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2017.05.31

Open Collaboration at Eclipse

The International Conference on Software Engineering is the premier research conference on the topic. This year it began with a keynote address by the Eclipse Foundation Executive Director, Mike Milinkovich, on Open Collaboration: The Eclipse Way.

Mike started the keynote with a dramatic example. He asked all of us who use Eclipse in real projects to stand up. Hundreds of attendees raised from their seats. He then asked those who contributed a bug report, then code, and then commits to remain standing. Shockingly, fewer than a handful remained up. Mike commented that never has so much been owed to so few.

Mike continued on the theme that software is eating the world by describing how software matters to industry. Here are two examples he offered from the aviation industry. The Airbus A-300 plane, which is still flying, has 23 thousand lines of aviation code, while A-380 108 million lines. The Boeing 787 was delayed for more than a year, because the brake system supplier hadn't followed the appropriate software development process and this required extensive rework. Frighteningly, from design to an airplane's demise, its software code has to be maintained for a period lasting more than seventy years. As Mike put it, the software you're writing today may have to be maintained by your grand-grand-daughter.

The CEO of GE, Jeff Immelt, has said that every industrial company will become a software company. Mike rephrased this by claiming that every software company will become an open source company.

Mike proceeded to describe an open source maturity model for companies that adopt open source and three properties on which open source software is based.

  • Transparency: all elements of of the development process should be visible, not just the source code.
  • Openness: all qualified people should be welcomed to participate in a level playing field.
  • Meritocracy: members demonstrating their competence should be able to contribute

In business terms open source saves costs, decreases time to market, and improves quality. It also enables collaboration through the consistent simple sharing of intellectual property, which reduces friction and increases trust. Finally, open source allows the rapid interoperability and dissemination of innovation at great scale. In large software systems standards are not enough to achieve interoperability: open source software implementations are key here. An interesting example is the choice of web API protocols where REST has five times higher adoption than SOAP, because it offers more developer choice. The same goes for the MQTT publish subscribe protcol.

Controversially, Mike argued that there is no money to be made directly by licensing software, because its price has been decreasing dramatically for decades. Instead, income is to be obtained from secondary businesses, such as offering software enabled services. The Eclipse foundation owes its success on focusing on five elements: governance, infrastructure, IP management and licensing, projects and processes, and, finally, ecosystem development (marketing).

Mike finished his keynote by describing issues associated with research. A lot of taxpayer money going into research is wasted due to the lack of dissemination and commercialization. Another problem is excessive reinvention over learning and experimentation with existing solutions. He stressed that future is being built by using open source software where the community is the capacity and invited all of us to join open source communities.

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