May 30, 2016

The word of sog - #7

I don't want to steal my own thunder here as I'll have a longer writeup on the event this week, but I was in New York on Wednesday for a lunch sponsored by Accel. In addition to a presentation from the hosts, representatives from Cloudera, Cockroach Labs and Sysdig discussed their visions for the future of open source. Following the event, as I mentioned on Twitter and a number of you asked about, it was clear that I saw the future for open source differently than many of the participants.

It's not that Accel's version of the costs and benefits to open source were wildly out of sync with our own at RedMonk - quite the contrary. We have been making a number of the exact points Accel introduced to its institutional investor-heavy audience on Wednesday for many years. The difference between what I see ahead for open source and what Accel and its panelists anticipate instead comes down to the broader landscape, and - to borrow a phrase that harkens all the way back to RedMonk's founding days - the context in which open source competes.

But rather than make this week's newsletter even longer, I'll defer a more detailed take to the blog, where it's less offensive if I run a multi-thousand wordcount.

On to the links.

Links Not from Me

  • Finding For Google:
    Like many in the industry, I breathed a sigh of relief this week when the jurors tasked with determining whether or not the usage of Oracle's now (regrettably) copyrightable APIs by Google was considered fair use decided that it was, in fact. As might have been predicted given last week's email, I got the good news from Sarah Jeong first.

    In my circles, there was effectively no dissenting opinion. Virtually everybody I know who weighed in on the news did so in favor of it, and this includes employees of open source and proprietary software companies, not to mention various cloud, physical hardware and SaaS businesses. Which means nothing from a statistical perspective, of course, because it's highly probable that my sample is biased.

    Still, it's interesting that the lone voice of opposition I ran across was a post facto op-ed from none other than one of Oracle's lawyers - the most aggressive in court, by at least one account.

    It's an interesting piece of work on several levels. I'm surprised that one of their counsel would take to the court of public opinion - which was by most observable metrics heavily against the company - in this medium and on this timeframe. I'm surprised, frankly, that Ars ran the piece. And the audacity of the argument itself - that advocates of open source should not only have been against Google but for Oracle - was eye opening.

    I don't plan to give the article a detailed line by line once over unless demand dictates otherwise, particularly given that far more qualified observers like twenty year Berkeley Professor Pamela Samuelson have already done so.

    But of the many issues I have with this piece, one of the most fundamental is this line: "If that narrative becomes the law of the land, you can kiss GPL (general public license) goodbye."

    Here's the problem: with notable exceptions such as AWS and its arrangement with HP acquisition Eucalyptus, the software industry broadly has tended to behave as if APIs were either not copyrightable or at least were leverageable under liberal interpretations of fair use. Commercial entities moved cautiously, of course, particularly if the owner of a given API had either the inclination or capability to litigate at will. But in general, the industry has not tended to operate as if APIs were protected in the same manner as source code.

    The GPL meanwhile, while not quite as popular as it was a decade ago thanks to the rise of licenses less restrictive than the GPL, is still in broad usage. If Ms Hurst is correct, then, and the GPL is doomed, wouldn't it have been doomed years ago given that this decision merely confirmed beliefs already widely held?

  • Thiel v Gawker:
    By now most of you are probably familiar with at least the basics of this story. Billionaire Peter Thiel, after having personal details of his published against his will by Gawker Media, has spent years planning for retribution. The most recent and largest example of which is his bankrolling of Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, which could result in there being no Gawker.

    Given the subject matter, everyone has their take on this, and so I'll spare you mine. Instead, let me point you to Paul Ford's reaction. It's excellent for three reasons, none of which are Paul Ford is very smart and an exceptional writer. First, Ford is based in NYC and has worked extensively in media. Second, his read on this, and in particular the mechanisms employed by Thiel are insightful. Last, he didn't forget to note what many have while writing about Thiel's bid for personal revenge: the collateral damage.

    "Ultimately Thiel’s revenge puts hundreds of jobs - careers, really — at risk."

    Ben Thompson's writeup is also worth your time.

  • Leading SaaS Company Turns to Leading IaaS Company:
    Given Salesforce's status as one of the standard bearers for Software-as-a-Service businesses, much attention has historically been paid to their infrastructure decisions, or what little we know of them - witness the 2013 partnership with Oracle. This week's announcement that AWS was now the SaaS company's “preferred provider” in the cloud was no exception.

