Archive for November, 2007

MarcF does it again…

I saw it coming. First Marc Fleury comments about Apachecon in his backyard, complaining about a missing invitation to attend, then Jim writes a somewhat resentful yet ironic entry, inviting Marc to follow the Apache Software Foundation business more closely, possibly putting some of his RedHat loot to good use by sponsoring Apache who, after all, has been the giant’s shoulder to stand on for a lot of JBoss business. It took just a few days and some Thanksgiving turkey for Marc to miss the afternoon football match and send another note to the blogosphere, poking more fun at Apache. The "fat ladies drinking tea" have now become a bunch of politicians hanging around as aging Star Trek fans, forgetting about code and preaching the Community gospel as if they owned the key to the Ultimate Open Source Truth.

One thing I’ll say for Marc: he’s damn good in rhetorics. A master of straw man, he depicts Apache as a group of oldies who only care about doing politics and duplicating stuff to indulge in their license talibanism. He’s not so good at fact-checking, though: a quick search at Ohloh would have shown how people like Geir Magnusson actually have bothered writing quite some code, other than helping freeing up the Java world within the JCP.  Which kinda shows how Apache really is about writing code: we just go beyond that and care about the big picture as well, and we’re lucky to have people like Geir around, who enjoy being a pain in the neck to whoever tries to circumvent our ability to build and openly develop software for the common good.

It’s no wonder Marc is getting it all wrong when it comes to Apache being duplicating code almost for the sake of it (or, better, for the sake of the BSD license). Something Matt seems to resonate with. Unfortunately, they are both missing the point: Apache has been duplicating efforts for the sake of community based development, and BSD-family licenses just happen to be an enabler for such an endeavor, as they encourage participation from a diverse number of interested parties. It’s not that GPL couldn’t work at all, but let’s look at the facts: GPL as it stands nowadays is far from being a collaboration platform. Commercial Open Source is using it as a big poster sign of software built behind locked doors, with incidental help from the community but no real incentive to participate. Understandably so, to some extent: the moment software becomes a core corporate asset, the latest thing you want is someone on a different payroll to decide what your roadmap should be like. Which, in turns, brings you to MarcF camp of a world split in two: producers and consumers, suppliers and customers. To be sustainable, this old world has to rely on well-established economics, where customers pay for technologies funded and built by vendors. If that doesn’t happen, vendors have the right to whine and mope about: Open Source here is little more than marketing sugar on a granny pie.

Too bad this is as far as it can possibly get from the way Apache sees the world, which is about building a collaborative environment where diverse interests converge into building tools and software for a number of different purposes, from fun to profit (and possibly both). It all starts from people willing to scratch a common itch, understanding how joining efforts, exchanging ideas and building code  together within a neutral environment allows to solve a technical problem faster and better. It enables different business purposes, as it doesn’t really matter if you want to build Open Source software for the sake of it, if you just want to use some stuff or if you want to run an international business around it. It mirrors the collaborative world we are living, where all lines are blurred and it’s difficult to say who is a customer, who is a vendor and even what on earth the product is. This is a world of shared R&D cost, which can leverage a number of innovative economics and doesn’t necessarily have to rely on licensesubscription sales to be sustainable.

So, is Apache duplicating code? Yes, indeed, sometimes even internally (just have a look at the number of feather-decorated web frameworks).  Is that bad? Hell, no: if we were to think about distribution terms not being a reason good enough to justify duplication, quite a bit of Open Source would have to go anyway as it’s mostly about superseding proprietary alternatives. Is it suboptimal? Maybe, but the trade off between unencumbered access to the development process and mere source code availability, with right to fork as the only alternative, makes me welcome duplication. Does it always work? No, it would require a thick pair of pink glasses to claim that Apache projects have always been immune to corporate pressure and hidden agendas, yet in the long run there is little a corporate behemoth can do when confronted by peer pressure under technical and meritocratic terms.

All in all, I think I’ll stick to my Klingon lessons: Q’Apla, MarcF!

And AGPL it is

It’s old news, I know, but I have been fighting with flu in the last few days. For those of you Open Source fanatics living in a cave or being struggling with seasonal influenza, the FSF just released the final version of their Affero license, that is GPL virality extended to network use. Whatever network use means, that is.

