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Category: open source software

There are 8 posts published under open source software.

The Culture of Open Source

When you hear open source software, what do you think of? Software developers hunched over keyboards, fueled by sugar and caffeine, or a recent request by your IT department to try new “free” software? It’s both of those of things, and much, much more.

Behind open source, there is a strong culture where presentation of patterns and models for debate is championed. Open source may have started as a description for software source code and a development model, but it has moved far beyond that. It is the challenge to approach the world in an innovative way, looking for solutions that break from tradition, and doing so in a collaborative environment where transparency of process is the most important virtue.

You may not be certain what open source is, but you use it, and it is everywhere. Successful modern enterprises have come to rely on open source software (OSS.) In the realm of infrastructure, open source provides benefits on the axes of cost, quality, speed, and risk mitigation through the support of a wide community of contributors. In addition, these organizations have found it can avoid getting too far ahead of the pack, by opening up their innovations to collaboration with others in the market quickly. The list of names is long, with proponents in the ranks of hardcore tech firms like RedHat and Cloudera, but also popular businesses such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Netflix.

Netflix has become known for not just streaming movies, but by providing its suite of in-house developed cloud management tools as free open source components. Organizations as large as IBM have heralded Netflix for this move as it has accelerated their ability to innovate. Netflix’s cloud development solutions, such as ChaosMonkey for cloud testing and Asgard for deployment, are forcing cloud leaders like Amazon to push the boundaries of their offerings, lest they lose ground to newer competitors.

Without open source, LinkedIn would not have gained its success and become a social networking platform used by nearly every professional. Utilized as a big data analytics tool, open source is allowing LinkedIn to dominate its space. This is not done blindly, as the company states open source helps it in “reaching out to the best, brightest, and most interested individuals to explore what’s new and help us further build our components.” This is despite that LinkedIn included in a 2011 registration filing its risks associated with OSS, specifically related to potential exposure to open source-licensing claims. These issues signify that while there are serious risks that can come with improper management of OSS licenses, for businesses these can be a tradeoff with the rewards of being early to market.

Recently ThoughtWorks, the company I work for, announced that its Go software will now be freely available under the Apache 2.0 open source license. This was done as a conscious display of ThoughtWorks’ desire to continue to be a recognized innovator next to the other cutting-edge, global solution providers. We understand that open source simply creates better software, creating an environment of collaboration where the best technology is developed and everyone wins. It is through the open source model that higher-quality; more secure, more easily integrated software is created, and done at greatly accelerated pace, often at a lower cost.

ThoughtWorks embraced open source development in its early days, turning to agile methodology pioneers Ward Cunningham and Martin Fowler (current ThoughtWorks chief scientist) in 1999 to help guide a stalled project. During that endeavor, many innovations that would later make their way into the popular Framework for Integrated Test (FIT) were developed. More notably, however, was the development of a piece of software based upon the extreme programming practice of continuous integration. CruiseControl from ThoughtWorks, debuted within the following year, was the first continuous integration server in the market that led the way for nearly a decade as engineering teams began to embrace the practice as a standard.

Fundamentally, the reason why open source has flourished and produced incredible innovations in technology is the culture it brings to the table. With OSS, organizations can continuously improve and deliver quality software. Today’s hypercompetitive business environment requires rapid innovation and maintaining a steady flow of the most important work between all roles. A free-flowing, collaborative, and creative environment provides the possibility to get ahead of the competition and make the software release process a business advantage.

So, what is open source? It is the ability to revolutionize processes and industries, and create positive change inside and out.


Will Upcoming Ubuntu Phone Disrupt Mobile OS Landscape?

Ubuntu has, since its release as a free, open source software, been labeled as the world’s most popular free operating system. Scheduled to launch in mid-October, Ubuntu 13.10 will be the first version of Linux’s line of operating systems that will provide full support for a wide range of products — from servers to desktops to tablets and smartphones.