    For enterprises, this is interesting because it implies that even for a $60B technology company whose entire business has been operating software at scale, the public cloud is an increasingly viable option over its own infrastructure.

    For Amazon, it's (yet) another large customer win it can point to as evidence that in the future, there is a "world market for maybe five computers."

    For everyone competing with Amazon, it's worth questioning how and why Amazon became the choice. Salesforce would have been a significant coup and market signal for everyone from Google to IBM to Microsoft, so it's curious that either a) none of them were considered or b) none could cut a sweet enough deal to land Salesforce as a customer.  

  • Bonus Link:
    As a fan of rail, that more elegant form of transportation from a more civilized age, I've always wanted to take one of the epic cross-continent trips. Every year that OSCON was in the other Portland, in fact, I priced out a Portland to Portland itinerary both along the northern border or through the heartland. Every time I was disappointed to find out that the one way itinerary with no bedroom was roughly on par with a round trip economy class airfare, and adding a bedroom for any part of the two and a half day trip made the cost a multiple of the flight. How Amtrak fills these expensive but non-luxury accommodations across the country all year is beyond me, but they appear to.

    The trip across the United States, however, is manageable in comparison to the Trans-Siberian railroad. Depending on how you travel, Portland to Portland is a bit over 3,000 miles. The Asia to Europe route is almost twice as long, clocking in over 5700 miles. Along the way you pass through some of the remotest regions of China, Mongolia and Russia.

    The trip looks absolutely incredible, if smelly.


It won't drop until Wednesday, as releases are the first of the month, but the second episode of Hark will be here shortly. Really enjoyed this one, and have some great new guests lined up. As always, see to listen, or to subscribe via Google Play, iTunes, Pocketcasts or Stitcher.


One of the things I've noticed in conversations with fans of large phones is that fewer of them have a tablet alternative, and even less one of the smaller, iPad Mini-ish sized pieces of hardware. Correlation does not prove causation, of course, but at least in my case I wonder if it's a contributing factor to my outright hatred of gigantic phablets.

I've carried a Nexus 7 for years now - both generations - and I find the form factor enormously useful, particularly while traveling. It's a complement to my preferred, smaller handset. The larger than even a large smartphone screen is nice for reading or for video, but it's not bulky enough to be awkward to hold for extended periods of time. The most unappreciated feature of a smaller tablet, however, might be the degree to which it serves as an outboard battery for your phone. By using my Nexus 7 principally while on a transcontinental route, for example, I'm able to land on the other side of the country with a fresh, untouched phone battery. And my Nexus 7 also is my wireless hotspot; I have a T-Mobile SIM in it, and unlike iOS, the unadulterated Android flavor that ships with Nexus hardware doesn't require me to pay my carrier more for permission to access the data I already pay for.

So while the current Nexus 7 is a bit long in the tooth, for anyone that travels regularly I find the smaller tablet form factor a tremendously useful tool.

Books / Podcasts

I read this when it came out, but forgot to include a review of it on the personal blog so in here it goes. Even as someone who loves Neal Stephenson's work, I found Seveneves tedious. If you're a serious fan of space travel or hardcore scifi, the level of technical detail is possibly appropriate if a bit repetitive. For everyone else it bogs down an otherwise interesting question: assuming current technology, how would we escape this planet if its lifespan was measured in months? And what might the longer term cultural implications of the exodus be?

Seveneves' strengths are, not surprisingly for a novel by Stephenson, a level of technical sophistication and research, along with its invention in the face of necessity. Unfortunately, it's too heavy a burden for the plot and its characters with their extensive backstories to carry this time around.

I was looking forward to Stephenson's take on a post-apocalyptic future, and while he didn't fall into the obvious traps of the genre, Seveneves is not a novel I'd recommend. Even for fans of Stephenson.


I am traveling to the following locations, which means the weather will be bad in:

  • San Francisco on 6/6 and 6/7 (IBM and Salesforce Events)
  • New York on 6/27 and 6/28 (MongoDB Analyst Day)

Apologies in advance, but if you find me I'll buy you a beer to make up for it. Look for the Red Sox hat.