Is OpenNTF In Danger Of Jumping The Shark

Back in January at Lotusphere there was
a huge cheer when, during the opening general session, it was announced
that IBM would be providing some resources to and partnering with OpenNTF.
It is something that many in the notes community, especially those who
have active projects on OpenNTF have been vocal about in the past and the
announcement looked like IBM were going to listen to what the people wanted
and help out.

Todays announcement
and OpenNTF redesign, however, makes me feel that OpenNTF has lost some
of it’s roots and is dangerously close to heading in the wrong direction
and alienating the very developers that made it successful.

I like the idea of the catalog of high
quality applications but right now it just contains IBM projects. There
are plenty of other OpenNTF projects that deserved to be in the catalog
from day one including, but not limited to, the OpenNTF Mail Experience,
!!HELP!!, Vacation Requests, OpenLog and even my own BlogSphere project.
Right now all I am seeing is self promotion of IBM projects. This is something
that needs to be rectified quickly before people visiting the site just
see if as a repository for IBM sanctioned templates.

And what exactly is OpenNTF all about,
well in my mind the main reason for OpenNTF are the different projects
but they seem to have taken a back seat to the catalog, yes there are plenty
of ‘half finished’ projects in there, they need to be weeded out but definitely
not forgotten about. Some of those projects contain some great code that
could help somebody out. The active projects need to be brought back out
to the homepage for the site, not just the list of catalog items. These
are the guts of OpenNTF and the projects are what made OpenNTF work. Hopefully
somebody somewhere is working on a redesign of this area and will incorporate
all the ideas that have been mentioned in the IdeaJam area.

My biggest issue however is the red
tape that has sprung up. If I want to ‘commit’ new code for something like
BlogSphere I’m first going to have to get written consent
from my employer. If anybody out there wants to contribute some code for
Blogsphere to me then I’m going to have to do my own due diligence to make
sure that your authorized by your employer to submit the code and that
you in fact own the code your submitting to me. I know this is all cover
your backside sort of stuff but this sort of change should have been discussed
with ALL the current project owners on OpenNTF.

And lets not forget the license, No
more using any license other the Apache Public License V2 except with express
permission of the new steering committee. Not not all open source licenses
are the same. Did you know that under the Apache V2 license anybody can
take your code from OpenNTF, make modifications and then patent their changes
and sell the modified code as part of their products as long as they include
the attributions and original license document, whereas GPL or LGPL states
that they can only distribute the modified work if the distribution is
also a GPL’d or LGPL’d. My take on this is that by forcing the Apache license
IBM can then selectively include certain templates from OpenNTF in the
next release of Notes/Domino if they meet certain standards. How would
you feel if a business partner redistributed the top 50 projects on OpenNTF
as ‘The New Nifty Fifty’ and made a profit on it. Is this something that
project managers would like to see happen? IS the restriction of the Open
Source license to APL V2 a good thing or a bad thing?

OpenNTF has been a great resource since
it’s conception, From it’s humble beginnings as NotesOSS with a single
project based on the mail template till today, OpenNTF has attracted some
brilliant ideas and developers but all this could easily be lost if the
new steering committee is not careful.

So I have one message to the members
of the new steering committee… Don’t forget who OpenNTF is for and what
it’s original purpose was. You are in a position of trust and you can either
steer the site back onto a path of collaborative development or you can
steer it over the edge of a cliff into obscurity and red tape. A group
of 10 people in a steering committee does not make a website, it’s the
users of the site that make the difference.

————-

And to any commenter who wants to say
that if I don’t like the changes I could just pull my projects from the
site, I say this… Yes I could and who knows it might have to come to
that, but there is a committee of 10 people, many of whom will see this
blog entry and with luck many of them will read it, take the concerns on
board and rectify what they can and get things back on track before they
lose the heart of the developer community. I can only hope the steering
committee are in this for the right reason and not just so they can advertise
their corporate logos at the bottom on the OpenNTF website.

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35 comments on “Is OpenNTF In Danger Of Jumping The Shark
  1. John Palmer says:

    If things don’t change, I see an “NTFOpenSource” site opening in the future that is doing what OpenNTF is doing now, and OpenNTF becoming, like you said, a repository of IBM templates that will NOT be modifed by the developer community.

