Forum OpenACS Q&A: Making OpenACS stronger

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Posted by Tracy Adams on
One of the chief bottlenecks we have had with OpenACS and
customers is the fact that, as far as we know, OpenACS is not an
officially recognized organization.  In other words, it is not
registered as a foundation or something like that.

In day to day activities, this may make not make any
difference at all.  But clients are risk-adverse.  They want
to know that they can go find a piece of paper that outlines
how the organization is set up, how decisions are made, etc.

Just some feedback...

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Posted by Don Baccus on
Well, that's really too bad, isn't it?

We've closed this discussion for the time being, after soliciting opinions from the community.  Overall people are happy with the way things are today, and for now that's the way they will remain.  Read the recent post on the topic for further details.

So, what's with today's full-court press by aD folk over here?

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Posted by Ben Adida on
You're doing customer work with OpenACS? That's great to hear.
We'd love to hear more about what issues these clients are
having. OpenForce hasn't seen any of these issues to date. It
seems that, if you're worried about real "bottlenecks," having a
centralized organization would be one way to create bottlenecks,
not remove them.

In general, with respect to risk, clients we talk to seem to prefer
true competition between separate companies instead of a
single entity or a cartel of organizations that collude no matter
what. They appreciate the choice of provider.

In fact, W. Philip Moore, Director of Technology for Morgan
Stanley, stated last week at the O'Reilly Convention that true
open-source is a way to significantly reduce risk. Taking
contributions from the community *and* giving contributions
back.

So, if you can give us a few more details about this feedback,
we'd be happy to discuss. Right now, we haven't seen anything
even close to what you're describing, so it's hard to take action
without more information.

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Posted by Tracy Adams on
It's not an issue of changing the way things are.  Like I said, nothing would have to change day to day and things would stay
stay just like the post you referred to said.

I don't know all the ways it could be done, but one example
would be making OpenACS an official non-profit organization.
That way, OpenACS would be an officially-recognized legal
entity.  That's all.

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Posted by Ben Adida on
We appreciate the feedback, but as Don said, this discussion
has happened already. In fact, I requested feedback for more
than 2 weeks. Given that the community has spoken out in
massive support of the current governance and requested that
we focus on putting out OpenACS 4.x over anything else, I'm
going to close this thread for now. Thanks.
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Posted by Rafael Calvo on
Tracy,

I apologize if we seem a bit rude about this but it has taken a lot of effort to "refocus" on the technical issues. We all agree that non-technical issues are important, and ANY feedback from aD people is more than welcome, but timing is not good right now. I guess we are in a "digestion" stage after all the changes that the suden increase in popularity caused.

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Posted by Michael A. Cleverly on
I'm surprised aD clients would want something Tcl & not Java these days. In any case, though there is no "formal" OpenACS entity there are over a half dozen companies that one could rely on for OpenACS work, not to mention the community as a collective whole. I would think that ought to be fairly comforting to someone who is risk averse. One or more of the above companies companies could disappear and there would still be options and ongoing active development.
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Posted by Don Baccus on
To build upon Michael's response, if aD doesn't feel they can adequately support their Tcl customer base, then they shouldn't be looking at OpenACS to pick up the slack.  aD should be looking towards helping those customers connect with those companies who can give adequate support and service.

We're just a bunch of volunteers here.  We didn't start the OpenACS project in order to cover aD's rear when you decided to jump into Java-land, deserting your ACS Tcl user community and to some degree, judging from your note, your customers.

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Posted by Tracy Adams on
I'm confused.  From interactions with Ben, I was under the impression than he wanted us to pursue using OpenACS for TCL clients and be members of the OpenACS community.  In fact, he seemed pretty aggressive about that.

While it is true we haven't done everything right, we've still contributed vast amounts of code and utility to this community through ACS and by extension, OpenACS.  We changed the database
API at your request to it easier to make the software database
independent, and thus support the OpenACS Port.  The server that
hosts openacs.org is owned and hosted by ArsDigita. I know I've personally spent hundreds of hours on code that is currently in OpenACS.  I know many others that have done the same.

While there are things I wished we did better, all in all,
ArsDigita has contributed a lot of value to this community.

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Posted by Louis Zirkel on
I would think that ought to be fairly comforting to someone who is risk averse. One or more of the above companies companies could disappear and there would still be options and ongoing active development.

It seems to me that what Michael said above is one of the basic tenets of the Free Software and Open Source movements: if the software you've chosen to build your platform around is Open Source you can always hire someone to make changes to the code because you have the right to. Of course by aD changing licenses I personally feel that they've lost all connection with the Free Software and Open Source movements and are now just "in it for the money."