I’ve been ranting at length in the past about the various gripes I have with AGPL and friends, so I’m not going to reiterate. At the end of the day, everyone is free to choose their poison, and after all one more license with highly dangerous terms is going to bring some nice business to Open Source consultancies like us. It would have been nice, though, that the final version of something coming from the FSF was clear from ambiguity: alas, that’s not the case. We still have the SaaS loophole defined as “remote interaction through a computer network”: maybe I should blame my non-native English, but I have to say that I’m at loss when it comes to understanding what this exactly means. My lawyer background makes me extra paranoid, so I will have to interpret the above statement in the most restrictive way, that is covering internal use (such as corporate software used by employees alone). This basically means that if you install some AGPL software on your corporate server, and dare to perform some local modification (say you add support for your SSO system), you are legally bound to provide means for your employees to download (and then redistribute) the artifact, nevermind the possibility it contains confidential information you really don’t fancy giving away.

The solution, just like with GPL, is simple: stay away from it. That stuff not only it’s viral, it’s highly contagious as well: don’t touch it even with a 6ft pole. Or surrender to whomever is going to sell you a license under different terms. Practical? Not at all. Fostering collaboration? Don’t even try that joke on me. Securing revenue streams for proprietary vendors using Open Source mostly as their marketing ploy? Indeed.

At a very least, information will be free. No one will be able to use it under any practical terms, but it will be free. Worth the fuss? I doubt it. Meanwhile, as the Open Source industry keeps lobbying for more convoluted licensing terms and the SaaS giants rejoice around nifty yet of little use APIs, the real issues of Saas, the one that really affect the general public such as open data access, are out there in the cold. Oh well, maybe it’s just this flu making me grumpy…

All-business airlines shootout

My nearly endless journey to Atlanta is over and I’m happily home for the next week or so. This trip gave me a chance try both Silverjet and Maxjet, which add up to my L’Avion flight from last March, so I’m now able to provide my fellow readers with a short review of how all those all-business airlines fare and why I think they are a great idea, albeit with some reservations.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, all-business airlines are the new kid on the block in the skies: as the name suggests, planes are exclusively business-class, which brings you obvious advantages such as comfy seats, lounge access and priority services and not-so-obvious benefits brought to you by having much fewer people flying, that is minimal boarding time and much shorter waiting at the luggage belt. Last but not least, they do all this at a fraction of regular airline price, so what’s not to love about them?

It’s worth mentioning that I’m not quite the typical business-class traveler. Running a startup means being realistic about travel policies and understanding that splurging on premium flight fares doesn’t quite make sense when it comes to making ends meet. There is nothing wrong, though, in being creative about alternatives, the bottom line being getting the most bang for the buck, all things considered. If you stop at square one, that is lowest possible air fare, you might be in for bad surprises: for one, the lowest deal on regular airlines requires a week-end stay, which in turn means hotel charges and restaurant bills for a start, not to mention wasted time. At roughly 200€/day in expenses alone (very conservative estimate), additional time spent away from home quickly adds up, turning a 700€ sardine-class journey into a 1.500€ affair (which is – what a coincidence – what an airline will shave you for a short stay trip: they can do the math after all). Now guess what? A typical trip on an all-business airline is likely to cost less than that and get you a much better flying experience.

My experience with flying all-business started six months ago, and I already posted a few thoughts about L’Avion, the French airline flying from Paris to New York. I now have more information to share, so let me try to quickly summarize how the three major players stack against each other when it comes to flying the smart way.

Pre-flight experience

Check-in has been fast and effective with all the three airlines, but I have to say that Silverjet is a clear winner here. Nothing can beat their private Luton terminal where you actually don’t even bother with checking in: you dump your bags at curbside, you’re handed a silver ticket that you’re supposed to keep in a visible place, and you’re invited to sit and relax in a beautiful lounge. I was there for the morning flight, and they had an extensive breakfast being served: it took me just the time to grab coffee and nibbles to have a very professional assistant come visit me, grab my passport, and return in five minutes with my boarding pass. Just amazing. Maxjet and L’Avion are both running traditional check-in routines where you have to stand in a line, get to a desk and grab your boarding pass. They are both fast and efficient, but Silverjet has a clear edge here.

All three airlines will provide you with lounge access for your pre-flight routine. L’Avion is using a quite ordinary Orly lounge, with nothing really special about it. When I was traveling (back in March), there was no Newark lounge on my way back, but I understand they opened something as of recent. I already mentioned the excellent Silverjet lounge in Luton (probably the best I’ve been to in all my travels) while the Maxjet reception in JFK, shared with Korean Air and others, is a nice and comfortable place with good food and drink services and very professional staff. I understand that their Stansted lounge is even better, but I can’t comment as I was flying in from New York. From what I saw, Silverjet is the winner again.

