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Feature: Open Source

Lutris CEO answers critics of decision to back away from Enhydra.org

By JT Smith on October 18, 2001 (8:00:00 AM)

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- By Grant Gross -
George C. Hawkins has a bone to pick with Lutris Technologies, the application server company that's been behind the Open Source Enhydra project until recently. Hawkins, who says he's just an interested observer, publicized his critique of Lutris' decision to back away from its support of the Enhydra.org project, with his Web site linked on Slashdot this past weekend.

In a nutshell, Hawkins says Lutris' decision to pull its support for the Enhydra.org project isn't the first time Lutris has backed away from a promised Open Source project. He says Lutris also promised to Open-Source their InstantDB project and failed to do so. Lutris executives disagree with Hawkins' interpretation of events, saying the Enhydra.org decision was made because they weren't able to agree with Sun Microsystems on an Open Source version of Sun's Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition.

Yancy Lind, Lutris' CEO, says in the interview below that the decision not to Open-Source InstantDB was a separate decision based on a change in business plans.

Says Hawkins, a contract software engineer: "My site is there to show that Lutris made a firm commitment to its user community to open-source InstantDB and that it was on that basis that many people incorporated InstantDB into their own commercial and non-commercial products -- it wasn't open source now but it would be soon. This was NOT a vague promise -- if you look at my site you'll see that the old InstantDB site repeats over and over again the aim of an open source release not as a sideline but as the central goal in Lutris's development of InstantDB. Lutris claimed from the start that they were just tidying up and readying the code in house for its first stable major release which would be an open source release -- in the meantime developers could work against binary distros released every so often."

Lind answers critic

Lutris' Lind agreed to an email interview about Hawkins' criticisms, but only if NewsForge would print his answers in full. Our questions and his answers are below, except for one question and answer that repeat information from an earlier answer.

NewsForge: You've probably seen the critique (at http://instantdb.tripod.com/) of Lutris' decision to back off from its support of the Open Source Enhyrdra project. How do you generally respond to that site?

Lind: Some clarification is in order. Enhydra is an extremely successful open source Java application server. After years of development and use by Lutris and our many customers, Enhydra was released as open source in January 1999. Enhydra was the very first application server provided as open source. There have been over 850,000 distributions of Enhydra to date and it continues to enjoy a large and active community. Lutris is proud of its heritage in open source and its on-going sponsorship of Enhydra and Enhydra.org.

Enhydra Enterprise was an honest attempt to replicate this success with a J2EE platform. We attempted for over a year to create a project that would be both open source and meet all licensing obligations. Faced with the choice of having licensed versus unlicensed product we chose licensed. Hindsight is golden and perhaps we should not have started Enhydra Enterprise, but we have operated with sincere intentions and do not regret our efforts.

NewsForge: That site refers to a JBoss project statement saying JBoss will continue its project, and your decision "seems clearly driven by its own business considerations and not by Sun." How would you answer that?

Lind: The J2EE specification is governed by the Sun Community Source License ("SCSL"). This license can be found at www.sun.com/software/communitysource/overview.html. This is a long and complicated document, but it contains two sections of particular note to the open source community.

Attachment D states:
Distribution of Source Code. Source Code of Compliant Covered Code may be distributed only to another Licensee of the same Technology.

Attachment C states:
2.1 Compatibility. All Covered Code must be Compliant Covered Code prior to any Internal Deployment Use or Commercial Use, whether originating with You or acquired from a third party. Successful compatibility testing must be completed in accordance with the TCK License. If You make any further Modifications to any Covered Code previously determined to be Compliant Covered Code, you must ensure that it continues to be Compliant Covered Code.

A little explanation is required. "Covered Code" is any code that implements the J2EE specification. "Compliant Covered Code" is code that has passed the J2EE certification tests (the TCK, or test compatibility kit). What these two clauses state is that source code may only be shared with other SCSL licensees, that J2EE code must be compliant to be deployed, and that if you ever make a change to the code it must be re-tested before being deployed. Note that you only obtain access to the TCK after you sign SCSL.