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  2. Lars Olufsen says:

    I completely agree, Declan.The last thing we need is OpenNTF turning into an “AppStore” where projects have to be approved by IBM or others.

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  3. Tim Paque says:

    “Written Permission?”, that’s pretty silly, attesting personally that you have the right to give the code should suffice.I could see wanting to improve a few lines, and seeing that requirement I would quickly decide it’s not worth the bother.

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  4. Henning Heinz says:

    I am not sure if the GPL has ever been a valid license for Notes and Domino applications. Mixing proprietary code with GPL applications can become complicated. But very good points made about the new OpenNTF.

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  5. You are not alone in your thinking Dec.But I can understand the “written permission” bit in that they are trying to prevent themselves from potential lawsuits from companies. Contributors might actually want to be thankful for that form of self-protection.

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  6. Declan, when you look at the names on the steering committee, do you really think that’s a group of people that are going to take OpenNTF.org away from it’s roots?Really?

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  7. And just to clarify…{ Link }”2. Legacy modelIn the past, OpenNTF contributors could choose whatever license they want or even no license at all. This led to a plethora of different licenses being used, and the absence of licenses resulted in legal ambiguity as to the rights downloaders might have to use the code.Owners of existing projects and snippets from the code bin are now encouraged to re-contribute their code under ALv2, but until this is done the existing code will continue to be hosted under the current license terms. “

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  8. Keith Brooks says:

    Change is good, change is bad, but staying stagnant is the worst choice.Maybe this will be a step in a greater progress yet to be determined.

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  9. OpenNTF is just a marketing channel for them.Charity for Notes hurrah!NOT!

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  10. Declan Lynch says:

    Nathan, I see the list of names of the steering committee and I certainly hope that they don’t allow OpenNTF to move away from it’s roots but even the few comments before yours show that I am not alone in my thinking.I think the steering committee need to take this blog entry and it’s comments and discuss them to make sure that developer community is not shafted.A lot of developers who have projects on OpenNTF may not feel comfortable in airing their opinions like this and I can understand why, our community has a way dropping people if their opinions go against the grain.

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  11. Chris Toohey says:

    I absolutely disagree. An “App Store” is EXACTLY what we need – a user-level customer focused front to showcase just what you can do with the Lotus technologies.The steering committee was specifically put into place to ensure that OpenNTF retain it’s community-driven front while having IBM resources at it’s disposal.Also, in regards to your “Nifty Fifty” point: isn’t that really the goal behind OpenNTF?! I know that I contribute code or full-blown products (such as my Showtime application) to 1) showcase the capabilities of the product as well as 2) propagate my name in the community (there, I said it – I’m an ASW!).As far as I’m concerned, IBM can take Showtime and sell it as part of the Lotus Domino offering. Since it’s under the Apache 2.0 license, they’ll even credit my contribution to the final product.Customers win. IBM wins. I win.I don’t see an issue with that…

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  12. Declan, I assure you that allowing for the broad based contributions that valued members such as yourself have made is a paramount concern. There is no OpenNTF.org without the project contributors — period.As long as I’m a part of it in any way, it will not become the province of IBM. That’s why IBM has 1 out of 9 seats on the initial steering committee.The fact that there’s further work to do on visibility of projects in the site redesign is transient.The fact that someone (including IBM) can repackage your solution on OpenNTF.org with only attribution is THE WHOLE POINT. The fundamental barrier to OpenNTF’s success over the last 7 years has been that the site is the only distribution channel. Now we have the opportunity to open up new channels. If individual project owners elect not to permit them, then they can either not change their project licenses, or move their projects elsewhere.But the IPR policy has been a problem since day 1, and we have to get it cleaned up if there’s to be any chance of broadbased adoption. What other means than the attestation of your employer do we have than to know that your employment contract doesn’t grant them rights to your development product even after hours? Do *you* even know it? For all OpenNTF.org knows, it might be impossible for you to publish Blogsphere without your employer owning it.That has to get resolved.

    Edited by Site Owner to remove employer name reference.

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  13. LOL. Thanks for illustrating my point. Even a commenter mentioning your employer’s name is apparently a risk.