This highly flexible operating system will now allow users to run mobile applications on their computers with keys and mouse and share the same navigating comfort as using the app on a phone with touchscreen controls. This brings about a truly mobile experience as it transforms your mobile device into an all-in-one device. Although there are thousands of apps already compatible with Ubuntu, Canonical still needs third party developers to create applications that can run in both mobile and desktop mode, as many Ubuntu applications can only run on computers.


While Linux still has to make its debut on phones, it can be safe to say that its revolutionary dual modes are going to change the mobile playing field dramatically. It will be interesting to see how competing companies such as Apple, Google, and even Microsoft will respond to this technological breakthrough. Some other welcomed changes we can expect to see with this Ubuntu update, is an improved Smart Scopes and XMir.


Smart Scopes is a desktop search engine of sorts and allows users to find files on the computer as well as related sites on the internet Previously, it seemed to be a bit problematic for users, providing a slew of irrelevant results while not returning what was intended. Now, we can expect even more results, except that it will return what we’re looking for as its top choice.


XMir is a computer display server for Linux and will replace the currently used X Windows. The old display server has proven to be a bit glitchy, causing applications to take some action without the proper inputs. Additionally, it would be hard to have it working across platforms fluidly without having tight controls. The shift to XMir will allow for a more fluid display while easily maintaining cross platform activity.


It will be interesting to see what other packages Linux will be adding, changing, and dropping with the release of Ubuntu, and how popular the Ubuntu phone will be amongst other contenders.


Top Startup and Tech News Today-7 Things You Missed Today

1. IBM Commits an Additional $1 Billion to Linux Innovation


IBM announced at LinuxCon that it would invest $1 billion in Linux and other open source technologies. The hope is that this investment will let clients utilize big data and cloud computing. This is IBM’s second commitment of $1 billion to Linux development. With this announcement came the unveiling of the Power Systems Linux Center initiative in France and the Linux on Power development cloud initiative. Both are intended to expand IBM’s support of Linux open source vendors and applications.


The Linux on Power development cloud initiative is done in hopes of expanding IBM’s Power System Cloud. Users will be allowed to access a no-charge cloud service that will give developments, partners, and clients the ability to “prototype, build, port, and test” their Linux applications. IBM VP of Power Development, Brad McCredie, says that “the era of big data calls for a new approach to IT systems; one that is open, customizable, and designed from the ground up to handle big data and cloud workloads.”


2. How Facebook Stands to Gain by Sharing Its Trade Secrets


Companies used to live by the idea of secrecy, and guard their operations in order to ensure that competitors never gained an advantage. This used to be the method that most corporations employed; however, Facebook changed this game by disclosing a very detailed report on how they ran their data centers, powered their website, and developer their mobile apps.


This 71-page report also details the company’s approach. This includes everything from removing the plastic bezels from their servers to reject app modifications that increase power consumption. This report was published as part of the multi-company effort called to bring the Internet to the next 5 billion. This effort has generally been called a philanthropic effort, and an effort of economic empowerment and human rights, but there is, naturally, plenty to gain from Facebook in terms of opening up huge new markets.


Asides from opening new markets, Facebook has a lot to gain in terms of sharing such information: it makes their own life far easier. If Facebook can get companies thinking how they think, they’ll buy similar materials that Facebook runs on. The less “exotic” and special something is, the cheaper its cost will be. Facebook has a large enough presence that it can easily steer product decisions.


Facebook is not the only company to share their secrets and embrace open-source software; there are many other companies that do the same. But, they are one of the larger companies to do so, and though they stress the charitable nature of their action, there is a clear economic advancement that can be gained from doing so.


3. Iran restores blocks on Facebook, Twitter


Iran’s block on Facebook and Twitter was lifted for several hours. The brief access was a “technical glitch” that was quickly fixed. Those who managed to gain access only gained it for a brief period of time. This points to increasing struggles between groups seeking to have Facebook and other social networking sites unblocked by those working in the Iranian government, who have firm control over Internet access.


