Open-Source Software Gets Vote of Confidence at OSCON

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-08-03

Open-Source Software Gets Vote of Confidence at OSCON

PORTLAND—The ability of open-source software and the Linux operating system to scale and to meet mission-critical enterprise needs got a resounding endorsement from Jeremy Zawodny, who works for Yahoo Inc.s technical team.

In a talk to the several hundred attendees at the annual OSCON (OReilly Open Source Convention) here on Wednesday about whether Linux and open-source software could scale and how Yahoo uses open-source technology, Zawodnys message was that, in short, it "can and does scale."

With billions of page views served a day, Yahoo needs very flexible software, and there are several things about open-source software that make it usable in Yahoos environment, he said, touting the many benefits that software brings.

"The flexibility of the tools is very important, and the fact that the source code is there for us to see and modify, which we do quite a bit, is vital. We also use things in ways they maybe werent built to do," he said.

The quality of open-source software is also "second to none" and the majority of the time it just works, while the documentation around this is also surprisingly good, he said, adding that availability on the platforms it runs is also very good.

Support is an area in which the open-source community really shines: "Support is everywhere—online, commercially, and the costs are lower with open source for a lot of things we do. The money we would have been paying in license fees we can put into support, be that from a commercial vendor or by employing people in-house," Zawodny said.

Click here to read more about how Yahoos service provides related search results within the context of a Web page.

Yahoos software stack essentially consists of FreeBSD/Linux—with the amount of Linux use growing because a number of companies Yahoo has acquired are on this platform and because it has some proprietary applications that only run on it, such as Apache, C/C++, PHP and APC, Perl, and mdbm/MySql.

There are hundreds of open-source packages used at Yahoo, and each of them has a different software stack behind it, he said, adding that the engineering team at Yahoo is also using open-source and Linux desktops.

"We have been doing a lot of work internally on 64-bit and FreeBSD and Linux. The result of all of this adoption and work is a cultural mind-shift at Yahoo. The visible examples of this are the new things we are offering, like the Yahoo Developer Network launched earlier this year," he said.

To read more about the release of Yahoos comprehensive developers program, click here.

In a separate session, Chris DiBona, the open-source program manager at Google, the search engine powerhouse, said the company was also big fan of the Linux kernel and the company used it extensively.

Google is also working on using open source to release tool kits to academics, he said, before addressing the issue of why Google, which could afford to buy any software it wants, used open source.

Open-source software brings the flexibility for the company to do whatever it wants with the code, as directed by the license, DiBona said, adding that Google also releases some of its own code back to the community, like tools that allow services to be built.

"We want to make the world a little bit better for software developers," he said.

Next Page: Depending on engineers.

Depending on Engineers

The way Google releases code is dependent on its engineers and when they feel this should be done.

It also has its own build systems and targets the releases to those people who most care about it and tries to ensure they know the code is available.

This is also code that Google uses every day and comes with a certain level of support, he said.

"I want people to see the things we are proud to use inside Google. We dont release things that uses cant run, like software that needs a huge datacenter. There are a lot of open-source engineers at Google and thats growing all the time. We want people to look at problems in a new way, and we want to do things that are great for our users and for us," DiBona said.

Jonathan Schwartz, the COO and president of Sun Microsystems Inc., also took the floor during the keynote sessions and was interviewed by Nathan Torkington, the conference chair.

Schwartz, a controversial figure as a result of his outspoken comments on open-source and Linux software, was asked about open-source Java and the long-standing view within Sun that it did not and should not be open-sourced.

Read more here about Eric Raymond taking Schwartz to task.

Having the code to Java being open is different than making it available under an open-source license that could facilitate forking, Schwartz said.

"Choice is a good thing. The concerns we have about whether Java should ship under an OSI-approved license is different to whether the code is open and freely available. The threat of forking is the biggest one and one we want to avoid," he said.

While the jury is not yet in as to how Sun would continue to evolve Java, Schwartz pointed out that it has more than 900 members contributing to the JCP, "and Im sure folk at Sun will continue to contribute to Apache and other open-source projects," he said.

Turning to the recently released OpenSolaris project, Schwartz said it had been "fabulously" received and there had been more than 2 million downloads of Solaris over the past six months.

Asked about Suns decision to license OpenSolaris under the CDDL, which was incompatible with the GNU GPL (General Public License), Schwartz pointedly responded that the GPL is the license that does not allow commingling of code, not the CDDL.

"It is the GPL that prevents this. Im a big fan of the GPL, but I dont think there is one license that fits all software projects, and I believe that diversity and choice is a good thing," he said, adding that the CDDL gives choice and, as such, is a good thing for developers.

At the end of the day, he said, it is the number of users that counts for open-source projects, not just the number of developers.

He again vowed that every project at Sun would ultimately be a free or open-source project, including Java "in one form or another," Schwartz said.

Turning to the controversial area of software patents, Schwartz said that "I think software patents have been largely misused, but I do also think they can serve a role. But I dont think they are being used the way that they should be, or the way legislation was designed to facilitate," he said, to some applause.

"There is a tidal wave washing over the market place, and if you are committed to choice and interoperability, which customers are demanding we be, open is the only way to go.

"The price of software is also going to zero, and the industry is moving away from just free software to free services, like Yahoo Search and Google Search and the other free services they offer," Schwartz said.

Next Page: The Linux 2.6 kernel.

The Linux 2

.6 Kernel">

Also addressing the audience was Andrew Morton, the maintainer of the Linux 2.6 kernel, who talked about the commoditization of open-source software.

Free software brings enhanced transparency to both ISVs and end users, he said, stressing that it is not just Linus Torvalds, who started the Linux kernel, and Morton making all the decisions around the kernel.

Many of the different groups working on various components all have a say, and decisions are mostly the result of consensus among them all, he said.

While there is a tension between simplicity and enterprise-rich functionality needed, this is largely a technical issue that is being worked through, he said.

Turning to the Linux desktop, Morton said for some six years now people had been saying the next year would be the year of the desktop.

"But we are not quite there yet … Linux is not ready for those information workers who are known as power users. I think free software on the desktop will grow from the bottom up," he said.

"Eventually companies will find it makes sense to address the most sophisticated power users and we will see the commoditization of the desktop.

"Please dont take this to mean our desktop software will be junk and we will expect big companies to fix it for us. That is not the case. We have made great strides on that front, but we are not there for the power user as yet," he said.

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