What is the Open Usage Commons?
Before we can really get into IBM’s beef, we need to spend some time studying what the Open Usage Commons is trying to do in the first place. From its own FAQ:
The Open Usage Commons offers open source projects a neutral and independent place for the brands of their projects and provides assistance for compliance tests, the establishment of guidelines for the use of brands and the management of problems related to use of brands encountered by projects.
The Open Usage Commons does not provide services outside the area of use, such as technical mentoring, community management, project events or project marketing.
In some ways, this sounds like a standard element of the open source playbook: establishing a store to manage things neutrally and keeping them free for everyone. But so far, brands have been largely the only thing open source projects have kept for them, and for good reason: tarnishing the brand of a project harms the project itself in a difficult way, if not impossible to repair.
IBM-owned Red Hat is itself one of the largest open source companies in the world, and its Red Hat Enterprise Linux is an interesting case study. All RHEL source code is open source and can be freely downloaded, copied and reused. If you want to create the entire operating system from its own source code and distribute it like yours, you can – but the only thing you can not do is call it “Red Hat Linux”.
Debian Linux has spit ten years with Mozilla on the Firefox logo is another interesting example of the conflict between open code and proprietary brands. The short version is, Mozilla has retained full copyright to the Firefox logo – and this has created a problem for Debian, whose policies do not allow the redistribution of non-free intellectual property. Debian therefore removed the logo but left the browser intact, which forced Mozilla to refuse project authorization to use the name Firefox on the resulting build. Debian, on the other hand, simply renamed its version “Iceweasel” instead.
It’s easy to understand Why an open source project would, however, want to protect its brands. If you don’t protect your brand, nothing prevents – for example – Oracle from deciding to create an entirely different product called “Firefox”, which at best leads to serious confusion.
So far, it’s hard to see what Google is trying to accomplish here: the brand is literally the only thing an open source project has left to protect, and this is extremely important. So why give up on this? The answer is a few paragraphs below:
[C]companies wishing to offer managed versions of these projects… can invest in the “Project as a Service” offer because it is a guarantee that they can use this brand; it will not suddenly be carried away on a whim after having built an offering around it.
What is unclear is how the Google Open Usage Commons actually provides this guarantee to “Project as a Service” companies, as it does not seem to really define strict policies. Each of the examples given in its FAQ on the use of managed brands boils down to “you must use the brand in accordance with the brand guidelines for this project” – and that the projects themselves will continue to define these guidelines.
IBM, have also OUC
Istio is a platform-independent service mesh that provides traffic management, policy enforcement and telemetry collection. It was developed as an open source project by teams from Google, IBM and Lyft on GitHub and is currently one of the fastest growing projects out there.
Google owns the registered trademark of Istio, but it was launched publicly as a merger of Google’s internal project under that name and IBM’s own open source project, Amalgam8. At the time, IBM described the merger as logical because of the position of Google’s founding developer with Kubernetes – Istio itself allows and facilitates large-scale communication between containers swimming in the Kubernetes ocean, so to speak .
But according to Jason McGee, an IBM colleague, the initial partnership included an understanding that Istio, once mature enough, would be turned over to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. The CNCF is a non-profit children’s organization independent from the Linux Foundation; the submission of an open source project to the CNCF guarantees that no company can use undue leverage to influence another company that uses and becomes dependent on this project.
IBM views the Open Usage Commons as directly linked to Google, rather than being genuinely vendor-neutral and vendor-neutral, like the CNCF. It is difficult, if not impossible, to dissect the Linux Foundation or the CNCF and offer everything that resembles the property of a single company.
It is also difficult to see what the future of Open Usage Commons will look like: it was founded with a board of six people, only two of whom work for Google. But all of the projects originally donated to the Commons came from Google itself, which shows that there was no broad industry membership built up before the Commons was launched.