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Cloud Open Source Google

Is Open Source Innovation Now All About Vendor On-Ramps? (infoworld.com) 58

InfoWorld published an interesting essay from Matt Asay, former COO at Canonical (and an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative), about innovation from the big public cloud vendors, which "even when open-sourced, doesn't really help the community at large... All this innovation is available to buy; none of it is available to build. Not for mere mortals, anyway." Google in particular has figured out how to both open-source code in a useful way and make it pay. As Server Density CEO David Mytton has underlined, Google hopes to "standardize machine learning on a single framework and API," namely TensorFlow, then supplement it "with a service that can [manage] it all for you more efficiently and with less operational overhead," namely Google Cloud. By open-sourcing TensorFlow and backing it with machine-learning-heavy Google Cloud, Google has open-sourced a great on-ramp to future revenue.

My question: why not do this with the rest of its code? The simple answer is "Because it's a lot of work." That is, Google could open-source everything tomorrow without any damage to its revenue, but the code itself would provide other providers and enterprises only limited ability to increase their revenue unless Google did all the necessary prep work to make it useful to mere mortals not running superhuman Google infrastructure. This is the trick that AWS, Microsoft, and Google are all racing to figure out today. Not open source, per se, because that's the easy table stakes. No, the AWS/Microsoft Azure/Google Cloud trio are figuring out how to turn their innovations into open source on-ramps to their proprietary services. Companies used to lock up their code to sell it. Today, it's the opposite: They need to open it up to make their ability to operate the code at scale more valuable. For them.

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Is Open Source Innovation Now All About Vendor On-Ramps?

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  • by z3alot ( 1999894 ) on Sunday December 03, 2017 @04:35AM (#55667147)
    The author offers the fact that Google open sources some of its software to profit off of the support it provides in a tone that suggests this is a problem. This is one of those everybody wins scenarios which Richard Stallman dreamed about when he invented the GPL. Can anyone explain to me what reason the author has to be upset other than "someone other than me is making money"?
    • I agree, the tone seems to be "oh no, open source creators are making some money, there must be a problem".
    • by dclydew ( 14163 ) <dclydew@gmail.com> on Sunday December 03, 2017 @05:13AM (#55667213)

      Exactly this!

      Free Software was envisioned to open the code, not deny businesses the chance to profit. Open Source TensorFlow and commercial Google Cloud space is a great example of how to do it. Sharing the code isn't primarily about being able to build a competing service, its not about "benefiting the community" (that's a nice side effect in many cases), at its core, its the simple argument that if I use your code, I should be able to look at the code and modify it if necessary.

      Besides, TensorFlow is a huge benefit to the community. I may not be able to pay for my own competing Google Cloud, but not every TensorFlow project requires Google Cloud. One can build extremely useful tools and services on a local cluster of physical or virtual machines. There are successful internal corporate projects being built in-house with TensorFlow. Companies are creating new products and services with TensorFlow (and no Cloud), any creative developer could easily build a working proof-of-concept without going to the cloud... they could even be inspired to create new code to improve TensorFlow.

      THAT is what Free Software is all about, Free as in Speech, not Free as in Beer

      • I would like to extend to this and add.
        Making software of completely requires a lot of man hours isn’t free even for volunteers base. Most successful open source projects require paid staff to work on it. Because a volunteer base will get tired writting the app at around the 80% completion mark. Where all the proof of concepts are done but now need the grudge work in perfecting it and cleaning bad code And making it ready for a alpha/beta release.

        • Making software of completely requires a lot of man hours isnâ(TM)t free even for volunteers base.

          Lost me there. Is it from Zero Wing?

      • In addition to this, even if you do need to scale Tensorflow beyond your local hardware, you still aren't bound to Google Cloud. Because after all, it's open source. That means any cloud provider is free to support it.

        Contrast that with Amazon Lumberyard, which is a closed source on ramp. It's free (as in beer) to use, but if you want to use any cloud features, you're required to get them from Amazon. You're legally barred from using it with any other cloud provider. That's the sort of on ramp we shoul

      • by bug1 ( 96678 )

        Free Software was created to disrupt corporate greed that lead to software becoming locked up and secret.

