Simon Phipps, Sun's chief open-source officer, calls the dispute with ex-employees a misunderstanding.
A Sun Microsystems official said the company regrets an incident that has called Sun's commitment to open source into question and is working to reach an amicable solution.
In an interview with eWEEK, Simon Phipps, Sun's chief open-source officer, addressed claims by former Sun employees that Sun strong-armed them into ceding control of an open-source project back to Sun.
Sun laid off some employees who had founded the project known as OpenDS, or Open Directory Service. One of the former Sun engineers, Neil Wilson, posted a blog entry Nov. 28 that said Sun treated him and fellow OpenDS owners unfairly.
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However, Phipps said that while he is investigating the matter, evidence he has seen "suggests that what's happened is a misunderstanding of roles."
"I'm halfway through the process of talking to everybody involved and I'm hopeful we'll have an amicable resolution," Phipps said.
However, he declined to share details of the situation because he said it involves issues with Sun's human resources department.
Sun assumed control of the OpenDS governance after the layoffs of Wilson and his colleagues in September. Sun maintains that it was within its rights.
Phipps said the two events "converged to produce a situation that looks a lot worse than it really is."
One element of fallout from the situation was Wilson's public questioning of Sun's commitment to open source. Phipps said the company's commitment is unwavering.
"Sun is obviously very committed to open-source software and dealing with open-source communities; that's why I've been flying all over the world to support open-source causes," he said.
Phipps Dec. 7 presented a talk at the Free and Open Source Software conference in Bangalore, India. The conference is India's largest open-source software event.
He said Sun has started about 750 open-source projects, "and it's inevitable that in some cases there will be failures.
I guarantee you that things like this will be cropping up as a matter of statistics, but it does not diminish Sun's commitment to open source."
Phipps said he also is investigating how Sun should be training its staff to be better citizens of open-source communities.
"If you go too far in one direction, you bear the possibility of coming across as controlling," Phipps said. "If you go too far in the other direction, you neglect the needs of the company that's employing you to be there. I believe I need to help our engineers better understand the line they walk between their corporate responsibilities and their community responsibilities."
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