Many Facebook and Twitter users in the capital, Tehran, assumed that the brief Internet freedom was the result of a new policy from President Hasan Rouhani. Many people wrote on their social media accounts, praising him for the new openness in Iran. This praise was quickly subdued when the social media sites became no longer available on Tuesday morning.


4. What will iOS7 do for your iDevice?


iOS7, the first operating system designed by Jony Ive, the man behind the physical look and feel of all Apple devices, will be ready for download on Wednesday. But, even if your device is compatible, not all promised 200 new features of iOS7 will be available.


The latest OS brings a serious overhaul of Siri to make her performance more in line with what Android offers via Google Now. Siri can now directly plug into Wikipedia, Twitter, Bing, transit routes, traffic updates, and even the user’s own photo album. But, not all headlines features will function on every Apple device; ultimately, it depends on each device’s processor, RAM, and screen resolution requirements.


Here’s a list of what iOS7 will do for you:

-       Airdrop, a protocol for sharing files over wifi, even when there is no signal, will be coming to the iPhone 5, Touch (5th generation), iPad 4 and iPad Mini.

-       Siri will be updated with a new graphical interface and the ability to tap into Wikipedia and Bing for web searches.

-       iOS7 will include lens filters which will only be available on the iPhone 5 and the iPod touch (fifth generation.) You can now apply effects before you take the photo.

-       iTunes Radio will work across iPhones 4, 4s, and 5, and the iPad 2, 3, 4, and mini.


5. Google buys Bump app for sharing smartphone files


Google has bought  out Bump, the smartphone app that lets you share contacts, pictures, and other data by bumping” smartphones together. Google has bought out the Bump team but is leaving popular Bump application available to users. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to join Google,” Bump co-founder and chief, Lieb, said “Bump and Flock will continue to work as they always have for now; stay tuned for future updates.”


The deal has been reported to have been worth $30-$60 million.


6. AT&T Promises (Again) Not To Disconnect Your Account If It Suspects You Of Illegally Downloading


Even though its copyright warning letter says AT&T will cut users suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted material off from Internet, AT&T says that it will not. The letter warned that illegally downloading was a violation of AT&T Term’s and could result in “a limitation of Internet access or even suspension or termination” of the account.


The letter is a part of the “six strikes plan,” where nation’s ISPs send warnings to those they think are breaking copyright law. This is supposed to be about education and repeat violators are not supposed to be cut off from the Internet; instead they are supposed to be temporarily redirected to another page where they will be required to view educational materials on copyright. AT&T says that the letter in which they warn off cutting people off from internet is simply telling people what could happen should the person be guilty of illegally downloading under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But the six strike warnings are merely allegations, AT&T promises it won’t be closing down anyone’s internet.


7. Google’s AdID to take a bite out of third-party cookies


Google is fed up with the third-party cookies. So, they have a plan called AdID to get rid of them from your online advertising. This plan could upend the $120 billion online advertising business while giving more control over which ads are shown to customers and to Google. An anonymous source at Google says that AdID could give Google a big bump in the company’s online ad business (Google currently controls 1/3 of all online advertising revenue.) “The AdID would be transmitted to advertisers and ad networks that have agreed to basic guidelines, giving consumers more privacy and control over how they browse the Web,” said the anonymous source.


Google, on the other hand, designed that any plans were imminent. “We believe that technological enhancements can improve users’ security while ensuring the Web remains economically viable,” a Google spokesperson told CNET. “We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they’re all at very early stages.”






Is Open Source A Good Business Model For Your Company?

While terms like “cloud,” “big data,” and “devops” may be over-used and over-hyped, it should be clear to anyone in the industry that we are undergoing a fundamental shift in the way IT is delivered, consumed, and even conceived. What is also clear is that this new era in computing is being both driven and dominated by open source.