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  14. Declan Lynch says:

    My Blog, My Opinion, My Rules. It’s not private info, most people know who I work for. Blogsphere was written before I started working there, The last company I worked for in Ireland does not even exist as a legal entity any more. Who signs the consent forms for the work I put into BlogSphere while in Ireland?I am not saying OpenNTF should now be avoided at all costs. I’m happy to see that it will get more exposure in the community and not just our little yellow bubble but with the wider community of companies that use notes worldwide.I do disagree with the forcing of the Apache license on all new projects, the project owner should still have the right to select the license that they see fit. Maybe I don’t want to allow companies to take my hard work and sell it and all I get is an attribution. It should be the developers choice.I do hope you and the rest of the steering committee ensure that OpenNTF continues to be the success it has been till now. I’m just airing MY concerns and MY opinions.

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  15. Mike McGarel says:

    Big changes always raise questions and concerns. Declan, thanks for bringing them up.I also worry that the licensing issues may discourage contributors and the site will become less “community” and more “corporate.” But I understand the legal reasons. And the site does need to move forward to gain acceptance and recognition in the business community.

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  16. It’s going to be Apache for new projects because we want the target audience, which is primarily commercial entities, to be clear that they have full permission. It’s a cost of doing business in a post-SCO world.If you want to do a GPL Domino project (which is a license that forces downstream behavior on others) then use { Link }

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  17. Henning Heinz says:

    Your house, your rules!?

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  18. @17 – There are 9 committee members, so it can be voted on. In fact, I’m sure it will be. But unless there’s some sea change in the objectives that the members agree on, we’re going to take the legal course that maximizes the accessibility of what people provide on the site.The objective of OpenNTF.org has never been ideological purity. It has always been to promote the platform and what can be done with it. That hasn’t changed one bit.

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  19. Declan,I agree there is still a lot to be done to improve the new site, and yes some things will (have to) change, but the committee hasn’t even had their first meeting yet so we cannot say what the end result will be.Regarding the current setting, getting this far with IBM’s blessing is a great accomplishment and I really thank Niklas and Steve for getting us this far.On the other hand it is the involvement of people like yourself what made OpenNTF what it is now so your input is appreciated and we will take that into account during the next meeting.

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  20. @16 Nathan said “…the target audience, which is primarily commercial entities…”I have some similar concerns to those raised earlier regarding the loss of what has become a “by developers, for developers” community under the crushing weight of legal red tape, and reading Nathan’s last comment I’m having a hard time seeing how we’ll avoid that loss.Putting in place such a high barrier to contributions will keep a lot of good stuff off the site. Why would a developer wanting to put something out for the good of the community but without a related business plan want to go through the pain?Necessary evils? For the larger good? Perhaps, but these are pretty serious side effects. I would like to see the benefits of IBM’s involvement without having to move a large chunk of the “community contribution” part of OpenNTF somewhere else.We always have our blogs to post on, but OpenNTF offered greater visibility and centralized, structured place to find interesting stuff. I suppose PlanetLotus’ Downloads section could fulfill some of that, but still…What would be truly helpful is for IBM to contribute resources to help with bringing a good project through the process, so the developer doesn’t have to endure ALL the hassle alone. Not just filling out forms but also reviewing the code and helping to identify and document the various other places some of that code might have originated.

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  21. @20 – When was OpenNTF.org “by developers, for developers?” That was never the point; not for a minute. The very first template was a prototype to clone the Outlook interface in a Notes mail template. The first break-out project was the OpenNTF Mail Experience, which was all about benefiting end-users.”I would like to see the benefits of IBM’s involvement without having to move a large chunk of the “community contribution” part of OpenNTF somewhere else.”I would like to see a large satchel filled with non-sequential $100 bills sitting in my driveway when I get home this evening. Seriously, though… the “community contribution” doesn’t have to move if it doesn’t want to. If you want to keep your content on OpenNTF.org, no problem — it’s already there. If you’d like to make it part of new projects, then there’s a certain requirement for reusability that you have to grant anyone else coming to the site, and you have to affirm that you’re legally free to offer that grant.It is most definitely a goal to design processes into OpenNTF to streamline the administrative burden for contributors. But in order to streamline them, we first have to figure out what they are. So now we’ve done that — and now we have an opportunity to improve it.The documentation to authorize contribution is something that each contributor only has to do ONCE. The review of code to attest to originality will be an excellent chance to exploit the many eyes that participate on the site. I would imagine we would have both IBM and independent participants as part of that process. We are not at the end game on that yet.