Boarding has been smooth both with Silverjet and Maxjet, while I have a few reservations about L’Avion which first made us go through some silly double security procedures (I know airlines have a limited control over this, but still it seems flying from Orly isn’t easy), then boarded us using a way too small van which required lots of roundtrips. Having a much smaller bunch of people boarding, however, makes a lot of difference as operations are smooth, there is lots of room for hand luggage and you’re pushing out from the gate in no time flat.   

In-flight experience

Needless to say, all airlines provide a nice flying experience with lots of legroom, comfy seats and nice perks. L’Avion is flying the smallest airplane of the pack, a Boing 757-200 on a 2-2 configuration: interior design is nice and new, seats are generous in width and with easy to use controls. While they are not lie-flat, sleep hasn’t been a problem for me. Every seat comes with a regular 110-v power supply, which is great for laptop use. Silverjet offers brand new and modern massaging seats on their 2-2-2 Boeing 767-200, fully electrically powered and angled lie-flat: as an added bonus, seats recline by sliding against a hard shell cocoon, which basically means that legroom is not affected by the guy in front of you reclining his chair, and you don’t have to rest your head a few inches away from the feet of who’s behind you. While seats looked  less generous in width compared to others, they all have both a power supply and a reading light, not to mention a lot of room for newspapers and other stuff. I have to say I’m not a huge fan of angled lie-flat though, as I don’t quite like the impression of sliding down, but again I had no problems taking a nap during my day flight to Newark. Maxjet feels a bit like flying in the 80′s as seats are quite old on their 2-2-2 Boeing 767-200, with not as many controls as the other guys and no servo. I sorely missed the power supply, which should be a given nowadays, and a better individual reading light could have helped as the ceiling floodlight from your neighbour is likely to bug your seat as well. I have to say, though, that at the end of the day the seat was very comfortable (possibly the most comfortable, actually) and had me sleep well for most of the journey.

Dining was OK on all flights: L’Avion is understandingly all about French cuisine, apparently with good wine selection (I’m staying away from alcohol when I fly). They run a traditional trolley service which can be slow at times: on my packed-full return flight, meal service took nearly three hours which is quite a bit for a nightly transport. Silverjet is again doing a bit more, by providing a personalized no-trolley service (aisles are always clear) and some above-average food, including some great cheese and a nice cake and tea service. Maxjet is quite ordinary when it comes to in-flight dining: they run a trolley service and they will hand your meal on a tray, which feels a bit like coach. They still seems to be more efficient than the French alternative, even on a full flight, and they offer you the alternative of an express one-course meal if you want to save time for work or sleep.

In-flight entertainment is just the same all over the place: all the three airlines provide you with the (in)famous Dig e-Player, which is a personal player packed full with multimedia content. While choice is fine and extensive enough, I have to say that I would appreciate much more something integrated in the seat rather than having a loose and quite heavy 7" monitor which you need to keep on your lap or tray table, but having said that entertainment is more than enough to keep you busy during flight time.

Post-flight

The icing on the cake of a nice flight is actually about ground services and what happens after you land, especially if you have some time to refresh and/or need to kill a few hours before a connection. L’Avion has nothing to offer here, as lounge access will be explicitely denied upon arrival in Orly. Devil is in the details here: it would take little effort to the French airline to provide customers with a nice added value, but apparently they didn’t bother. Silverjet will happily welcome you on their land-side lounge in Newark, which is definitely inferior when compared to the european counterpart but still nice (I guess there is no problem hanging out in their Luton lounge upon arrival). Maxjet has quite a notable edge here with their "Arrive & Refresh" program which allows you to have breakfast and spa access to the Radisson SAS hotel in Stansted: I was able to have a great shower and some good food before hitting my Italy bound connection. Maxjet should however do something more to inform their customers about this great feature: I read about the service on their website, but I wasn’t given any information while on board. I headed straight to the hotel, where I was confronted with the need for a voucher from the airline: eventually, I was able to break in anyways using my boarding card, but it would be nice if it didn’t take a lot of good will from the hotel staff to access the service.

