  It's hard to find an extension that is used by thousands that started out as a good idea thousands wanted.

Take a Commercial Break

Is the backing company owned and operated by the benevolent dictator and  making millions in  commercial services along with drawing in  millions in  venture capital?  Are they using  the GPL to protect this company or are they willing and able to  update their  license to a more modern permissive license so everyone involved can participate in doing business.

It should be noted here that applying the same recommendations for commercial software is something that has become popular in recent years.

Dictators gonna be Dicks

No dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise is ever going to relenquish power to the people it controls. So do not expect  Drupal or Wordpress to change to  the MIT or Apache 2.0 license anytime soon.  Founders also tend to live in the bubble to the point of discovery of popularity. Then some how they finish their chrysalis from geeks into businessmen. Suddenly they are convinced by external investors of the good they are doing with branding use of celebrity in branding Alla Steve Jobs.  This is why Dries Buytaert started his own company using Drupals mojo. Also why Matt Mullenweg suddenly wanted to take the helm of Automattic. Theirs more investment capital in being a notable  Founder and CEO than a background advisor.

It was also only a year ago I said "Automattic is healthy, generating cash, and already growing as fast as it can so there’s no need for the company to raise money directly — we’re not capital constrained." I was wrong, but I didn’t realize it until I took on the CEO role in January. -- Matt Mullenweg

The GPL was good then so it  must be ok until something better comes. And there lies the problem, nothing is better for a budding open source host company than the nurturing protection of the GPL. The GPL allows them to behave like large corporations that buy hundreds of patents for expansion and market share only without suffering the cost of doing so or benefiting others in the least.  They are keen on avoiding creating "open core" solutions using GPL with the new semantics.

Meanwhile, in more typical “Open Core” scenarios, the use of the GPL is actually somewhat insidious. I've written before about how the copyleft is a tool, not an end in itself. Like any tool, it can be misused or abused. I think using the GPL as a tool for corporate control over users, while legally permissible, is ignoring the spirit of the license. It creates two classes of users: those precious few that can proprietarize and subjugate others, and those that can't.-- Bradley M. Kuhn

Consider the fact that the larger percentage of Drupal 8 is built on the Symfony Framework which is MIT licensed. So Drupal could have very easily switched over to the same permissive MIT license. But the project will remain GPL because it affords Acquia the most rights and stops any competition  from using the same code base cold.

The Wordpress core is so far away from the originating GPL code that they could have  gone over to a  more permissive license several years ago. But they have not because the GPL protects Automattic as a company and Matt Mullenweg is always careful to hide this as the real reason for not changing to BSD or Apache licensing.


Opens source as an development platform is a good thing for end users. But it's only good for entrepreneurial developers and businesses when the licensing environment is right.

Not all GPL'd software is created equal anymore, and while the right to fork remains firmly in tact, the realities of whether such forks will survive, and whether the entity controlling the canonical version can be trusted is another question entirely. -- Bradley M. Kuhn

The sections of this  blog post some how have turned into short chapters for a book. It seems like the discussion I wanted to start might get lost in the chaos of my thoughts so I'll stop here for now.

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