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Posted by Ben Adida on
Tracy, you're absolutely right in that I believe it would be in
ArsDigita's best interest to use OpenACS rather than to maintain an
internal version of ACS Classic Tcl.
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Posted by Tracy Adams on
Well, I'd go farther and claim that it would be beneficial to have ArsDigita's involvement.  We still have about 50 (not sure of the precise number) programmers involved with programming a version of ACS TCL, can contribute code, and have a vast amount of experience both in the specific architecture (Oracle more than PostGres of course). I think it is beneficial to both parties if the TCL efforts went down one path instead of diverging.

The "use" of OpenACS is a funny thing to describe right now because
the only thing to work with is ArsDigita's version with hooks that will allow you to toggle which database to use.  But, given the
strength of the community, it is clear that it will grow from
there.

We've already agreed to use OpenACS as a base for our TCL efforts and to merge back whatever divergents we do for specific client needs.
This is exactly like what we did with AOLServer.  We started with what was released, made a aD version after reviewing and putting in changes we needed, and regularly gave our work back.  We do that with
all the open source products we use (ant is another example). I thought we were all on the same page that this was good for everyone.

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Posted by Don Baccus on
My point, Tracy, is that whether or not you choose to use OpenACS as your code base, your customers should be looking to you first, not the OpenACS community, for support and sustenance.

If you are telling your customers "we will continue to support you, using the OpenACS code base", and they're saying "we are worried because OpenACS isn't a formal entity", then there's something wrong with your customer relationship.  Trust is missing, to some degree.  They're saying "if Ars Digita doesn't follow through, how can we depend on an informal collection of volunteers?".  If Ars Digita does  follow through on its commitments to the existing customer base, there should be no problem.

If they trust you, their vendor, to make things right for them then all
you have to say is "well, of course, if the OpenACS project goes south  we'll still stand behind our commitment to you.  We can always pick up that code base and support it for existing customers if necessary".

You can tell your customers that "Ars Digita will continue to stand behind you, and in addition there's this great community forming around the OpenACS project that's full of folks willing to help with technical issues, which includes other consulting companies who can help you if you become disatisfied with Ars Digita's service".

The community is certainly a form of insurance for your customers, in other words.  The fact that there are other companies around that are involved in the project provides additional insurance.

But no matter what structure OpenACS takes on, formal or informal, your existing customers are going to look to Ars Digita for a support commitment.  It's got to come from you guys if they're going to remain your customers.

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Posted by Jeff Davis on
To be clear, Tracy's use of "customers" and "clients" was in the
generic sense of potential customers and the issue with not
having a "legal entity" to represent OpenACS has more to do with
having an organization that can make representations about the intellectual property, can be assigned copyright, etc.  It has little to
do with risks relating to support,alternate vendors of services, or our looking to OpenACS as an organization to provide such things
for current clients.

Issues around IP rights are raised by lawyers on the client's
side in almost every contract and we have negotiated a lot of
development contracts at this point.  It is often the
most difficult point to resolve and our point is that
an OpenACS foundation might help resolve such issues more
easily.

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Posted by Tracy Adams on
Don, you are right, and we do make the committment to our TCL customers to support them.  Believe me, we have plently of people familiar with TCL and ACS TCL versions and if clients want this support, we absolutely provide it.  Like I said, there are a good 50 or more programmers providing ACS TCL services right now.

In addition (akin to my previous post), we would have a version of OpenACS that we've reviewed that incorporated changes that they needed.

We obviously can't commit to what the future of OpenACS would be
and, if we don't have our own "ACS Classic" path, as Ben puts it,
we obviously couldn't guarantee new versions of the product.  Our
clients know this.  To be honest, and I think it is quite obvious,
they were disappointed that there would not be an additional
ArsDigita  supported investment in the TCL product above
the support we provide.

To one of Don's concerns, we bid our projects on the Java version. There was one client that demandedwe bid it as TCL, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Ben, I had thought, was pushing us hard to make more and more use
of OpenACS and give OpenACS more recognition for doing so.  I thought
it was a win-win situation.

Regardless of version, the (vast) amount of contribution to the community will be the same.  If OpenACS focuses on the TCL community,
leaving us to use resources that might be spent their on making the
Java version better, that seems like a good way to go.  I realize
that many of you might not use the Java version, but the open source code produced there will give a large group of people value.
We are making a significant contribution to the software world.

Also, ArsDigita is a business. It is also a business that contributes. There is nothing wrong with that.  If ArsDigita is
able to make an open source business model  work (and there
are a lot of  challenges here), we'll be around to add more
and more investment into open source software.  When all is
said and done, we've contributed and accomplished a lot.

A lot of the changes you have seen, like the move to Java
and MPL, have been motivated by the attempt to make this model work.
We do want it to work for you as well as us and are aiming to
strike that balance, but obviously,
not everyone will like all of the decisions.  We do want others
to be successful and we do want to hear your feedback though so we can consider all the perspectives. It is a fact that ArsDigita's health as a business is one of those perspectives.