Conclusions

All things considered, I have to say all-business airlines have been able to find a very interesting niche which appeals to a number of travellers who care about a better flying experience but still are on a budget. This is a category I clearly belong to: in all honesty, I don’t quite care about perks such as dining, entertainment and lounges, as I think that even the most luxurious plane travel is nothing more than glorified camping. I do value having substantial legroom to move about, I care about being able to work and sleep and I love streamlined ground service. Getting all this at a fraction of the cost regular airlines will want to shave you, with a clear and upfront cost structure that doesn’t play fare-jungle safari on you is just great, and I’m eager to see more destinations on the route map.  I won’t be suggesting an airline over the other, as all of them provided me  with a great and effective flying experience: even though my personal scoreboard lists Silverjet as a winner, closely followed by L’Avion and with Maxjet being last just because of their lack of in-seat power, the difference is not big enough to affect my future decisions. My upcoming travel plans will be mostly based on ticket prices or schedules rather than features, the tie breaker being perks I valued most such as the amazing pre-flight experience of Silverjet. I urge you to give those airlines a shot, though, as they might change the way you think about long-haul flying.

 

 

Off to Atlanta

The suitcase is packed, the tickets are printed, the alarm clock is set to a frightening 3.45AM. In a few hours I’ll be off to ApacheCon US. It will be an interesting journey, as I will actually:

  • leave tomorrow, 6.40AM, to London Stansted;
  • hire a car, drive to Suffolk and have a business meeting on a golf course (my favourite kind!);
  • drive back to Stansted, drop my car and my golf clubs, hop on a coach bound to Luton;
  • spend a nice evening with Roberto, sleep in Luton and board my Silverjet flight to Newark next morning, then on to Atlanta, landing 7.45PM;
  • spend a couple of days at ApacheCon, talking about Open Development and Apache River;
  • leave Atlanta on Friday morning, fly to JFK, hop on a MaxJet flight back to Stansted;
  • have a business meeting (alas, no golf involved this time) on Saturday morning in London;
  • finally, land in Milano on Saturday evening.

Hope to meet a lot of great folks in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I won’t be staying much this time, but I’m looking forward to a nice couple of days hanging around with Apache peeps and having fun. See you there!

Supersizing Jira

The news is out in the wild:

Scarlet: clustering for Jira

Sourcesense is proud to announce the first beta of Scarlet, a clustering solution for Atlassian Jira bringing high-availability and scalability to the award-winning Jira issue tracker. The solution is based on Terracotta DSO, the Open Source clustering framework from Terracotta enabling easy and trasparent scalable Java solutions.
Scarlet provides a full-fledged clustering solution for Jira, bridging an important gap when it comes to enterprise architectures based on high-availability: rated as one of the most popular requests from Jira users, clustering support makes Jira a truly distributed enterprise-class solution for organizations relying on simple yet effective scalable architectures.
Scarlet is distributed as an Open Source extension to Jira under the Mozilla Public License 1.1 and it’s available from http://confluence.atlassian.com/x/woQuBg. Jira users and developers are encouraged to dowload the extension and provide feedback: Sourcesense is committed to support and manage contributions, under a transparent and meritocratic Open Development process. Commercial support and additional services are available from http://www.sourcesense.com.

It might be worth providing some insight on why we are doing this. Those who know me might recall how I happen to like Atlassian, the guys Down Under who brought us Jira, Confluence and, recently, the whole wealth of Cenqua stuff. My love for the Australian guys isn’t just about technology: as much as I consider a lot of their stuff as excellent solutions for collaborative teams, I think Atlassian is a great example of a smart company playing fair with both Open Source and the commercial world. Their simple, upfront and honest licensing scheme is much easier to handle than some hairy bait ‘n switch proposition from the commercial Open Source world, and their respect for customers, as witnessed by full access to source code, is much bigger than a lot of proprietary and Open Source shops out in the wild.

Given all the above, it shouldn’t come as a surprise why Sourcesense chose Atlassian for our first branded contribution to Open Source: as much as many of us are heavy contributors to Open Source within communities like Apache as Spring, and even though our daily job is really about contributing bug fixes and extensions to existing Open Source projects, we never had a chance to perform a direct contribution of a standalone component. When we found out how our customers were increasingly asking for an highly available Jira, we figured out Terracotta DSO, the amazing aspect-oriented open source clustering framework, would have been a perfect match, and we started getting busy writing code.

It’s been an interesting ride: other than the obvious technical achievement, for which I have to award an indefinite number of brownie points to Sergio Bossa who was behind some amazing code, it showed us how the role of integration and consultancy firms in an Open Source environment is really about taking the best components out there and bridge the gaps. We are doing this every day in customer projects, but Open Source is allowing us to step even further, mixing and matching existing stuff, bridging existing gaps and user needs, and redistributing the result to the Open Source ecosystem. This is yet another reason why integration matters in Open Source. And this is another way of "making sense of Open Source".