        Free software is being used to make business more efficient, but that doesnt change the original problem that lead to closed source in the first place, greed.

        Software isnt being used to lock people out anymore, the information it processes is, nothing changes for the 99%

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Any title that's a question, or uses "may", "could", "will", etc, is just a puff piece or PR. Best to ignore them altogether.

    • Yeah, the reality is that the ability to profit is a great strength of open-source code. It gives companies an incentive to invest in it. The fact that it's open source makes it so the rest of us can benefit from that investment.
    • It's the old shareware nagware story. Give away a moderately crippled "community version" of your software hoping you'll get someone to pay your exorbitant subscription fees. Smoke and mirrors is still smoke and mirrors.
  • by mrwireless ( 1056688 ) on Sunday December 03, 2017 @05:11AM (#55667207)
    Open Source software has always been used in myriad ways, and continues to be.

    So the real question is "is there a profound shift in balance that we need to discuss".

    I don't know.

    What I do know is that the phrasing "now all about" is vague and tendentious. Perhaps someone can point to some recent research on the subject?
    • by dclydew ( 14163 ) <dclydew@gmail.com> on Sunday December 03, 2017 @05:26AM (#55667227)

      It's fear-mongering. We should be applauding every time any commercial company open sources something. FFS, I remember when it was an serious philosophical fight to even mention open source in a business for use, let alone broaching the idea of open sourcing any intellectual property. We should be dancing in the street that Microsoft, Google, Amazon etc. are opening up their code. At the same time, open source solutions like Elasticsearch, Hadoop, etc.are doing for "No SQL and Big Data open source" what Apache did for "web server open source", or mysql did for 'rdbms open source'. Or what Docker is doing for "Microservice open source"

      The world is consuming open source at a scale we didn't expect at the turn of the century. Hell, if nothing else, it has proven that ESR's "Cathedral and Bazaar" was far more prophetic than anyone imagined.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Sunday December 03, 2017 @06:50AM (#55667353)

      The shift is due to its sucess.
      Early open source apps were small tools that scratch an itch. A better text editor, a compiler. A port of a well speced out application.
      These things were made by people who had enough time and the development process was simple enough to not care about charging for their work. It was a fun hobby.
      Then open source caught on and now we want more complex apps open source. This is good but it needs to get funded somehow.
      I would love to write programs for all to enjoy without having to break their bank. But I also want to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle.

      • by Junta ( 36770 )

        I would say that companies have been more agressive about recruiting folks who show a willingness to do open source, as they know if they don't assert control over it, it will ruin the business.

        The open source software in the lates 90s/early 2000s were every bit as complex as most commercial endeavors, which is why they succeeded. Modern software isn't any more fundamentally more difficult to pull off in open source than it used to be, but prominent open source developers are far more quickly employed at f

    • If you don't know why you're even considering FUD, you can safely just throw it away. If it was real it will end up being converted into an actual defined problem.

  • ... as good software is simple enough to be written by a single person in their spare time. If your software projects require more and more people to join, just to keep up with fixing the bugs, you're doing something wrong.

    This is the reasons why most Free Software operating systems are unixoid. The guidelines of the UNIX Philosophy allow you to get most "bang for the buck", so you can reach the most with the least effort.

    So you have people building things like Pulseaudio or Wayland, which attempt to solve

    • by Pizza ( 87623 )

      So you have people building things like Pulseaudio or Wayland, which attempt to solve simple problems in a hard way, instead of, for example, extending the terminal standard to be able to make GUIs and audio. That way you could have remote audio and GUI without modifying ssh.

      Do you have any idea what the combination of words "extending the terminal standard to make GUIs and audio" actually means? Are you having problems getting your visual basic IP address-tracking GUI to work?

      • I guessed that he wanted to do some crazy extension of terminal escape sequences so that theoretically they can be used to draw graphical elements in the terminal. I really have no idea why he thinks this would be simple.