Ask almost anyone what the most significant and exciting technologies are, almost anywhere in the stack, and you are likely to hear the name of an open source project. Ask about Big Data, and you will most likely hear Hadoop or Cassandra. Databases? MongoDB , CouchDB, and Riak. Storage? Gluster and Ceph, come to mind. Networking? OpenFlow and now Open Daylight. Cloud as a whole? OpenStack seems an unstoppable force. Mobile? It’s hard to ignore the tidal wave that is Android.  Application delivery and devops? Take your pick of Chef, Puppet, Salt, Jenkins, or Docker.


As Eric Knorr recently wrote, “We’ve come a very long way from the old saw that ‘open source doesn’t innovate.’ Instead, you might ask: Is innovation in enterprise software happening anywhere else other than in open source land?”


Of course, any discussion of open source inevitably comes around to someone asking, “While this may be great for innovation, can open source be a sustainable business model?” As someone starting his second stint as CEO of an open source startup, I can answer with an unequivocal, “It Depends.”


Open Source makes sense for an increasing number of situations, especially when a company is trying to disrupt proprietary incumbents or when (as is true almost everywhere) there is a limited window to become prominent in a rapidly changing ecosystem. Indeed, I would argue that, in many situations, trying to make it as a small open source company is far less risky than trying to gain acceptance as a small, proprietary company.  Open source brings its own unique challenges, however, and certainly isn’t appropriate for everyone.


With that in mind, here are some questions to ask if you are considering becoming an open source company. The more that you answer “yes” to, the more likely that open source is the right strategy for your company.



Am I trying to sell into a market with entrenched, proprietary competitors?

If so, being open source can get you into accounts that would never speak to a proprietary startup. Additionally, it gives you the opportunity to compete on battlegrounds that favor you over competitors with larger sales forces, marketing budgets, etc.


Am I trying to enable an ecosystem and are there important open source projects around me in the stack? 

If so, being open makes it much easier to form and integrate into an ecosystem.


Do I have a clear idea of how to add value on top of the open source version, while making the open source version robust and valuable?

There are many interesting variations on the open source model, but they all depend on having both a big “top” of the funnel (lots of people using, trying, or loving the open source product), as well as a clear reason for a meaningful percentage of those people to pay (e.g. a managed service offering, support). If the only way to get people to pay is to make the open source version substandard, you won’t likely succeed.


Will being open source make me radically better than the alternative or will it just make me a cheaper alternative to an already good solution?

The best open source companies use being open to make themselves radically better, at least for certain markets or applications. For example, MySQL wasn’t just cheaper than the proprietary RDBMs, it was better for PHP and helped enable an entire stack (LAMP).


Is the nature of my project such that “many eyes” and “many contributors” will make it better? 

In my experience, this is more likely to be true of fundamental technologies, and less likely to be true for things dependent on an elegant user interface.


Is my project such that being tested at very large scale is key to success?

While you may never get paid by large universities or national labs, there are few places better to prove your product out at massive scale.


Do I understand the implications of being open source on development, QA, sales, marketing, financing, etc.? 

Being open was key to Gluster’s success, and has been key to how Docker is approaching the market. The decision has had significant implications for all aspects of the company. You can’t be “half open” any more than you can be half pregnant. Make the decision wisely.


How I Built Scaleable Web Apps on the M.E.A.N. Stack

“M.E.A.N.” is one of the coolest stacks to develop on .


In my opinion, M.E.A.N captures the essence of modern day web development. It neatly ties in the concept of a NoSQL database with a modern javascript framework and gets them to communicate via Node.js.


Getting started with the MEAN stack might seem very daunting at first. You might think that there is too much new technology to learn.  The truth is that you really only need to know “Javascript.” That’s right, MEAN is simply a javascript web development stack.


So, how do you actually get started developing on the MEAN stack?


The first step is to set up a project structure. I’ve found the following structure to make the most sense:


controllers/ db/ package.json server.js public/


This structure lets you keep the entire stack in a single project. Your AngularJS front end can go into the public folder while all your Express API logic goes into controller and your MongoDB collections and logic go into the db folder.


