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Report on the UK Debate on OSS Between IBM, Sun and OpenForum Europe
Thursday, April 28 2005 @ 11:40 AM EDT

Groklaw's John Collins attended the debate on Open Source Software at the University of Hertfordshire, School of Computer Science, in the UK, between representatives of IBM, Sun and OpenForum Europe on the 27th.

He says it wasn't so much a debate, since they all pretty much agreed on many points, as a discussion. It's gratifying to note that all of them agreed the patent system is broken and needs reform. There's a quotable quote about Microsoft's TCO "studies" too.

Note that if you are one of the three representatives, and you wish to clarify or correct this report, Groklaw is very happy to oblige by including your input. We strive for accuracy above all. For that matter, if you have notes or a transcribed speech or an mp3 or ogg file you'd like to offer, we'd be happy to post it. With that said, here is John's report on the debate.


A Report on the Debate on Open Source Software
Between IBM, Sun and OpenForum Europe
at the U. of Hertfordshire, UK, April 27, 2005

~ by John M. Collins

The speakers were Mike Banahan (whom I last met about 20 years ago) from OpenForum Europe (and a number of other things), Peter Alsop from Sun and Mark Cathcart from IBM.

The talks were pretty short and Mike Banahan and Peter Alsop freely admitted to recycling earlier talks.

Mike Banahan's main point was that Open Source meant you had Open Competition and the end of vendor lock-in which was so much the hallmark of the earlier days of computing, (when the number one villain was IBM). He presented a couple of cases of an Irish hospital and an English High school with genuine figures of TCO -- in the case of the hospital the 8.5M IT budget went down to about 350K. In the case of the school upgrading PCs with the latest XP was so ridiculously expensive to be impossible and a replacement with thin clients and a Linux server more than met all their needs.

Peter Alsop made a point of saying that the contents of his talk had been cleared with Jonathan Schwartz. He said Sun had always been in favour of what he called "Open Stuff" but Sun's philosophy was that you should have the option as MySQL offer -- of having the paid-for supported product and the Open Source version -- Star Office -v- OpenOffice. He believed that it was a reasonable way to operate and it satisfied everyone (except Richard Stallman).

[pj: I believe he is mistaken or at least oversimplifying Stallman's views. Note Ruby license is not objectionable on that list, despite a dual licensing clause. And Stallman is definitely not opposed to making money from selling programs, as you can see from the GPL FAQ, which says, "The right to sell copies is part of the definition of free software." I think it's important to check your facts before you attack someone's views. Otherwise you can end up looking either foolish or mean. It is conceivable that this statement was phrased in context in a better way that night, but I can't publish the report without clarifying the facts.]

Mark Cathcart said that he hadn't cleared anything with Sam Palmisano because he is the one that tells Sam Palmisano what to say.

[pj: joke, joke -- clarifying because I don't want to get him subpoenaed by SCO because of a joke they might take seriously. My brain's joke center does think it might be a way to resolve SCO's motion to depose Palmisano, but I'll restrain myself.]

He pointed out that IBM had historically given out source code with their mainframes -- e.g., for the original OS/360 (except you'd have to pay quite a lot for the mainframes). He gave quite a long history of how much of what he'd done before he joined IBM had been basically open source. When IBM 6 years ago decided to get into Linux and Open Source he was very much involved in the discussion and he said it was very much a "no-brainer". He said that IBM software now uses 27 operating systems, including Windows, Linux in various versions, Solaris, HPUX (I noticed an absence of mention of SCO!). He is totally convinced that the move to open standards such as web services is going to transform the whole industry. His view was that if you think "you won't get fired for buying Microsoft" and you believe the TCO adverts they put out now, come back in ten years time and see if you were right.

The most significant question was on software patents. It was universally agreed that the system was fundamentally broken and needed reform. The view of the speakers was that "a certain company" was "hooked" on software patents but in due course most of them would be declared invalid. Mike Banahan expressed the view that it didn't make sense to allow patents for hardware but not software but the whole system was broken. He believed, to the endorsement of the other speakers, that copyrights provided the appropriate protection for all of these things.

There was a very brief mention of SCO -- from Mark Cathcart -- saying he wasn't allowed to say anything.

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