        • by Junta ( 36770 )

          Of course, that exists (Sixel) and could be improved upon (more efficient format, some way to make binary data ok so that you don't lose 25% of bandwidth to base64). Also, mouse support is also there (though it usually annoys me more than it helps me). So the things one could logically imagine are there, albeit in crappy form, and could be extended to be more sane...

          However, even if these *were* ubiquitous, then you have the problem of multiple windows, focus, input grabbing, not allowing input grabbing,

    • Like an operating system kernel, or a web server or a cryptography library?

    • by Junta ( 36770 )

      extending the terminal standard to be able to make GUIs and audio.That way you could have remote audio and GUI without modifying ssh

      In both the cases of Wayland and Pulseaudio, the ability to have remote is a secondary concern. Pulseaudio is about having an architecture for having multiple sound sources intelligently mixed together. There were a few, but ultimately pulseaudio won out. Prior to those solutions, only one application could have audio at a time. In other mixer solutions, you could not adjust application audio independently. The fact that pulseaudio transport could be over IP was a very secondary target. Now it had a v

      • The problem with PulseAudio was that the distros included it early, to do the debugging in the wild, and so people using it the first few years suffered a lot. And now that it has been solid and stable for a long, long time, the neckbeards remember having a bug they didn't know how to fix, and feeling frustrated and stupid because they couldn't make their computer work, and so they'll never forgive Frodo for stealing the Precious!

        It is sad, really. They were born simple and thrown into a very complex world,

    • Your first sentence makes it clear that everything you have to say is nonsense spouted by a clueless noob. Stick around kid. You have not just lots, but everything, to learn.
      • by Junta ( 36770 )

        Well, there is at least a kernel of something in that first sentence... Small teams can be often far more effective than a large team. Trying to overcome limitations through quantity of developers won't win the day.

        Take an arbitrary well established and known project with 'thousands' of contributors. They will almost all have about six to twelve people carrying the project, and a thousand trivial commits for little things, mainly for resume boosting.

        • In the 1980s a single person could be solely responsible for the development of a great product. Those times are well behind us. The best developers are orders of magnitude better than the worst, and are few and far between. But the number of software projects that can be successful as sole console cowboy efforts is minimal in 2017. There is nothing in the claim made in the OPs post that has any kernel of truth in it.
    • We have that, it is called a framebuffer. It is used to print the little Tux graphic on the terminal during boot. It was also used for GUI features in the early to mid 90s when there were still computers being manufactured that were too wimpy to run a full GUI with a desktop.

      Also, the terminal standard does have audio; it has the system bell. And you can modulate the frequency to create different tones. This was also done on computers such as the Apple ][. Didn't you ever play Moon Patrol?!?

  • All this innovation is available to buy; none of it is available to build. Not for mere mortals, anyway.

    I kind of wish people would just stop talking about "innovation". First, because it's not clear what it means. Second, because most people probably don't really need innovation. Things certainly don't need constant innovation.

    Most people and businesses don't need an innovating OS, they need a reliable OS that will run all of their applications. They don't need an innovative office suite, they need one that allows them to edit their office documents easily and efficiently. They don't need an innovative

    • I kind of wish people would just stop talking about "innovation". First, because it's not clear what it means. Second, because most people probably don't really need innovation. Things certainly don't need constant innovation.

      Words of easy virtue soon acquire a reputation.

      There was a ten year period where it was rare to see any member of the Microsoft C-suite quoted without the word "innovation" appearing in there somewhere. Failing to use the word probably earned a journalist a harsh call, and restricted

      • If Microsoft wasn't innovating, just how were they consistently earning unusually large profits, even within their own sector?

        Maybe it was down to the fact that "innovative" and "profitable" aren't synonyms?