Now that you’ve set up a general project structure, you need to initialize your public folder as  an Angular project. It is best to do this using a tool called Yeoman.


Yeoman is a toolkit that makes it easy for you to get started with a variety of Javascript frameworks and other web frameworks like Bootstrap and foundation. You can learn more about Yeoman at


Installing Yeoman is pretty straightforward.


npm install -g yo


Yeoman is built around the concept of generators. Think of them as a set of rules that Yeoman needs to generate the project structure and files for your project. In this case, we will be installing AngularJS. First, you have to get the generator for AngularJS by installing:

npm install -g generator-angular

This code  will install the scripts and templates needed for you to bootstrap your Angular app.  Next, cd into your public directory we created and generate the project into this folder by running:

yo angular

It  will prompt you with a series of questions that will then tailor the generated files to your needs. Once this is done, you will notice that the structure seems like another node app and you’re right to think that!

Yeoman and the tools that Yeoman uses (like bower and grunt) are all using npm to get the modules they need to build your app.

To run your yeoman app, simply go into the public folder and run grunt server. Grunt is essentially made  for web apps. It has a set of rules you can find in Gruntfile.js that outlines what needs to happen for different options.

Running grunt server will run a small server that will serve your website. Grunt build will go through all your source code, minify HTML, JS, SCSS and images, and spit the result out in the dist folder.

You can learn all about yeoman and grunt at

Your basic development workflow would be as follows:

In one terminal window, you will have grunt server running. This will run your AngularJS app. In another terminal window, you can have your node app running, providing the API for your AngularJS app.

The reason I personally love doing this is because grunt server will refresh your browser on the fly when you make SCSS changes and this is very useful when you’re developing.

When it comes time to deploy to production, running grunt build will output an “optimized and minified” version of the website to the dist folder. This is the folder you can setup in your server.js Express.static and use when someone hits your node server.

app.use(express.static(__dirname + ‘/public/dist’));

As a developer building a scalable web app, MEAN has profound implications. You can leave all your templating to render on the client side, lessening the load on your Node server. Your Node.js code is exposed via an API that your AngularJS app can connect to. This  ensures that in the future if you want to build a mobile app or open up your API to third parties, it’s very simple since the API’s are already created.

Lastly, one of the more interesting things about the MEAN stack is that because it is so loosely decoupled, if you wanted to replace any of the technologies with another technology, you could easily do so without changing the other platform. For example you could replace AngularJS with Ember, or Node.js with Python.


OpenStack's Third Birthday - a Recap with a Look into the Future

OpenStack was first announced three years ago at the OSCON conference in Portland.

I remember the first time I heard about the announcement and how it immediately caught my attention. Ever since that day, I have become a strong advocate for the technology. Looking back, I’ve often wondered why OpenStack earned my loyalty so quickly.


Was it because OpenStack is an open source cloud? Well, partially, but that couldn’t be the main reason for my interest. OpenStack was not the first open source cloud initiative; we had Eucalyptus, then and other open source cloud initiatives before OpenStack emerged.


But these open source cloud initiatives were started by unreliable companies that lacked the commitment for a true open movement. I knew that a real open source cloud movement couldn’t meet its potential as an industry movement if startups led it. I knew that experience in the field gave OpenStack a much better starting point.


I also knew some of the main individuals behind the initiatives and their commitment to the Open Cloud and that made me confident that the OpenStack project would have a much higher chance for success than its predecessors. After three years, the game is essentially over and it’s obvious who’s going to win the open source cloud war. I’m happy to say that I also had my own little share in spreading the word by advocating the OpenStack movement in our own local community which also grew extremely quickly over the past two years.


OpenStack as an Open Movement

Paul Holland, an Executive Program Manager for Cloud at HP, gave an excellent talk during the last OpenStack Summit in which he drew parallels between the founding of the United States and the founding of OpenStack.


