The Active Network

Story of the Week: Developer's ASP 

January 8, 2000

Many editorialists will say the week's top story was the Y2K disaster that didn't happen.  Those that previously claimed that Y2K would be a big deal will naturally say their warnings were well-heeded and thus claim victory.  Those that questioned Y2K hype will question once again the tendency for profit-driven paranoia to distort the truth.  I wish I had the courage to say what I thought about Y2K in my "Stop Foolish Paranoia!" article.  If I had, I'd be crowing now!  But in a veiled way, I guess I did by pointing out that every InfoSec story has elements of true risk that have to be balanced against the tendency to exploit unreasonable fear.  But Y2OK is already a wimp of a story.

More to my interests would be a story about how programming talent and billions in spending will be reassigned now that Y2K is over.  I certainly hope this mass of programmers, each fed up with repairing the mistakes and nearsightedness of others, will be set loose on truly creative endeavors.  We don't need a rash of copy-cat products, thank you.  Use your imagination!   There are so much better things to do than write yet another office suite, browser or web server!

But the story of the week in my mind has gone largely unreported.  I refer to the Reuters posting "VA Linux Offers Open Source Project Service"  (01/04/00, 10:43 a.m. ET).  Essentially VA Linux is providing a service that out-sources some of the more capital-intensive elements of the business for the software developer.  In essence, this part of their business functions as an Application Services Provider for the Linux developer:  a Software Developer's ASP.

There's the kernel of a great idea here, well timed, with the potential to grow into a wave that reshapes the Software Industry.  I recommend you visit SourceForge and check it out.  I will certainly be a developer who signs up for the free side of this service and explores this more fully over the next few weeks.  There is the potential for a "power to the people" revolution here, but also the danger of a proletariat revolution gone wrong.

We are in at a crossroads in the Software Industry.  I think we are at a time when a major shift is taking place.  On one side we have the Imperial Monopolies that attempt to build upon their proprietary software holdings.  These include Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, Apple and others that have traditionally guarded their technology with an iron fist.  On the other is a rag-tag army of Open Source zealots who view software development more as an art than a business.   These idealists advocate the ultimate in open societies, one in which all is community property.  Like in any good revolution, the rebels are in the process of getting organized and learning how to mass their forces in order to do serious battle.  And like in every revolution, this is the most critical time for the for the right ideals to come to the fore.  If not, the revolution will be subverted by power hungry exploiters who view the war as a time for them to seize power and become the next generation of dictators.

What are VA Linux objectives with SourceForge?  It is clearly more than a counter to Microsoft's Developer's Network and Sun's Developer Connection.  Sites such as these train, advise, support and encourage the developer to adopt the tools and techniques proprietary to the the sponsoring company, but the support still leaves the actual work product in the developer's hands and on the developer's own site.  These sites only tangentially feed their sponsor by expanding the products available on their sponsors platforms.  SourceForge goes further by inviting the developer to use VA Linux, both the platform and the company to host the development and, by virtue of the General Public License (GPL), VA Linux directly shares in the community ownership of the work product.  The result is a much more direct flow of value from the hands of the software creators to the marketeer.  At least the Imperial Monopolies make a show of the product belonging to the developer!  

Caveat:  I need to explore the commercial side of SourceForge membership.  It does appear they have an avenue for the more capitalistic of the open source developers to pursue.  This costs money and presumably pays a return, but I need to study this further.  I hope to find something more along the lines I describe below.

So what's next?  Is SourceForge the new battleship or aircraft carrier that when introduced in the order of battle, turns the tide of the war?  I don't think so.  I don't think it goes far enough.  But the idea of an alliance of software developers under the management and support of one or more Developer's ASP sites may be the weapon we're looking for in our fight for "freedom" as developers.  In short, a proper Developer's ASP may be the ideal "small business incubator" for the e-Developer!

Caveat:  In pursuit of full disclosure, I warn my reader that I've been thinking of using the ASP model to support the e-Developer for some time.  The proposed site, Developer's Alliance Software, will likely never be more than a forum for the discussion of this concept.... and then not before the end of the month at the earliest. 

Here's where SourceForge falls short of ideal in my mind:

  • like the tools of the Imperial Monopolies, it is owned and operated by a platform promoter leading to an inevitable conflict of interest between what is good for the developer and what is good for the platform marketeer;
  • more explicitly, it is biased in favor of Linux and GPL when clearly there are other technologies and licensing models that have equal or superior value to the developer....  a good Developer's ASP should be platform agnostic;
  • there is no legal or business support included....  source library management tools and discussion forums are the easiest part of development for the traditional freelance software developer to handle....  it's the legal and business areas that are where the developer needs help and most often fails;
  • the concepts of Information Security are totally ignored,  as is common in the Free and Open Source software movements....  how do we establish the level of trust needed for commercial viability?**

Kudos to VA Linux for taking a healthy step in the right direction!  And encouragement for others to launch the more complete and independent Developer's ASP sites I've suggested as the ideal in incubators for growing the next generation of software, and more importantly, the next generation of e-Developers!

Copyright 2000 Information Security Analysis LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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