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Industry titans band together to improve open source

Sep 17, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 1106 views

Facebook, Google, Twitter, GitHub, Walmart, and others have formed a group called TODO, designed to standardize and improve open source releases.

The TODO (Talk Openly Develop Openly) group was announced with a somewhat vague mission statement to address challenges “including ensuring high-quality and frequent releases, engaging with developer communities, and using and contributing back to other projects effectively.” Despite the name of the group, the main focus appears to be less about openness than on streamlining and perhaps standardizing procedures around open source version control, maintenance, and contributions.

TODO sets the bar fairly low, noting that it’s not a new open source foundation. Instead it’s a group that is “primarily a forum for companies who both are passionate about, and have dedicated resources for, contributing and using open source software.”

Members include three heavy-hitting rivals that depend on smooth open source development: Facebook, Google, and Twitter. There’s also one major retailer (WalmartLabs), the premiere open source repositiory (GitHub), two cloud storage companies (Dropbox and Box), two payment infrastructure firms (stripe and Square), and an online education venture (Khan Academy). According to a story in The New York Times, more than 30 additional, so far unnamed, companies have also joined, including The New York Times.

The Times story by Quentin Hardy argues that there is an urgent need for improving open source work flows as more and more developers from multiple companies, as well as independent programmers, all work on common codebases. Hardy quotes Jay Parikh, global head of engineering at Facebook, as saying, “There is a problem here we all feel is not getting better anytime soon.”

The exact nature of the “problem” may be somewhat vague, but Sam Schillace, the head of engineering at Box, posted a blog entry on TODO saying the group would “develop a common set of tools and streamlined processes for releasing open source software.” He also announced a Box Open Source Open House on Sept. 23 at Box headquarters in Los Altos, Calif. Although not an official TODO event, it features presentations on open source from Facebook and Twitter, as well as other companies including Arista, LinkedIn, Netflix, and NodeJS.

Top-down open source governance?


Aside from GitHub, the TODO membership appears to be missing — at least as far as we know now — the usual organizations that discuss matters of open source governance, licensing, and work flow, such as the Linux Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). Indeed, the idea of large corporations meddling in open source practices without broad support for the larger FOSS community has already raised some hackles.

On I Programmer, for example, Mike James responds to the TODO announcement by noting that a good deal of open source code is done voluntarily by independent programmers, as well as corporate developers working after hours. James questions the need for “a group of big companies, not all of which have played fair by open source in the past, yes Google I’m looking at you” to “get together to tell open source programmers how to spend their (free) time.”

Most likely, TODO will never get that far, however, and it appears to be largely focused on enterprise software rather than the mobile and embedded world. As long as this is about major software companies working on how to collaborate better on open source code, it’s probably a good thing. If the companies start manipulating the nature of open source practices in the wrong direction, using the power of their corporate clout to begin changing the rules of the game for everyone, that’s a different story. For now, we will put it on our TODO list to see what TODO does next.

Further information

The TODO project is open for membership. More information may be found at the TODO website. We look forward to reading your comments (below) on this one!

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3 responses to “Industry titans band together to improve open source”

  1. mi pen says:

    As long as it coordinates their development strategies, rather than be used to add code into the core of Linux that would turn it from a free system into a non free one. Last thing we need is for these big companies to be using patents to steal this system from out under us. We know about dodgy practices from companies like Facebook. Some of these companies have behaved quite nasty in the past.

  2. Me says:

    Well, as you said, it’s pretty vague… my feeling is they don’t need a new “group” to improve their workflow. Also I don’t trust Google and Facebook much.

  3. Nicolas says:

    It would be kind of them to describe “the problem of utilizing and releasing open source software” they aim to “solve”. I don’t quite understand what the problem could be. On the other hand, I understand that most of these companies would have a certain interest in creating such a problem to minimize the use of open software. Finally, regarding the past actions of these companies, I tend not to trust them.

    As for GitHub, I’m quite surprised they joined the group, it could be either good or bad, so I will follow the “wait and see” conclusion of the article.

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