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday December 03, 2017 @08:06AM (#55667487) Homepage

    As an old saying goes, there's no such thing as a free lunch. If a business is giving you something, it's as a hook to make money. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing but it's pretty obvious why AMD makes drivers primarily for AMD cards. Sometimes it's just auxiliary like they're giving you developer tools to build applications for their platform. Whether it's open source or closed source doesn't really change that. Is this a bad thing? Well, you should be aware that like everyone they have their motivations and their incentives may be contrary to yours.

    Like most recently I was looking at an open source client-server solution, where their server is a central cloud service. The client had like really easy paint-by-numbers steps to build and run. The server had almost zero information, a dummy config file with no comments and gives nearly zero useful feedback. It doesn't even build out of the box due to checks and tests that depend on missing settings and keys. The curt replies from the company are basically "we don't have time to support other people trying to run the server". That might be true, but they don't have any incentive to make it easy either.

    But I suppose that's mostly fair, it's no different than when individual open source developers don't want the changes I'd like to make. What is unfair is that they might come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid accepting your contribution, without disclosing their true reason for rejecting it. There's a lot of power in simply stonewalling you and saying we don't care if you want that even if you got a patch ready to go, make your own fork. Then again there's many people with bad ideas and bad code, refusing to accept it might totally be the right choice. The question is just whether you're doing it in good faith or not.

  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Sunday December 03, 2017 @08:52AM (#55667617)

    The simple answer is "Because it's a lot of work."

    No, it's because this is by design. They open source enough to improve image and maybe help get started, but keep closed anything that they think is fundamental to their strategy. This is not just google. Among the known cloud vendors, not *one* open sources any of their backend software. They all have something home grown. They have plenty of open source libraries to act as a client to their back end software, but software that is useless for interoperabilty between vendors or building your competing system. They also enjoy posting articles that *claim* to tell you how they do things, but proceed to omit any actionable details and lay on the buzzwords thick instead. Those articles are crafted to make it sound *really* hard and that they are so clever, but without actually reveling their hand or helping anyone in the slightest. They seem designed to make people feel intimated at the prospect of managing their own infrastructure by making the task seem far more exotic and arcane than it is.

    It's not just cloud vendors. There are many electronic devices with open source libraries, but they only work with the respective closed firmware implementations.

    I'd say broadly a transformation in standards and open source has happened in the last 15 years or so. In the late 90s you had this overwhelming emergence of standardization and openness in the industry. AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy et al gave way to the federated internet, IETF had a great body of standards and looking at the authors of the standards, they almost always including 'customers' alongside vendors. Linux began overwhelming the Unix market, and this inspired a lot of exploration of open source software. Over the past 15 years, people are locking away a lot of their infrastructure in distinct proprietary cloud providers. The web is more and more about helping people access the social network of the day, none of which are the least bit federated (discarding net neutrality will further reinforce this). You look at 'standards' and the authors are pretty much *always* on the vendor side now, and strangely these 'standards' don't facilitate interoperabilty, but give the vendors a way to claim they are using an industry standard without actually doing anything that would help in the way a standard should.

    In short, standards, open source, and the internet all blindsided the vendors when it first took hold of the industry. Over time, the vendors have mastered the art of manipulating those things to their benefit, to let people *feel* like they are continuing the great open revolution, all while the gardens are being walled and the customers are getting locked into their vendors by using the newest 'standard' to interact with product.

  • When you look at everything Google has done with Chrome browser, Android, Chrome OS, and its core OS in corporate built off of Ubuntu. Google has most certainly used Linux to further its own branding of products, but Google also is a big company that gives back too. I know some in open source who feel jilted by what Google has done with open source. The open source purists who cannot stand any relations with big companies. But clearly Linux and open source has benefited from these relationships even with Mi

  • TensorFlow is open source because it helps everyone involved. I use it and I probably will never use Google or Amazon Cloud, I use a small cluster with GPU's because I can't transport 200TB of data to the "cloud" fast or cost efficient enough.

    The cloud is great for testing stuff out and running one-off jobs, but if it is your day-to-day work, the cloud doesn't scale because the pipes don't scale along with the data centers.

    Companies open source the products because it helps them, which is good, and it may p

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