Clearly, this is not compatible with the notion of open source. Others in the open source community may choose to ignore the licensing restrictions around J2EE, that is their choice.

In order to meet the needs of our partners, customers, and selected fellow developers (who are SCSL licensees and therefore able to share code with us), as well as respect the desires of the authors of J2EE, we chose to abide by the license. Wishing to have a valid license to create and deploy J2EE product, Lutris had no choice but to cease hosting the Enhydra Enterprise open source project.

Lutris is now working on a "customer source" J2EE product called Lutris EAS. This product is covered by SCSL. Its source code will be made available to Lutris EAS customers under terms that adhere to SCSL. Developers will be able to use EAS source code to develop, debug, and deploy applications that run on the Lutris EAS platform. It's not open source, but has many of the advantages and is SCSL compliant.

Regardless of this particular decision, we at Lutris continue to be members of the open source community. We continue to support other open source projects at Enhydra.org such as Enhydra, EnhydraME, Zeus, Barracuda, XMLC, etc.

NewsForge: The author of that site says this isn't the first time Lutris has backed away from an Open Source project. What happened with InstantDB?

Lind: InstantDB was never an open source project. There have never been any open source developers working on it. InstantDB has always been a closed source product.

InstantDB was initially developed by a gifted engineer named Peter Hearty and his small company called ICS. In the fall of 1999 Lutris purchased the assets of ICS, primarily InstantDB. At the time we anticipated "open sourcing" InstantDB in the future and made statements to that effect. The timing of this was to be determined after meeting various business objectives, but the code was never released.

Over the course of time many companies change pricing and packaging decisions and Lutris is no different. In the spring of this year we announced that in fact that we would not release InstantDB to the open source community after all.

While we did make a change in business plans, this was not the "unethical" act that a few vocal individuals have accused us of. This was not a "taking" or a "close sourcing" of a previously open source project. InstantDB was never an open source product. We understand that some are disappointed in our decision, but disagreeing with a decision does not make it wrong, it merely means we have different points of view.

As we have stated in the past, we are sorry that this decision is disappointing to some people in the open source community and we encourage them to look into one of the many other high-quality open source databases that already exist.

NewsForge: What do you say to the concern that Lutris "test ran" the strategy of getting help from the Open Source community, then closing off the project, with InstantDB?

Lind: InstantDB was never open source. No open source contributions were ever made or accepted. The "test run" accusation is patently false.

NewsForge: Where do you see Lutris' future as an Open Source company? Do you plan to offer both Open Source and closed-source projects?

Lind: Like most "open source" companies today, Lutris will continue to support open source projects as well as develop closed source products. We continue to support the Enhydra.org open source site as well as projects such as Enhydra, EnhydraME, Zeus, Barracuda, XMLC, etc.

Hawkins responds

Hawkins calls Lind's responses "advertising verbiage," and he says he doesn't understand how other projects can continue with J2EE without an agreement with Sun. "There's poor old responsible Lutris and then there are all these other cowboys going round just ignoring these licensing restrictions," he says. "There seem to be an awful lot of cowboys out there. There are huge projects such as JBoss and many such as Tomcat which while managed under the Apache badge is the SUN Reference Implementation for JSP and Servlets ... It strikes me as odd that of the hundreds of open source projects based around SUN's Java technologies Lutris are the only people I've heard who've run into problems with SUN's licensing."

On the issue of InstantDB, Hawkins repeats his assertion that there was a promise to open-source the project. "Lutris are now trying to convince us all that open sourcing InstantDB was a vague promise at most, highly secondary to its development and the participation of the user community," he says. "Well, I'm not saying it was wrong legally but it sure is what my mother would call wrong. That the law isn't going to prosecute you for it doesn't make it right."

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