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  22. Tim Tripcony says:

    This has been a fascinating discussion to watch… intriguing points on both sides. One line in particular that caught my eye, though (@15):“I also worry that the licensing issues may discourage contributors and the site will become less ‘community’ and more ‘corporate.'”Most (if not all) of us occasionally wonder “what’s in it for us” (a “corporate” mindset), but we also have our “I hope someone benefits from having this, even if I don’t directly benefit from providing it” moments (a “community” mindset). Apache being a more permissive license than (L)GPL, it would seem to me that moving OpenNTF projects to it makes the site more community-focused, whereas standardization on a less permissive license would pull it in a more corporate direction.I’m guessing that those who are recoiling from this particular change are responding more to the mandate to move to a more permissive license than to the spirit of the license itself. Similar to how some citizens get upset at their government for collecting taxes to pay for services the citizen would otherwise have to buy anyway: doesn’t matter whether the rendered service is better or worse, you didn’t give me a choice.Then again, I may have no idea what I’m talking about. But in my head it sounds logical.

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  23. The question to me is whether this will revitalize OpenNTF. The last thing I got from it was this Blog template, about 15 months ago, which was a great find. I have been reluctant to put commercial code on the site, as are others, as it didn’t “fit”. Also the site often had incomplete offerings, as the authors could not dedicate the time needed to keep updating them, with the exception of the mail template, which to me was where OpenNTF really shined. I guess I would like to see both commercial and non-commercial applications thrive in some new incarnation. If IBM’s muscle can help that, that would be a nice outcome IMHO.

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  24. Cross posted from my blog;

    If I want to fork an existing project..or take ownership of a project that has been neglected/dropped by its master chef, must I ask their employer if they have permission to share the code? If I can’t locate the master chef or his employer, is that it?

    There’s a project on OpenNTF that I’ve been adding to over the years and I’d like to share my efforts back to the original project — we drive a great deal of value from this little framework so it only seems fair to pay it back. The trouble is, the project is without a master chef. He’s moved on, no longer doing Domino development.

    Is this the end? I’m concerned that there could be a raft of projects in a similar predicament.

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  25. Uuuuh, I have this double-sided sword feeling. On one side I totally agree with Declan’s post, and on the other side I’m very happy with IBM seriously trying to get more involved in the community. The problem is of course when IBM (as the big, responsible bugger) needs to cover its back all the time, compared to lend the community a hand…. I will most certainly be very interesting to see how this soup boils.

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  26. Great discussion. I’m glad to see that much interest in OpenNTF. The community and OpenNTF lives from these discussions. As Vince and Nathan already commented we’ll certainly discuss this in the steering committee.Regarding the licenses – as a developer I never really start to code from scratch. I always copy similar code from previous work and modify it. I’d think that this is a rather typical behavior. With all the various licenses on OpenNTF as an IBMer I was not able to use the code from OpenNTF. I would need a legal approval and the amount of different licenses on OpenNTF and the various ways due diligence or not is done makes it really hard to ever get that approval. I’m pretty sure that many other enterprises have these same processes. In other words most of the great projects on OpenNTF are nice demos, but not helpful for many developers, esp. developers in bigger companies.Regarding the Apache license – we picked this one since it allows most re-use. We want to allow anyone to take the code from OpenNTF, use and extend it however they want and even use it in commercial applications. Most other licenses don’t allow this.The new catalog is only in ‘beta’ for some reasons. One reason is that it doesn’t include any of the existing projects. We couldn’t add any of the existing projects yet because we had to get the new Alliance and the new IP model in place first. Now that we have this we’ll approach project owners soon asking them whether they want to convert them over in ALv2 and add them to the catalog. If they don’t want to do this the projects stay in the projects area as in the past.I’d also like to have a catalog with high(er) quality samples. If you browse through the new projects that have been added this year you’ll find many projects that don’t have a description, no screenshots and/or not even releases. This makes it very hard for OpenNTF consumers to find good projects.

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  27. Yuval says:

    I can just try to guess how many times we will need to click “I accept”, “I agree”, “I swear” and “I approve that my life belong to IBM” before we can download anything from openntf a year from now.but other than the usual ibm endless click to download madness I’m sure everything will be just fine as the people involved are the same.

