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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Linux and its SCM controversy

I just wanted to follow up on a previous story I had posted about Linux a couple of weeks ago. In it, I mentioned that Linux stopped using its traditional Software Configuration Management (SCM) system BitKeeper from the South San Francisco based BitMover. A dispute between with BitMover has forced Linux creator Linus Torvalds to embark on a new software project of his own, in addition to the Linux kernel. The new SCM project, called "Git" (GPL just like Linux) was started right after Torvalds abandoned the proprietary BitKeeper software he had been using to manage Linux kernel development since 2002.

The most notorious and extreme free software activist, Richard Stallman, had long called for Linux developers to kick out BitKeeper, arguing that using it helps to persuade kernel developers that the use of "non-free" software was acceptable.

Torvalds has already put his kernel development on hold for a week to work on Git. His decision to drop BitKeeper is also controversial. It will certainly affect the productivity of the kernel developers at least in the short term. Torvalds admits Git is still very rough on the edges and not ready for prime time. He said that the real cost will be measured by how much the new software would slow down the numerous maintainers that contribute to the kernel.

When asked why he called the new software, Git (which means rotten person in British slang), Linus replies "I'm an egotistical bastard, so I name all my projects after myself. First Linux, now Git."

Do you think open source should be developed using open source tools exclusively? Please share your thoughts.

Read more on this in this CNET story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What's with documentation in the OSS world?

I found this post on TSS the other day that talks about JavaServer Faces and the release of a new version of the MyFaces project. More than the announcement itself I noticed in the thread below it a classic symptom of weakness that open source projects suffer from.

For the record I would like to congratulate the MyFaces guys for working hard and providing an implementation of JSR-127 that was elevated to a top level Apache project earlier this year. I remember our first JSR-127 expert group meeting at Sun exactly 4 years ago. JavaServer Faces took forever to materialize and will take a while to become a mainstream web development framework. There are very few worthwhile real-world websites using JSF today but I am sure this will change rapidly with encouraging contributions like Apache’s MyFaces project.

Back to the point I was trying to make in this post. If you read this thread you’ll notice that most of the discussion was not about the cool features provided by MyFaces or the enhancements they came up with since the previous version. It was about lack of documentation! I strongly believe this is a huge impediment to the expansion of open source. Not only documentation but important things like examples, tutorials, online demos, etc. All these things are extremely important and software vendors continue to provide them with every new release. So why can’t the open source community compete in this area? The answer is simple: I don’t know any developer who likes testing, writing documentation, or building examples as much as he or she likes developing cool new features or fixing tricky bugs. And the fact is, the open source community is still largely dominated by developers.

At Orbeon we frequently hear (from our community) that our documentation is far more superior than that offered by similar projects like (Apache Cocoon). The reason is that PresentationServer was a commercial product for a couple of years before we decided to open source it. Our documentation, tutorials and examples are commercial-quality and our users definitely see this as a differentiator.

The conclusion is that open source needs to get some inspiration from the commercial world. It doesn’t matter if an open source project offers great features and fewer bugs if what I am looking for is buried and nowhere to be found. People are just not going to reverse engineer the code to find and use your features. Companies like Orbeon or JBoss offer good documentation with their own products and others like Spikesource provide assistance for LAMP or LAMJ stacks. There is definitely room for what some call Professional Open Source.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What's in it for Adobe?

After Oracle and Symantec, Adobe went shopping this week to become another software powerhouse. I know that this is no news to most of you by now but I tried to sleep on it and think about the reasons behind this deal and answer a few simple questions.

What does the deal look like?
Adobe agreed to pay $3.4B in an all-stock transaction, in other words, Adobe agreed to exchange 0.69 shares of its stock for each share of Macromedia. That would result in Macromedia stockholders owning about 18 percent of the combined company when the deal closes. As usual, Adobe's (the acquirer) shares dropped on the news by about 10% while Macromedia's went up by about the same. The deal was labeled as a long-rumored acquisition; I have to confess that I didn't see it coming.

The actual transaction is not done yet, it is contingent upon the approval of regulators as well as the shareholders of both companies, is expected to be completed by the fall. The newco's name will be Adobe and will be headquartered in San Jose, CA.

Adobe is based in San Jose and employs around 3,700 staff globally and has yearly sales of about $1.6 billion while Macromedia is based in San Francisco, employs about 1,200 workers and reported (in 2004) a revenue of $370M.

A small PR website was created to share some details about the two companies getting together.

Who's the new boss?
Bruce Chizen will remain as CEO of the combined company and Adobe's Shantanu Narayen will continue as president and COO. Macromedia's chief executive, Stephen Elop, will join Adobe as president of worldwide field operations. And Rob Burgess, Macromedia's chairman and former CEO, will take a seat on Adobe's board.