Paul also drew an interesting comparison between the role of the common currency on the open market and its OpenStack equivalents: APIs, common language, processes, etc. Today, we take those things for granted, but we cannot imagine what our global economy would look like without the Dollar as a common currency or English as a common language, even if they have not been explicitly chosen as such by all countries.


We often tend to gloss over the details of the Foundation and its governing body, but those details make OpenStack an industry movement.  This movement has brought large companies, like Red Hat, HP, IBM, Rackspace and many others, to collaborate and contribute to a common project as noted in this report. The steadily growing number of individual developers year after year is another strong indication of the real movement that this project has created.


Thinking Beyond Amazon AWS

OpenStack essentially started as the open source alternative to Amazon AWS. Many of the sub-projects often began as Amazon equivalents. Today, we are starting to see projects with a new level of innovation that do not have any AWS equivalent. The most notable ones, IMHO, are the Neutron (network) and BareMetal projects. Both have huge potential to disrupt how we think about cloud infrastructure.


Only on OpenStack

We often tend to compare OpenStack with other clouds on a feature-to-feature basis.


The open source and community adoption nature of OpenStack enables us to do things that are unique to OpenStack and cannot be matched by other clouds, like:

  • Run the same infrastructure on private and public clouds.
  • Work with multiple cloud providers; have more than one OpenStack-compatible cloud provider with which to work.
  • Plug in different HW as cloud platforms for private clouds from different vendors, such as HP, IBM, Dell, Cisco, or use pre-packaged OpenStack distributions, such as the one from Ubuntu, Red Hat, Piston etc.
  • Choose your infrastructure of choice for storage, network etc, assuming that many of the devices come with OpenStack-supported plug-ins.


All this can be done only on OpenStack; not because it is open source, but because the level of OpenStack adoption has made it the de-facto industry standard.


Re-think the Cloud Layers

When the cloud first came into the world, it was common to look at the stack from a three-layer approach: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.


Typically, when we designed each of the layers, we looked at the other layers as *black-boxes* and often had to create parallel stacks within each layer to manage security, metering, or high availability.


Since OpenStack is an open source infrastructure, we can break the wall between those layers and re-think where we draw the line. When we design our PaaS on OpenStack, there is no reason why we wouldn’t reuse the same security, metering, messaging and provisioning that is used to manage our infrastructure. The result is a much thinner and potentially more efficient foundation across all the layers that is easier to maintain. The new Heat project and Ceilometer in OpenStack are already starting to take steps in this direction and are, therefore, becoming some of the most active projects in the upcoming Havana release of OpenStack.


Looking Into the Future

Personally, I think that the world with OpenStack is healthier and brighter for the entire industry, than a world in which we are dependent on one or two major cloud providers, regardless of how good of a job they may or may not do. There are still many challenges ahead in turning all this into a reality and we are still at the beginning. The good news, though, is that there is a lot of room for contribution and, as I’ve witnessed myself, everyone can help shape this new world that we are creating.


OpenStack Birthday Events

To mark OpenStack’s 3rd Birthday, there will be a variety of birthday celebrations taking place around the world. At the upcoming OSCON event in Portland from July 22-26, OpenStack will host their official birthday party on July 24th. There will also be a celebration in Israel on the 21st, marking the occasion in Tel Aviv.


For more information about the Foundation’s birthday celebrations, visit their website at


Patents and Open Source: Having Your Cake and Eating It, Too

Contrary to popular belief, protecting your business through patents is not necessarily at odds with an open-source approach.

The two can be combined with successful results. One dynamic start-up working in machine translation software filed a patent in its early days—but the inventor still refined the technology via an open source platform, helping to turn the technology into an industry standard.

