Enterprise Unix Roundup: HP, Community-Serving or Self-Serving?

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Jan 30, 2008

Brian Proffitt
Suspect you have free or open source license issues in your company? Has HP got a deal for you! Is the new community-based program an example of community goodwill or a foot inside customers' doors?

Let's talk about HP, shall we?

After a state of marketing quiescence, the folks at the 'Pack have laid out a veritable smC6rgC%sbord of information. Kicking it off was last week's announcement that the OEM was launching the FOSSology and FOSSbazaar projects as a way to help customers and potential customers identify and deal with any open source software that might show up in a business organization.

Putting aside, for a moment, the trend surrounding the notion of finding open source in your organization seems to have been elevated to — at the very least — the level of getting cooties, why is HP offering this service?

The official line sounds pretty good: "Open Source is unavoidable today and a lot of developers are bringing it into the enterprise, in some cases without a lot of visibility from other folks that would normally evaluate a contract," Karl Paetzel, worldwide marketing manager for HP's Open Source and Linux Organization, said in an interview with InternetNews.com. "So instead of doing something under the radar, we're helping to institute a resource to help make sure development is in line with company guidelines."

If this kind of thing sounds familiar, it should. Black Duck and Palamida are two commercial entities that provide software license identification and information services, and they've been doing so for a while now.

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Both the FOSSology, which deals with the identification issues, and FOSSBazaar, which focuses on remediation concerns, are open projects, not commercial undertakings, so they do differ from Palamida and Black Duck in that way. These projects are also more of a group effort than just led by HP. The just-acquired-by-SpringSource Coverity, DLA Piper, Google, The Linux Foundation, Novell, Olliance Group, OpenLogic and SourceForge are also pitching in time, talent or money to the effort.

It sounds pretty good on the surface. Unlike my fellow pundit Dana Blankenhorn over at ZDNet, I do see the need for corporations to keep track of the open and free software in their organizations. Blankenhorn sees it as some sort of dig on open licenses. I think it's just good business sense. Even a company with the most honorable intentions regarding license compliance can still goof up. That's true of open and proprietary licenses.

Plus, I just don't buy the notion that HP doesn't like open source for its own sake. Just this week, the company announced a Debian GNU/Linux-based thin-client product, an outgrowth of its $214 million acquisition of NeoWare a few months ago. And HP has long been a staunch supporter of the Debian Project.

Actually, any derision I have about this effort comes more from an attitude of "who's kidding whom?" about the reasons why HP is spearheading these projects. The goodwill and working with the community stuff is all well and good, but at the end of the day, I suspect these projects are an opportunity for HP and its commercial partners to get a peek into the IT structure of their customers. I would be stunned if there wasn't any cross-pollination between the reps of this project and the HP sales team.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Of course, they're not going to announce outright, "participate in this program, please, so we can help you and possibly generate some leads." Doesn't quite have the same marketing ring, does it?

Don't mistake my cynicism for outright disapproval. Getting leads into existing or potential customers' organizations is, whether you like it or not, a good plan for HP. The company has been holding its own against IBM for quite some time, mixing thing up with HP-UX and Linux offerings on its Itanium lines. And, HP-UX 11 development continues at a strong, albeit leisurely, pace.

But the enterprise market is, ultimately, finite. Introducing a licensing governance program is a good way of tapping downward into slightly smaller customers, which might not be able to afford a license-savvy legal department. If launching a beneficial project in the community is HP's way to spread out, is it really cause for complaint?

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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