Panlibus Blog

LibLime Cause Upset in the Open Source Community

LibLime_logo Roy Tennant, in a blog post with a title you have to read twice, draws our attention to moves from Open Source Library Systems company LibLime which is causing much angst from supporters of Open Source.

He reproduces comments from Joan Ransom on Library Matters:

Horowhenua Library Trust developed Koha, the world’s first open source library management system back in 2000. We gave it to the world in the spirit of community. We are very happy, delighted in fact, for any organisation or individual to take it, improve it and then give their improvements back.

Recipricocity is the keystone which gives strength to the Koha Community.

We do not begrudge vendors taking our gift and building a commercial enterprise out of it, as Liblime, Biblibre and any number of others have done, but the deal is that you give back. This has worked well for a decade and Liblime has been a strong, valued and much appreciated member of the Koha international community over that time.

So it is incredibly sad and disappointing that Liblime has decided to breach the spirit of the Koha project and offer a ‘Liblime clients only’ version of Koha. Let’s call it what it is: vendor lockin and a fork.

Others including Marshall Breeding have also commented.

From the trails of comments around these posts, I get the impression that most of the upset folks are taking offence about the perceived intentions of a previously lauded open source champion who is now grappling with the commercial and operational realities of running a business that provides key services to key customers.

Even if LibLime were to turn their back on the community aspect of Koha today [their press release indicates that they are not doing that], they should still be praised for moving forward that community far further than it would ever have reached without the involvement of such a commercial organisation. 

I would suggest though that, having been immersed in the Open Source world for so long, they should have expected such a backlash of an almost religious nature and handled this much better. 

The world [not just in libraries] is rapidly moving towards Cloud Computing, Software-as-a-service, hosted solutions  There is bound to be a tension between a community mostly made up of people who develop, and often look after there own local copy of, a software instance, and an organisation that aspires to run a service of the same/similar functionality for many customers on a hosted commercial basis.

Local experience here at Talis tells me that the velocity and pattern of development is very different for SaaS applications and services.  One that does not fit in very well with the traditional process of delivering software both open and closed source. 

Open Source is a valuable contribution that must be fostered, encouraged and promoted because the innovation that it generates is a valuable asset for all of us.  Experience with projects such as Juice and Jangle reinforce this. Nevertheless there are commercial and contractual realities that companies such as LinbLime have to take in to account, which may lead to others questioning their motives as we have seen over the last few days.


2 Responses

  1. Karen G. Schneider Says:

    Your comments about the difference between SaaS and traditional development are intriguing. However, what runs through my mind is much broader than the question of differing software development models.

    What you term “a backlash of an almost religious nature” seems to me a rather predictable and even logical response of a customer base to what feels to them like a major departure. At the very bottom, a major change introduced so unexpectedly raises the question of “what’s next that I don’t know about,” like the first tremor of an earthquake.

    With that in mind, the interesting question (to me, anyway) is how can we–meaning we businesspeople, we librarians, even we humans–effectively introduce change? In our businesses, our libraries, even our personal lives? And more specific to the business world, what can we learn from successful and less-successful efforts at major change?

  2. Owen Says:

    Unfortunately there is little evidence that LibLime will continue to engage with the community as it has in the past. They have done little else than send out press releases over the past six months: no participation on the Koha mailing list, no participation on the Koha IRC channel, and few patches contributed.

    I hope the future of their participation looks more like it did two years ago than it does today.

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