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  28. Kerr says:

    One of the problems for anyone using OpenNTF was that the licence issue was rarely straight forward. If I can’t find a clear, unambiguous, license statement then I’m staying clear. I also don’t want to read through yet another open licence to find out what all its subtle peculiarities are. Clearly something needed to be done. So, has the correct decision been made?It’s also not just a simple choice of licence. There has to be some way for developers, businesses and individuals using the code to feel confident that they are doing so legally. I’ve not looked through the details of the new OpenNTF rules, but it sounds a lot like the way the Apache Foundation does its thang and it seems to work for them. Personally I think the Apache licence is the right way forward. Should there be a choice. Maybe. But that does open up a whole can of worms. One of the nice things about the Apache Foundation is that it’s really straight forward for a company to make a legal assessment of the organization and then OK use of all projects that appear there. A single consistent licence helps with that.Is it the right license? As Henning points out, GPL and the Notes Domino ecosystem always left me feeling a little uneasy. Perhaps it should be no more so that having GPL code on Windows, but it always felt funky to me. Also the Apache licence was always the one IBM would demand for its contributions. Either that or create yet another licence, and thankfully most people don’t think that’s a good idea anymore.Ultimately the religious war between GPL style licences (prescribing the licence of derivative works) and Apache style (allowing derivatives to be closed) will rumble on and on.I look forward to seeing how the new OpenNTF prospers. I think it’ll do just fine.

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  29. Neil says:

    I have not thought this through a lot, but my initial views are that this looks a little to IBM for my taste.I also do not like the adverts/logos for the companies of the supporting members that seem to be at the bottom of every page in the re-design.It looks a little to much like a lot of free advertising, that may be a bit harsh, but a load of small consultants and company’s contribute on OpenNTF, should they also not have logos etc..Perhaps the company details should just be on the about page or similar (not the home page), the board will put in a lot of effort and deserve some recognition for support, but its all looking a bit commercial to me.Other than that I will wait to pass final judgment, I am sure it will all work out fine, and then decide what to do with my contributions…

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  30. @21 – The “By Developers, for Developers” reference was an acknowledgement of who the *direct* users of OpenNTF are currently. Certainly end-users are the ultimate “audience”, but they are largely unaware that is the case. As others have pointed out, not all developers are free to participate, particularly those with dedicated legal departments. This is a huge loss to those companies, and I would certainly like to change that situation.But as we move forward, I’m concerned about losing the “little guy developers” who built the content on OpenNTF. As Neil @29 points out, the sponsors of the site didn’t make it what it is – the contributors did.What bugs me the most is the “employer consent” issue, as I see that as putting a complete halt to contributions from anyone who isn’t self-employed. What employer wants to expose themselves to unnecessary legal issues they don’t understand or probably even care about?And what defines “employer” when you are a contractor, have side clients in addition to a “day job”, or some other less than clear-cut arrangement? And don’t forget Colin @24’s point about leveraging someone else’s old project. What if the chef, or the chef’s company is no longer around?I suspect many/most employers of contributors don’t even know OpenNTF exists, let alone know their employee is contributing to it. I also know for a fact that at least some contributors treat OpenNTF as a creative outlet – a way to scratch an itch, to hone skills, that their day job doesn’t offer. In part this is because many employers have only partially succeeded in dumping Notes. What developer is going to want to approach an employer like that for permission to remain sane, when benign neglect has worked ok?So much of the DNA of Notes/Domino applications out there is derived from myriad sources – forum posts, SearchDomino tips, VIEW sample apps, blogger freebies, conference session demos, IBM templates, not to mention OpenNTF contributions, that it is impractical to ever know the “true source” of every line of code. How much detail are we as developers supposed to provide to meet legal muster?LOTS more questions than answers at this stage…