Patents have many uses. They are more than a barrier to keep rivals out. They can be the basis for fruitful collaboration or vital commercial intelligence.  They can also help you build brand value. Patents are an asset but also a tool. For small companies and start-ups, patents may convince wary investors in the cautious money markets. The IP in any innovative project, and how it is managed, can be the dealmaker: in the early stages of a new venture, it might be the only thing that can secure finance.


Take the example of German computer scientist Philipp Koehn, who together with his professors at the University of Southern California, developed and patented a new model for statistical machine translation.


Translation by computers had been around for a long time but, until Koehn came along, machine translation had not come close to reaching its full potential. Koehn and his team came up with a phrase-based model (translating words in their context, rather than one word at a time), which was a cut above the old sluggish word-based systems. Their new technique found the best statistical match for words based on how often they appeared in pairs of existing translations. The results were astounding. Today most of the big names in Internet translation have integrated this technology. For their invention, Koehn’s team was nominated for the European Inventor Award 2013.


By patenting their technology, Koehn and his team could secure crucial financing (from both venture capitalists and public research programmes), and after seven years their company, Language Weaver, was bought by SDL for $42.5 million. But Koehn later opted for an open source approach, convinced that it could lead to broader research, development, and usage. At the University of Edinburgh, he started an open-source platform called Moses, which he still runs today. A community of enthusiastic researchers around the world can directly access and contribute to the software, effectively crowd-sourcing improvements.


The economic benefits are two-fold: Firstly, many companies have already integrated the free open source technology into their organisations, creating a big user- and client-base. Secondly, a multitude of new software companies have been founded, expected to turn phrase-based statistical machine translation and related services into a several billion-dollar market in the coming years.


Koehn understood that there is a huge world market for ‘imperfect’ translations that allow people who need a quick translation to get the gist of what is being said. Today Moses is used by big companies for document and website localisation, so customers all over the world can read their instruction manuals or properly install a computer programme.

Patents on software?

This example shows that the traditional proprietary patent model is not incompatible with open source. But it also debunks another myth, mainly about so-called “software patents.” It is true that the lines of code in a programme are protected only by copyright (like the lines of text in a story), but not by patents. However, a great many inventions we know today, like GPS, wi-fi, Bluetooth and mobile phones all rely on software. If they are new and inventive or solve a technical problem (“How can I use satellites to guide me to my destination?”) they can be patented.


Such patenting is possible when the product or process of the invention offers more than mere lines of software. The resulting patent protects the invention regardless of the particular lines of code or computing language used in the underlying software. Koehn’s phrase-based model of statistical machine-based translation is one of these “computer-implemented inventions.”


Of course, the value of non-patentable inventions cannot be denied. Much of the service industry sector, and the creative industries, have little use for patents, despite innovating to a very high degree. After all, only a minority of businesses are innovating in sectors where patent ownership is relevant. Even so, there are many other ways in which the patent system can be used to create commercial advantages.



Open Source: The Thinking Man's Venture Capital?

Can you make money while giving away a significant part of your company’s intellectual property?

Well, there is Red Hat with its much vaunted billion dollar turnover, and yet many entrepreneurs are still reticent to liberate their own grand plans as an open source product or project.


You could dabble in venture capital funding, by contrast, which involves giving away significant parts of your company. Many see this loss as a fair trade-off since it finances more rapid growth and gives access to a powerful network of contacts and potential customers. But a successful open source ecosystem can deliver many of the same benefits.


Open source and venture backing can both be used to fuel more rapid expansion, and they should certainly not be viewed as mutually exclusive. Open source is no longer the preserve of a handful of intrepid VC fund managers and equity partners.


However, the overlap of many benefits in VC funding and open source development provokes questions.  Do companies using open source development need VC funding? Can open source development be used to supplement external investment? Could open source even be used as a full alternative?


The benefits of a significant capital injection will depend on the company and on the stage of investment. However, nearly all of the most common reasons for seeking VC investment are already covered by building a healthy open source community around your product.


