Why I Gray-listed Github for Open Source

Most of my software development is through my professorship, where I guide my student teams in developing (mostly) open source software. We have clear rules in place for how and which open source can be used in our projects and which can’t, like any competent organization. Mostly, it is about license compliance. We owe this to the users of our open source projects as well as our industry partners.

As a small organization, we rely on rules rather than lengthy approval processes, component repositories, and the like. One rule is to look at the source (location) of the open source project and see whether we have it white-listed, gray-listed, or black-listed. The Apache Software Foundation website is white-listed and Stackoverflow is black-listed. Github is gray-listed, meaning “it depends”.

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Please Help Keep our Language Precise: Single-Vendor Open Source is Neo-Proprietary Source, not Closed Source

When the Open Source Initiative defined open source, it focused only on the license, and ignored the process. Smart entrepreneurs quickly discovered that they could provide to the world their product as open source code and benefit from it, while strictly controllling the process to keep competition at bay. This is called single-vendor open source.

Single-vendor open source is not closed source, not even “the new” closed source. The following 2×2 matrix illustrates the distinction between license and process:

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Sorting out the Ethical Licensing Mess

Software developers who give the world, for free, usage rights to the code they write often use open source licenses to make this gift legally explicit. These free usage rights (and then some) are encoded in all valid open source licenses, next to the obligations one has to fulfill to receive the rights grant. Recently, the desire of some developers has surged to tie their gift to causes they care about. Some want to protect Chinese workers from abusive working hours, some want to stop companies from working with US immigrations, and some want to ensure that users vaccinate their children and themselves according to current medical best practice.

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Traditional Theory Building and Validation in (Computer) Science

Many computer science degree programs do a lousy job at teaching science. A high school student, entering university, often has a good idea what science is about, based on their physics and chemistry classes. At least, it involves controlled experiments. At university, this is rarely picked up, and computer science students are given the idea that programming something novel constitutes science. With that idea, they are often bewildered when I teach them rigorous research methods, in particular if those originated in the social sciences (like qualitative interviews or hypothesis-testing surveys).

The process of science
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The Real Problem with Pay-walled Publications

Pay-walled publications are just that: Publications that nobody reads unless someone pays the publisher’s fee. I have no problem with that, because I don’t read pay-walled work and don’t consider it published research and prior art that I should care about.

The real problem starts with researchers and editors who expect me to find, read, and consider pay-walled work as prior art. That’s an unacceptable proposition to me and an unfair one to the world.

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Ten Years of University Teaching

My research and teaching group just celebrated its tenth anniversary, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on our teaching: What worked and what didn’t.

Principles

When I started as a university professor ten years ago, I drew on my experience as a student, as a teacher, as a practitioner, and as an entrepreneur, to define the basic principles of how I wanted to teach:

  1. Theory and practice should be joined at the hip; there should only be minimal delay, if any, between hearing some concept and applying it in practice
  2. Learning requires repetition and practice, so the theory and practice of something to learn needs to be drawn out over several iterations to become effective
  3. Learning is a marathon, not a sprint; therefore, learning and using the stick (grading) to direct learning should be continuous and not a fire-and-forget exercise
  4. Feedback needs to be immediate and connected to a student’s actual doing, and not come at the end of a semester or later
  5. Learning is holistic; while some concepts can be isolated, more often than not, concepts interact and require a realistic setting to be learned
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Single-Vendor Open Source Firms and Intellectual Property Strategies (Video)

In this video, I explain the single-vendor open source business model (also: multi-licensing, open core) and in particular its intellectual property strategies. This talk is partly a reaction to the recent licensing changes by commercial open source firms and the resulting confusion. An upcoming article will go into more detail next year.

Next to the Youtube embed, there is also an ad-free version courtesy of FAU, my main employer, as well as a simple download available. Fast forward to the slides as well.