Monday, January 09, 2006

The blogosphere has started picking up some of the hassles between Kowari and NGC, so I figured that it's my turn to comment.

Last year, NGC asked for a 1.2 release to be pushed back to the 9th of January. Being an Open Source project, NGC could not force this postponement, even though they now own the copyright for the core of the code, and have initial contributor status (as defined in the MPL). But Open Source is new for NGC, and we wanted to support them supporting us, so we accepted the delay.

Then last week an NGC lawyer asked David to push it back further, citing "irreparable harm" to their company if the release proceeded as scheduled. To me, this speaks of a misunderstanding of the entire Open Source development process. The code and documentation is already out there for anyone to see. Just do a cvs update on Sourceforge. A "release" in this context simply means a marker on the code to indicate a certain level of features and stability. (We did a little more as developers, due to the code freeze, testing, and so on, but that doesn't influence users directly).

With NGC giving inappropriate directives to David, and given the work he has done with them, he decided that his best course of action is to leave the Kowari project.

While I don't think that NGC are acting to squash the Kowari project, they have put some serious blocks in the path of administering it. This has stemmed from them not understanding Open Source development, nor the MPL licence that Kowari has been released under. This is understandable, given their corporate/defence background, but it is still frustrating.

Since NGC are not aware of how an Open Source project works, it is conceivable that they would try to interfere with users' ability to continue to use and extend Kowari. Fortunately, the MPL offers protection for everyone here. Any challenges to a user's rights under this licence would necessitate a number of large corporations coming to the defence of the MPL, among them would be AOL and IBM.

Similarly, the MPL protects developers. We still have copyright on personal contributions (which excludes those contributions made while working for the Initial Developer). Those bits can be used elsewhere. There are also rights to do other things like "forking" the project. Personally, I'd rather not do anything like that, as it means abandoning the reputation that Kowari has built up over time, and antagonising NGC in the process.

The situation is annoying for developers (and untenable for David), but it shouldn't mean big problems for users. Kowari, or something like it, should continue. In the worst case, a snapshot of the currently accessible source (January 10, 2006) will always be usable by the community.

I haven't done any Kowari work in the last month, and probably won't do much until I get to Chicago next month. After that, I plan on continuing developing for Kowari, or a project like it.


Yann said...

After that, I plan on continuing developing for Kowari, or a project like it.

Any news on this?

I developed semantic media catalogue application using Kowari as a back end about two years ago now. I finally have the time and the inclincation to continue working on it, only to find Kowari dead in the water. Where do you suggest I look for my RDF database / SOAP interface needs? Sesame looks promising but lacks that soapy goodness. Any suggestions/news?


Quoll said...

Yes, I have news. We forked into Mulgara. We also got a letter from NGC saying that everything was OK, and they hadn't meant to slow us down. Mulgara is certainly not dead, as Brian, David, and I have all been spending way too much time on it instead of with our respective families!

Some users would like us to merge back with the Kowari project, rather than leaving it dead, but at this stage we don't plan on doing so.