Sun official says open source needs governance

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer for Sun, said the open-source community would benefit from governance and patent-sharing arrangements.

The open-source software community is in a dilemma: How do you provide the most freedom to a diverse base of developers?

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer for Sun Microsystems said Tuesday there are some key elements that could change to help. Phipps gave a keynote address Tuesday at the O'Reilly European Open Source Convention in Amsterdam, which runs through Thursday.

Licenses empower developers to access source code, but there are questions if it leaves motivation to develop code, Phipps said. "In actual fact, I would be very pleased to see fewer licenses in the world," he said. "One of the things I have set as my priorities in the first year or so of looking after open source at Sun is trying to get down the number of licenses we're using."

There are many motivating models in open source, and not all of them are for money. Sometimes people just want to touch the code, he said. But while they some people have good intentions, not all are necessarily good for open-source projects, said Phipps, who oversees 22 major open-source communities at Sun that have at least five full-time developers each.

Governance is the overlooked corner of the open-source world, Phipps said. "I think we have just assumed that everyone is the good guy," Phipps said. Good governance should be templated and promoted throughout the open-source community, he said.

"You are only free if the place where you get your supply is standardized," Phipps said. "Standards lead to substitutability."

Software and hardware patents are inevitable, Phipps said. But there are alternatives such as patents grants, which allow broad use of some patents; compulsory licensing, which guarantees a license for all patents for a narrow field of software; and non-assert covenants, where holders of patents agree not to exert their rights.

"None of these things on their own solves the patent problem," Phipps said. "But we can defend ourselves from the uncertainty of fear that comes from having a diverse community."

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