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  31. “What employer wants to expose themselves to unnecessary legal issues they don’t understand or probably even care about?”One of the points of using the Apache license is that it’s zero-indemnity for the author. The employer authorization says ‘this employee is not in violation of contract to contribute code’ not ‘we take responsibility for the code this employee contributes.’ It’s like having a corporate blogging policy.”And what defines “employer” when you are a contractor, have side clients in addition to a “day job”, or some other less than clear-cut arrangement?”Your contract. Who owns the intellectual property you create? That’s defined in your employment terms.”What if the chef, or the chef’s company is no longer around?”We’re working on that. Abandonware is a tough question. Many other open source groups are also trying to work that out.”I suspect many/most employers of contributors don’t even know… their employee is contributing to it.”Which is a problem. If that employer has claim to the work product of its employees (which is very normal), then the CONTRIBUTOR is creating a legal liability for the USER of the code.”I also know for a fact that at least some contributors treat OpenNTF as a creative outlet – a way to scratch an itch, to hone skills, that their day job doesn’t offer. In part this is because many employers have only partially succeeded in dumping Notes.”Then why would it be difficult in that case to get your employer to say “we hold no ownership over this employees creative work?””What developer is going to want to approach an employer like that for permission to remain sane, when benign neglect has worked ok?”Because the neglect isn’t benign. It carries risk.”How much detail are we as developers supposed to provide to meet legal muster?”We’re working on defining exactly that.I really don’t understand what’s confusing here. The simple fact is this: if a person contributes code that he or she is under legal obligation NOT to give away, then we don’t want that code on OpenNTF.org. Because it isn’t open. It’s CAN’T be open. The person isn’t free to give it out. And if they portray that they are free to give it out, and someone uses it, then the person that used it is now liable to the actual owner of the code.What if this were OpenTunes.org? Would it seem unreasonable that we need to make sure that someone doesn’t upload the latest Britney Spears track and portray it as their own work? Aren’t there millions and millions of dollars at stake?

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  32. Declan lynch says:

    Please don’t get me wrong, I am excited that OpenNTF is moving forward.I have no problem using the Apache license for some things because if that meant one day it ended up being distributed by IBM then that would be really cool. The phone book app would be a great example of something, after a bit more ‘blue-rinse’ could be a great addition because lots of companies use phone book applications.Probably my biggest concern is that these changes are happening without discussion with the current project owners. Apart from Vince there are no MAJOR project owners on the steering committee.At least now the discussion is happening in the open, others can voice their concerns and see what answers come back. the ‘abandonware’ issue being one good topic that needs resolving.The employer consent is a necessary evil. I understand that but to do it via a signed form may create issues. If you look at something like sourceforge they have the same requirements in their legal text but don’t need anything signed. It is up to the contributor to do their own due diligence and the legal text indemnifies sourceforge against any legal action.I still think, however, that forcing the Apache license is wrong. their should be a choice, even if it’s the choice between APL and (L)GPL. that way it can be clearly marked on projects in the catalog which license is in effect and users will know what they can and cannot do with their download. Why not have a best of both worlds approach.

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  33. “Apart from Vince there are no MAJOR project owners on the steering committee.”Define “MAJOR?” There’s only a handful of projects on OpenNTF.org that can be considered particularly large.Are you saying you want to be on the steering committee? We haven’t had a chance to define the process for new members yet. I’ll make sure your name is the first on my lips when we do.We *did* look at SourceForge’s model, by the way. There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of commercial reuse of the stuff on SourceForge.

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  34. Thanks for the various clarifications Nathan. I too like the idea of broad reuse (including commercial) and appreciate the reasoning behind the Apache licensing. I guess for folks like me with “major contributions” on OpenNTF already, it’s a question of whether the effort of jumping over the legal hurdles is worth it. I firmly believe SuperNTF { Link } would be a great foundation for LOTS of additional contributions from others, but given the sheer number of sources for its various features, that will <shakedown>only happen if I can afford to spend the time</shakedown>.

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  35. Hi Declan,You make some good points. The important thing is that these issues get raised before the concrete gets set. I too fear that we will have two classes of project. Those that meet the political ambitions of IBM and those that do not. e.g. OpenNTF already had a great wiki project (Dominiowiki). I feel the new IBM version is promoted heavily because it implements XPages. Is it fair that we give so much visibility to one wiki solution over another, especially as so few site are yet to migrate to the required Domino 8.5. Do we really need two wiki projects or should we explore the option of combining them into one for those with or without Xpages capabilities?Regardless of all the discussion about legalities etc. OpenNTF today does host all these existing projects and code samples. It would be real nice if we were to give this existing library of projects the same cool facelift and also give them at least equal exposure on the home Page. Simply placing them in a dark dingy room out the back is not going to change any legal implications if all the code is not 100% legal. Its all still there!!!

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