Looking at early stage investment, recipients of external VC funding will typically focus on using the money for speeding the pace of internal product development. By licensing its software liberally and working to build a community, a company built around a popular open source product or project can harness far greater external development resources. Admittedly, with a more open project, the company will have far less control over the direction of these external development resources. However, this simply demands a new skill set: partner and community management becomes a key executive function .


In later stage investment, recipients of VC funding will be more likely to “burn” cash on heavy investments in sales and marketing. Aggressive VCs may even use intensive marketing as a way to get the target addicted to a high burn rate, forcing them into coming back for further investment rounds on far less favorable terms.


An effective open source business model also offers massive benefits for sales and marketing. Strong open source software that answers a genuine business need can very rapidly go viral and distribute itself. It’s common for companies built around open source software to find themselves running to catch up with their software as it goes global.


The more hands-on angel investor might be able to deliver massive value to companies by effecting high-level introductions and opening doors into larger customers, but open source offers a parallel value. “Word-of-message-board” marketing within the developer community can also provide a route into enterprise customers, where bottom-up decision making on IT tools and platforms is becoming an increasingly potent force.


Open source also offers less obvious marketing benefits to the shrewd practitioner. Many companies focused on internal development have to invest heavily into market research and insight from industry analysts. The level of risk involved in conducting the majority of your software design and development behind closed doors is immense. Even with beta testing on friendly customers, the cloth is cut before customers even get to tell you their sizing and what kind of suit they want. You can add a few nips and tucks, but if you make a serious fashion faux pas, the results can be terminal.


With open and community development, customers and partners are involved at the earliest stages of the design and decision making process. Much of the investment in strategic marketing, to provide direction for product development, is rendered unnecessary.


In open source, you can rest assured that if partners and users have problems with the direction you are taking, they will tell you. A company working at the core of an open source community must still provide the lead on vision and direction, as this is the main driver of community building and commercial open source success. However, the level of input and direct contact with the customer removes an enormous element of risk from new product development.


Another major issue for any company looking to expand through external financing is in managing recruitment. Anyone who has ever been involved in growing a business will be all too familiar with how quickly a small, highly productive team can be destroyed and made less productive through bad recruitment choices.


In highly specialized areas of technology and software development, the shortcomings of traditional recruitment companies and processes become painfully obvious. There is the direct cost of recruiting the wrong person for the job in the high-pressure environment of a rapidly expanding company.  The wrong person can also have a “time-sponge” effect on management and colleagues, which can be disastrous.


By contrast, popular open source projects will attract highly skilled developers. External developers who are capable of making it in the harsh meritocracy of an open project must demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and mettle. In addition, many ambitious developers now see contributing to popular or up-and-coming projects as the most effective route into new, exciting, and lucrative positions.


Corporations such as Google, Netflix, Facebook, Sony, Pixar and many others are now releasing a significant amount of open source infrastructure software, purely to act as a magnet to skilled developers they can recruit. Open source can and is being used in the same way by enterprising start-ups.


However, open source is no magic bullet. Just as venture capitalists will only invest in a strong business, you can only build a strong open source community around the most attractive product or project, and competition for developer time is getting ever more fierce.


Despite the polar arguments around open source, it is also far from being a single model for business or development. The 69 software licenses approved by the OSI as “Open Source” differ tremendously, and each has multiple different business models that have been tried around it. Compare Red Hat, Cloudera, Google, and SugarCRM, and the differences between their business models are often greater than their differences with many proprietary software companies.


Even though there is increasing crossover in the form of VC-backed OSS businesses, venture capital and open source development can also be suited to different businesses. The time-investment required to build an open source community may not be suited to an ultra-high-growth business with explosive potential.  Such a business has a significant early-mover advantage and a limited window of opportunity.
OSS is more typically suited to a longer-term business, focused on organic growth. In the short term, OSS can act as a catalyst to rapid international growth. However, the benefits of a community take far longer to realize and are not a quick hit, suited to someone eyeing an early exit-strategy.