What is Adobe after?
Tim Bray from Sun Microsystems couldn't be more pessimistic about this deal. On his blog Tim doesn't think this alliance makes sense. I tried to think about it and come up with possible reasons why Adobe would spend so much change acquiring Macromedia for around 42 times earnings estimates for this year.

The first thing that comes to mind is overlap. Overlap in products (Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand in graphics design, Adobe GoLive and Dreamweaver for Web page creation, and Photoshop and Macromedia Fireworks for working with photos), as well as opposing strategies as Adobe was a big supporter of SVG (competes with Macromedia Flash), etc.

Then I started reading about some numbers, especially market shares. According to IDC, Adobe generates about 92% of its revenue from the authoring software market and is fourth in the Web site design market with just under 5%. Macromedia generates about 80% of its revenue from Web site design (2% of Adobe’s revenue) and development tools. Now, the two entities look a little more complementary to me. The new group is clearly going after Microsoft who owns 80% of the authoring software market.

Macromedia's Chief Software Architect Kevin Lynch described the opportunity on his blog: "Many creative professionals and web developers already use our products together, and we will be able to provide an even more efficient authoring and development environment to create, manage and deliver information."

Adobe saw in Macromedia an opportunity to go after new markets as well particularly in the area of providing content to mobile phones and other handheld devices (another area Adobe will be competing with Microsoft and their portable operating system). Macromedia has had success earlier this year in persuading makers of cell phones and other non-PC devices (such as Nokia and Samsung) to embed its Flash technology in their devices. If you believe the serial entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks Marc Cuban the PC era is gone, the market needs to be looking at portable and exciting devices. Adobe wants to be a player in this market.

To end this post on a good note, Adobe is expecting strong earnings and sales in the quarter ending June 3 "toward the high end" of its targeted range, citing strong sales for Acrobat. Adobe is so bullish about its future they did something I always like to see companies do, the Board of Directors has approved a post-acquisition stock repurchase program of $1 billion.

Do you believe Adobe will be competing with Microsoft? Do you believe they will be successful in the mobile market with Flash? Do you believe Adobe is much better off with Macromedia than without it? Please share your thoughts about this acquisition.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"Unbending the Truth" vs. "Get the Facts"

Unbending the Truth is hosted by Novell and claims it’ll teach you all the facts Microsoft doesn’t want you to know while the Get the Facts is a portal built by Microsoft as an attempt to sell you the idea that Windows outperforms Linux in addition to the fact that it’s cheaper. For the record, most of the case studies and research studies (often funded by the vendors themselves) can be misleading and have to be read completely and warily. Otherwise things can easily be taken out of context.

It all started when I read this executive email sent last year by Steve Ballmer to customers in which he compares Windows favorably with Linux. First he tries to explain why Linux is more costly than Windows. I am the last one to think that open source is free. But come on! I don’t care how you slice it and dice it; Windows is not cheaper than Linux. Some of the Microsoft studies found on the “Get the Facts” website are from 2002 and show that W2K’s TCO is lower than Linux mainly because the highest cost is staffing and finding W2K trained resources. They claim it is much easier to find than Linux admins. This has changed since 2002, Linux is much more popular now and well-trained resources are more affordable. Additionally, many IT organizations already have UNIX trained developers and sys-admins, which makes their transition to Linux smooth and almost cost free.

Following the TCO nonsense, Ballmer talked about security. I just don’t want to go there. If you Google the number of Windows-related horror security stories and do the same with Linux, you’ll quickly realize which is safe and which is Swiss cheese. Before his uninteresting closing argument, Ballmer talks about how he is increasingly hearing from customers that they are worried about indemnification. He goes on to say that no vendor stands behind Linux with full indemnification… Without looking too far, it looks like Novell is definitely providing some sort of indemnification.

My question to Ballmer is, if Linux is not safe, if it is slower and more expensive than other operating systems (including Windows), why is it the fastest growing platform in the world used by very demanding and prestigious organizations such as Toyota, Travelocity, U.S. Postal Service, Google, Linksys, and many IT organizations in the public sector?

I think that the anti-Linux campaign Microsoft has been running just goes to show that they rightfully feel Linux is a big and viable threat. It may even help Linux’s unstoppable growth.

I am interested by what some of you think about this FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) game. Both vendors use incomplete arguments in these portals to display what they call facts that the other side did not want to share with you. In my company, we use Linux for our servers because it’s cheaper (in our case free) and safer; however we all have Windows XP development machines. As you can see the world is not black or white, both operating systems can co-exist in “harmony”.