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Leading items and editorials

Pulling back from open source to intellectual property.  The DMCA has stirred panic among some of our readers. While that bit of legislative muck isn't something to sneeze at, it isn't the cause of all changes to the open source world. This past week saw three different - and unrelated - events get attributed by some to the DMCA. In truth, none had anything to do with this.

Last week, Broadcast 2000 was pulled from circulation. This application is one of the few open source projects designed for digital video editing. The tool has been used in Hollywood, so we've been told, though its popularity is probably limited to a more artistic user base. It is, essentially, a Linux version of Apple's iMovie package delivered on their new Macs - but not quite as evolved. In addition to its video functionality, Broadcast 2000 has one of the best audio editors currently available under Linux.

In his announcement to pull the package, the developer of Broadcast 2000 cited liability issues associated with the package being used in real world environments, i.e. the movie industry. A number of readers suggested those liabilities were related to the DMCA. See last week's LWN development page for more information on the announcement.

LWN.net wasn't able to contact the author, but we perused the discussion forum set up for the project at SourceForge. According to the author, Broadcast 2000 reached maintenance phase late in 2000 when the developer opened a Sourceforge site for Heroine Virtual. One note from Heroine (the developer) says that FTP servers were being pulled from under him too fast to keep up. But another complained about problems writing code for free while engineers were being laid off in Silicon Valley. In fact, many of his messages seem to reflect a disappointment in both employment, and the lessening use of PCs by users as a whole. In reality, he appears to be dropping Broadcast 2000 for Cinelerra, which is supposed to be the next generation of the program, but which also is expected to be a commercial package where source would always be available, but packaged solutions would be sold. He is, it appears, trying to deal with the issue that large scale open source projects require funding of some kind in order to pay for the developer's time - in this case his own. Like many open source developers, he seems to have realized that you can't develop complex software on your own time. Someone still needs to foot the bill for rent and food.

The Enhydra project appeared to be having similar difficulties. The company which started the original Enhydra project, Lutris, was in the process of building an extended system known as Enterprise Enhydra, which was built around Sun's J2EE API specification. Now they only provide a commercial implementation and have dropped support for the open source option. What happened here is a case of trying to do right, but having to do what is required.

Lutris, whose name comes from the scientific name for the California Sea Otter - Enhydra Lutris, started as a consulting company in late 1995 building custom Web applications for companies such as FedEx and Kinkos. As part of their consulting services they developed a toolkit written in Java. In 1999 they created Enhydra.org and contributed the Enhydra Java XML sever as an open source project. The response to that system was greater than they expected - with commercial alternatives running as much as $30,000 to $40,000 per CPU, other consultants who needed to build sites found they could use Enhydra as a more cost effective solution. Some companies built global environments on Enhydra, but like other open source contributors, Lutris gets no revenue from those products.

And there are many other open source projects on Enhydra.org, such as EnhydraME for microedition J2ME servers, Zeus for creating Java bindings to XML documents, and Barracuda which adds a Motif like interface for Web pages. But Enhydra Enterprise is something more. While Enhydra is really just a Java servelet runner with additional features for building a full blown application, Enhydra Enterprise is the same system with support included for the Sun J2EE specification. This association with J2EE is where things got complex.

J2EE is a set of API standards for building web applications in Java. Enhydra negotiated with Sun for rights to support J2EE, which is covered under SCSL, the Sun Community Source License, in their open source projects. According to David Young, Founder and current Linux Evangelist as Lutris, the SCSL license protects the J2EE API by preventing companies from changing it while keeping it available for general research.

"We had been working with Sun for a year and half, inviting them to work a deal to create an open source clause in SCSL. But that didn't happen." When Lutris got to the point of releasing a commercial version of the J2EE support they realized they had to drop support for Enterprise Enhydra because it was in violation of SCSL. Young adds, "Sun has the right to do what they want with that license and companies like IBM and BEA are paying big bucks to be a SCSL signee - and we will too because we want to sell a commercial version of the J2EE platform. Sun has said publicly that SCSL is incompatible with open source. That's just the way it stands today." And customers were asking for that J2EE support. Lutris simply couldn't ignore those customer requirements.

But Young adds that while Enterprise Enhydra is no more, the rest of the open source projects are still going strong. "Zeus, Barracuda, and the rest of Enhydra.org, including the original Enhydra lightweight applet server runner is still there. Only Enterprise Enhydra has been withdrawn." This has been the confusion he's encountered since the announcement. Some folks have thought that the entire site and associated projects were gone, and that just wasn't true.

The last event that spurred concern from our readers was a note that Collabnet was pulling some of the Tigris code back into intellectual property. We attempted to set up a conversation with Brian Behlendorf, the Founder and CTO of Collabnet, but events last week distracted both ends and we were unable to interview him in time for this week's publication. In any event, the pullback appears to be based on the same needs at Lutris - to make sure that they maintain a guaranteed form of revenue generation while trying to keep in touch with open source ideals. That may be a fine line to walk, but it can be done.

DRI team released by VA Linux.  The members of the DRI team, including Brian Paul who authored the OpenGL-compliant library Mesa, have been laid off from VA Linux. While this won't stop development, it may slow it for a time while developers find their way into new employment. (Thanks to Guido Guenther.)

Like the pullback issue, readers felt concerned for the future of their open source favorites. One reader wrote us:

Since 3D acceleration is probably of crucial importance for the success of Linux on the desktop this is (IMHO) a serious issue (if we don't want to stick to the binary only nVidia drivers which is not really an option).

Well, this depends on your definition of success. Remember that Xi Graphics continues to sell low priced commercial 3D hardware accelerated servers. Are these open source? No. But they are available, and range from $29 to $179, depending on the card you use, for the downloadable driver. That said, since when is 3D acceleration crucial to the desktop? Which set of office tools absolutely relies on 3D rendering facilities? None, actually. Games usually do, but games are not as crucial to the desktop as basic word processors, spreadsheets, presentation graphics and email interoperability. Chances are good that support for 2D in the card you just purchased is available. You just might not have 3D support. For the majority of the world, that's just fine.

In any case, lack of jobs has never kept the XFree86 project from moving forward. It can slow it, but only long enough for developers like Brian Paul to find a new day job. Just as he points out in his note about the layoffs, Work will continue on XFree86 and DRI.

Inside this LWN.net weekly edition:

  • Security: Is U.S. Crypto in danger again? Mandrake Apache fix, Debian "most" advisory.
  • Kernel: Merging with VM and Preemptible kernels.
  • Distributions: aXon Linux preview 1.0; Linux Mandrake 8.1 RC 1.
  • On the Desktop: BRU rises again, KDE releases again, KOffice reviewed...again.
  • Development: GPL Licensing Turmoil, open source robots, quantum computing, OpenMCL 0.7, Python exceptions.
  • Commerce: Red Hat stock buy back; Red Hat financial results; Caldera consolidates.
  • History: Five years ago Troll Tech released Qt for X Windows; the rise and fall of UDI.
  • Letters: Call to action, copyright law ad nauseum, not so gloomy outlooks.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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September 20, 2001


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