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The story behind HP's FOSSology open-source tools

HP is giving away a lot of value related to open-source adoption. Here's why this is a good strategy.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

I recently spent some time talking with Christine Martino, Hewlett-Packard's vice president of Linux and open source, about HP's plans to provide services around open-source software. That HP is doing this is now old news (the news broke this week).

But the truly interesting thing in this is HP itself. HP is an appropriate company to take this on, given the extent of its adoption of open source and the sophistication with which it manages that open source internally. Back when I was part of Novell's Open Source Review Board, it was HP that helped to shape the processes that made the Novell OSRB successful.

Christine elaborated:

Free and open-source software is everywhere. It's not just Linux (not that Linux is just one thing, anyway). At HP we've been using free and open-source software throughout our company for years as a consumer and contributor of free and open-source software.

Many years ago we realized that we needed some processes around our adoption of open source. We were very clear that we wanted to take advantage of FOSS (free and open-source software) but also that we needed to manage our use of it. Our processes have grown and evolved over the years, and we've written software to assist with these processes.

About 18 months ago during our open-source customer councils we talked about the tools that we had built internally and there was almost a rush to the doors, with our customers clamoring for these kinds of tools to help them manage their open-source adoption. So, really, it was our customers asking for our assistance in managing their open-source software that was the impetus for our open-sourcing our framework today.

Fine and good, but why not create a proprietary product that HP could sell?

We thought about that, but there's no one-size-fits-all approach to FOSS governance. Our software fits HP very well, but there are other ways to handle governance of FOSS. We don't assume that we have all the answers or that we're even finished with how we manage FOSS at HP. The way to create the richest set of FOSS tools and practices is to open-source it so that others can build on what we've done to tailor the tools to individual enterprise needs.

The goal of all of this is to reduce a barrier to adoption of FOSS by enterprises. When you can understand it and you can manage it, the FUD factor goes away.

We are releasing the tool's gents under LGPL, as people may want to use them in a proprietary fashion but the framework will be GPLv2.

Are you helping to build those communities around the tools?

Yes. In fact, we're building two communities:

  1. FOSSology. This is where we'll put the first two agents and the framework and will be focused on academics or those that want to dig into the data behind open-source adoption.

  2. FOSSBazaar. This second community is focused on business managers. Its focus is on policies and practices so that companies can establish their own practices. HP is contributing white papers, assessment pools, supportability tools, etc., to kickstart this. This is being launched in connection with a range of partners like Novell and Coverity. These are our initial strategic partners. This is targeted at businesspeople to help them figure out their enterprise open-source strategy. It will be a working group within the Linux Foundation.

In sum, we're not just contributing the intellectual property, but we're also actively working to build a community around it.

A very savvy effort. Yes, this will be good for the wider community, but you can bet that HP will be center stage in it, too, as well it should be. HP is the "source of the code" in this case, and as such will be the trusted adviser to which customers go to manage their open-source adoption.

HP has figured out that there's more good that can come from giving a little value to its competitors than bad. A very grown-up view of software, indeed.