Archive for March 31st, 2009

Random thoughts: TomTom, Alfresco

Just a quick note on two relevant events in this beginning of week, first the TomTom settlement and the change in strategy of Alfresco (moving to an “open core” strategy).

As for TomTom: I am sorry for all the people that believed that the Dutch company could have been turned into a white knight of Linux, but it was clear from the start that the counter-suing was designed to create a level field for negotiation. There could be no CEO that would have fought the patent fight, understanding that in the eventuality of losing the amount of damages and remedial actions would have, effectively, killed the company. And you don’t know in advance what your chances are, and this is really one of the most dangerous aspects of patents. As for those that claimed that the FAT32 specification was effectively public, the reality is that courts rejected the patents on the original FAT implementation, but not its extensions; and that the “free to use” specification of FAT32 released by Microsoft are limited to the following areas:

(e) Each of the license and the covenant not to sue described above shall not extend to your use of any portion of the Specification for any purpose other than (a) to create portions of an operating system (i) only as necessary to adapt such operating system so that it can directly interact with a firmware implementation of the Extensible Firmware Initiative Specification v. 1.0 (“EFI Specification”); (ii) only as necessary to emulate an implementation of the EFI Specification; and (b) to create firmware, applications, utilities and/or drivers that will be used and/or licensed for only the following purposes: (i) to install, repair and maintain hardware, firmware and portions of operating system software which are utilized in the boot process; (ii) to provide to an operating system runtime services that are specified in the EFI Specification; (iii) to diagnose and correct failures in the hardware, firmware or operating system software; (iv) to query for identification of a computer system (whether by serial numbers, asset tags, user or otherwise); (v) to perform inventory of a computer system; and (vi) to manufacture, install and setup any hardware, firmware or operating system software.”

So, hardly useable for anything within Linux. At the moment, probably the safest choice would be for embedded vendors to remove the FAT32-specific portions from the code, and use only the traditional 8.3 FAT allocation, eventually extending the use of filesystem-in-file strategy commonly used in games (like ID software’s PAKs).

As for Alfresco: first of all, I wish all the best for Alfresco and their product. It is always one of my favourite examples of successful commercial OSS system, and so I am happy to see that they are getting substantial increases in their turnover (including a nearly doubling of revenue year-over-year). On the other hand I understand perfectly the frustration that “some of the biggest enterprises in the world (and I mean Fortune 50 and even Fortune 10) are only using the open source version of the product”. It seems to me that the choice of what features should be available to enterprise customers vs. open source ones is a good initial choice, and I hope them every possible success. However, I am perplexed: if the OSS Alfresco is doing so well (doubling revenues!) is there really a need for a change in approach? And, given that RedHat is doing quite well, even with CentOS being used in many large scale companies, is it really necessary?

If the need to increase adoption was effectively so strong, I would probably have adopted a timed release for the bug fixes (effectively introducing a RHEL/Fedora like split), and spun off the plugins for connecting to the proprietary systems as a completely different offering; this way, the distinction between what is enterprise and what is open source would be clearer. Anyway: good luck, Alfresco! And continue to be my hero :-)

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