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The Open Source Controversy Continues
The Open Source Controversy Continues

(November 8, 2001) - UK-based Peter Hearty was formerly proprietor of ICS, whose assets - including InstantDB - were bought by Lutris Technologies last year. Described by Lutris President & CEO Yancy Lind as "an outstanding engineer who is universally respected within and outside of Lutris," Hearty was briefly employed by Lutris after they purchased the assets of his company. He is now a member of SpiritSoft's flourishing London development team, currently working on their JMS implemenation, SpiritJMQ.

JDJ: How do you think InstantDB's future would have panned out as an open source product...how many developers were involved in its development, for example, and how many users do you estimate were using it before the decision by Lutris Technologies to close-source it?

HEARTY: Never having been directly involved in open source it's difficult for me to say what makes a good open source project, but from what I can see, a core of dedicated developers with good finance behind them seem to be two ingredients that help. To that extent, I think InstantDB would have made a very good open source project. There were certainly plenty of people ready to join in.

For most of the time, I was the main developer on InstantDB. Others at Lutris helped a lot with testing, on some specific fixes, but when it came to new features, I was usually the main person involved. Lutris provided most of the infrastructure of course: Web site maintenance, documentation, the e-mail list and so forth.

As to how many people were actively using InstantDB, I really can't say. I know that when I owned it we were certainly talking in the 10,000s. I'd guess that by now it's maybe 100,000 or so, but it's just that - a guess.

JDJ: On his controversial Web site devoted to this subject, George Hawkins reports that you no longer work for Lutris, and quotes you as saying: "I joined Lutris solely because they promised me that they intended to make InstantDB Open Source." Isn't it the case, however, that there was also a financial inducement involved, in that they bought the assets of your company ICS? In which case how can it be true that you joined Lutris "solely" because of this open-source promise?

HEARTY: When I said "solely," what I meant was that Lutris' offer for InstantDB was distinguished solely by the fact that they intended to open source it (there were other offers available at the time). It was the sole aspect of their offer which made it more attractive to me. Of course there was some compensation for the loss of IPR, but the financial component of this was nominal.

JDJ: Do you agree with George Hawkins, who has told JDJthis week that the OSS community ought probably to have realized sooner -- from the fact that Lutris never made the CVS repository public from the start, for example -- that the relationship between OS developers and Lutris was perhaps going to end in tears?

HEARTY: I think that implies a degree of subterfuge on the part of Lutris which was never really there. As far as I know, it was always the case that Lutris intended to make InstantDB open source, but of course they would want to do so in a way that complemented and enhanced their other products. The very high levels of effort which were being put into Enhydra Enterprise at the time necessarily made IDB a lower priority (that's my interpretation by the way, not theirs). My departure probably didn't improve their chances of integrating the two products in a timely fashion, which may have been part of the reason why they decided to keep it closed source indefinitely, but that's purely speculation on my part.

Anyone who has worked as an engineer for Lutris knows that they are passionate in their belief in open source as the best way to create high quality software. When they said that they intended to make InstantDB open source I believe they were genuine. I suspect their decision on InstantDB was a painful one for them.

JDJ: How would you respond to the counter-claim by Lutris CEO Yancy Lind, reported by JDJ, that InstantDB "was never an open source project. There have never been any open source developers working on it. InstantDB has always been a closed source product"?

HEARTY: That's largely true. Recall that at ICS I sold InstantDB as a closed source product to lots of commercial companies, such as IBM for instance. The source code to the product was never released except to paying customers. That said, I don't want to diminish the many useful submissions made by hundreds of other people throughout the years at ICS, and later at Lutris. Examples, new functions, suggestions and constructive criticism all helped to stabilize InstantDB as a product, but none of these were made as a result of having the source code for the database itself. That was always under my control, and later under the control of Lutris.

InstantDB is the property of Lutris and they have the right to do as they please with it. Although others have helped a lot over the years, no-one has put the 18 hour days, 7 days a week that I often put had to put into the project. If I can let InstantDB go, then I'm sure others can.

JDJ References
Lutris Enhydra Journal
http://www.lutris.com/journal/

"SimpleDB"
http://www.geocities.com/george_hawkins

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