Pilosa Launches Open Source Big Data Tools

Congratulations to Pilosa for its launch today!  Pilosa provides open source software that enables “Insanely Fast Queries on Really Big Data.”  Like lots of great open source software, Pilosa’s software grew out of necessity — engineers wanting better tools to process segmentation queries on large data sets.   For more about the product, see the FAQ.

Practical GPL Compliance

The Linux Foundation has released a free downloadable white paper on Practical GPL Compliance — “a guide for startups, small businesses, and engineers tasked with shipping products that contain GNU General Public License Version 2 (GPLv2) code.”  The Guide is written by two of the world’s top experts in the topic: Shane Coughlan and Armijn Hemel.  Congratulations and thanks to them for creating and sharing this excellent resource!

Android Patent Peace (PAX)

Google has announced its latest patent initiative, the Android Networked Cross-License to “promote patent peace within the Android ecosystem.”  This royalty-free community patent licensing pact, nicknamed PAX (a Latin nod to its harmonious objective) applies to Android and Google Applications pre-installed on qualified Android-compatible smartphones and devices. Android itself is a free open-source operating system (the AOSP), the source code for which is maintained by Google.  

PAX currently has nine founding members: Google, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., LG Electronics Inc., HTC Corp., Foxconn Technology Group, Coolpad, BQ, HMD Global and Allview. According to a statement from Google’s VP of Business and Operations, these companies together own more than 230,000 global patents. PAX membership is free of charge, and open to anyone, but the PAX license agreement terms are still confidential to members and prospective members only.

Those familiar with open source and Linux will recognize this is not the first community-based effort to create a patent commons for an open source operating system.  Open Invention Network (OIN), was formed in 2005 by  major players such as IBM, Sony, Phillips, Red Hat, and Novell, to protect Linux from patent suits, and since then has grown into the best known and most influential such effort.  Android, of course, describes a large stack of software that includes the Linux kernel, as does the subject matter of OIN.  The two efforts are complementary and undoubtedly cover some overlapping subject matter.  Like OIN, PAX seeks to protect the Android ecosystem through patent cross-licenses among its members.  OIN also engages in various activities and policies to achieve the community objective of defending Linux.  PAX has not announced any plans for such additional activities as this point.   

Patent pools, of course, have inherently limited ability to manage patent claims.  Patent pools are only as effective as their ability to include the relevant patent holders.  They do not help to reduce the claims of patent trolls, who have no incentive to participate, and do not address the aggression of large patent holders such as Microsoft, which famously levies patent royalties on most Android devices.

Watch Your Language

A contretemps has arisen among free software advocates, once again.  This article in Tech Republic describes online ranting about a fairly bland post on a site hosted by the Linux Foundation.  (I had trouble locating the original post, but it was apparently on Linux.com and thus not an official LF statement.)  Those of you readers who are uninterested in the political squabbles of open source world need read no further.  Those of you who are interested should take a look at the article — for amusement value at least, if you have an ironic sense of humor.

Some free software advocates react badly to any observation that using free software can entail legal risks — an odd point of view for a paradigm based on copyright licensing conditions (and by implication, copyright infringement claims to enforce them). Some react badly to the heretical suggestion that permissive licenses are a better choice. Those reactions will never change.  But part of this particular reaction to the original post was clearly because of the language it used.

So, next time I tell a client not to use the word “viral” or call copyleft licenses “restrictive,” perhaps they will believe me.  (I cringe when I hear these words, and my clients probably cringe when I lecture them about not using these words.)  Copyleft licenses are not viral.  Open source licenses contain no license restrictions, or they would violate the Open Source Definition — restrictions are for proprietary licenses.  Open source licenses do contain conditions, but the difference between restrictions and conditions is a subtle but essential concept underlying the open source licensing model.

All that may seem like pedantry, and I won’t claim I am free from that sin.  But pedantry is a menial sin, and inadvertently starting a war of words is not a good idea.  Maybe we need the equivalent of a “swear jar” for this.  Every mistake requires a contribution to an open source project!