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How To Kill an Open Source Project With New Funding 187

mir42 writes "The OpenSource multimedia authorware project Sophie, formerly hosted by USC Los Angeles, may just have been killed by new funding. The original funding organization, Mellon Foundation, approved a grant to redevelop the four year project from scratch in Java. The grant was awarded to a Bulgarian company based on their proposal, which is simply an exact description, including the UI and the artwork, of the current Sophie. Being an OpenSource project, this isn't strictly illegal, but let's say, not nice and definitely not innovative, coming from a former sub-sub-contractor on the project. Some of the original, now laid-off developers started trying to salvage the project. As the current version is still somewhat buggy and slow, it might just be enough to alienate all potential users of Sophie to the point that nobody will even try to use the next version. Have others faced similar situations? How would you deal with a situation like this?"
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How To Kill an Open Source Project With New Funding

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  • Hang on a sec... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:29PM (#25249139) Homepage

    Is this a legit question being asked at the end of the story? Or is this whole article a thinly veiled attempt to editorialize about an event the author disagrees with in an effort to drum up community support for his/her project?

    It seems like Slashdot is being used as a hammer here, instead of just the normal server-blasting time waster we all signed up for. I don't like being used.

  • I don't understand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:31PM (#25249175) Journal

    What exactly is the problem here? The old devs don't like something about the new project(the summary isn't clear what, and there's no article with more information), so they've forked it. Who exactly killed what?

    • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) * <> on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:45PM (#25249337) Journal

      "Someone does nothing but copy the existing output and claim it's a new direction, and bamboozling the funding organization into giving them the new grant".

      • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:52PM (#25249433) Journal

        Wait, I know how to solve the problem! The original authors should have claimed exclusive copyrights to the source code and distributed only binaries. Maybe they could even file for a patent on some of their methods.

      • Maybe you should read the summary? "The original funding organization Mellon Foundation approved a grant to redevelop the four year project from scratch in Java. The grant was awarded to a Bulgarian company"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rbanffy ( 584143 )

        I think the summary said they were rewriting it in Java, which is bad enough. I don't know what it was written in, but if rewriting it in Java can be passed as an improvement, I am afraid to find out.

        Maybe the original developers don't like Java. I certainly don't.

    • There's your problem. You just alienated all the developers.

    • It seems like a really brutal way to enforce a fork.

      It seems like a slap in the face to the original devs.

      And I have seen projects that start with speccing an existing project out in Java turning into deathmarches.

      I'd like to see the other side of the story, but not everyone who reads this guy's complaint is automatically thinking he has no valid complaint.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:32PM (#25249187)

    I'm not even sure what the question is. So the project is being taken closed source? Or it's still open source but the original developers aren't included in the new plan?

    From the description, it sounds like a fork is getting all the monetary attention - not unheard of.

    • Re:Huh? #2 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) * <> on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:51PM (#25249423) Journal

      Let's subsitute another better known entity as an example.

      "The OpenSource office project OpenOffice, may just have been killed by new funding. The original funding organization Sun approved a grant to redevelop the four year project from scratch. The grant was awarded to a Bulgarian company based on their proposal which is simply an exact description, including the UI and the artwork, of the current Open Office. (Having contributed nothing new.) Being an OpenSource project this isn't strictly illegal, but let's say, not nice and definitely not innovative, coming from a former sub-sub contractor on the project. Some of the original, now laid off, developers started trying to salvage the project. As the current version is still somewhat buggy and slow, it might just be enough to alienate all potential users of Sophie to the point that nobody will even try to use the next version."

      Clearer? When you submit a proposal for new funding as a replacement for the original Dev team, screenshotting the existing features is a bit slimy.

      • Re:Huh? #2 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by story645 ( 1278106 ) <> on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:18PM (#25250523) Journal

        Clearer? When you submit a proposal for new funding as a replacement for the original Dev team, screenshotting the existing features is a bit slimy.

        But from what I can gather from the summary, the whole point of the grant was

        to redevelop the four year project from scratch in Java.

        So in theory it's primarily a language swap, and the features and GUI shouldn't change much. Basically, I think the screenshotting is actually valid in this case, and honestly should be the guide for the new work.

        • Except for the part where they're doing a language swap at all.


          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dhasenan ( 758719 )

            Because 90% of developers understand Java, and maybe 10% understand SmallTalk. TIOBE lists SmallTalk as #36 in popularity with 0.123% market share and Java as #1 with over 20%.

            Granted, TIOBE is based on search engine results, which aren't a perfect indicator of usage, but they are probably accurate to the order of magnitude.

            • Granted, but is this really enough to do a full rewrite?

              Suppose it was a Ruby On Rails project. Would you rewrite it in JSP just to get more developers? Would the number of developers make up for not only the massive amount of time to do the rewrite, but the extra time taken to maintain it and develop it further, once the rewrite was done?

              If the target language wasn't Java, it would make slightly more sense. If the original implementation was really, really shoddy, it would make even more sense. (Think Mysp

              • 'Granted, but is this really enough to do a full rewrite?'

                Yes if its impacting development. Even if its not, the fact it is slow and buggy is certainly grounds for a rewrite.

          • It's currently written in small talk, and straight from the summary its slow and buggy now.

            Java wouldn't have been my choice for a more modern language but its trendy enough I suppose.

      • No, not really.

        There must be some information missing somewhere, because neither version makes very much sense. The developers were laid off? How is that even possible on an open source project?

        The confusing headline doesn't help, either. "How to kill an Open Source Project With New Funding". At first I thought it was going to link to an article showing an example of how increased funding had killed a project. Then I saw it was an "Ask Slashdot", and thought the poster was asking how one might go

        • The developers were laid off? How is that even possible on an open source project?

          The fact that a product is released under an open source license does not mean that the project does not have a regular, paid development staff employed by the copyright holder. It may or may not also accept community contributions (but accepting community contributions, while typical of open source projects, is not a necessary feature of open source project: you can develop in a completely closed shop with no community involv

          • by pasamio ( 737659 )

            Case in point: MySQL. All MySQL developers are paid employees of Sun (well at least the ones who have commit rights). The is an example of where Sun pays staff to work on an open source project as well.

      • "Slimy"? Why?

        It makes sense to establish some details of the project they're porting in the proposal, does it not?

      • by rbanffy ( 584143 )

        Unless you intend to retain all features while following a different architectural route in order to provide some significant advantage down the road.

        That's not unheard of.

      • 'Clearer?'

        Not really. Sounds like the original devs whining because they got canned.

        The company is paying for a complete rewrite from scratch. Maybe they are paying for said rewrite because "the current version is still somewhat buggy and slow".

        Seems reasonable to me, if you are doing a rewrite for optimization, move to a more modern language, and (hopefully) reduced bugginess new features really aren't a good idea.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      From the description, it sounds like a fork is getting all the monetary attention - not unheard of.

      Mod parent up.

      This is, in fact, the whole purpose of open-sourcing something. It makes it so that somebody who has a better idea can implement it. If that idea is incompatible with the original project or not accepted by the project owners, the party with the better idea forks, and a new project is formed. If that project is legitimately better, it will be the one that gets monetary support.

      I see nothing wrong here.

    • The company's "About" page says, Astea has focused its initial activities on the open source market segment with a special focus on university, publishing, and research-oriented applications.

      It sounds like the original developers are suffering from jealousy or control issues. Why try to revive a project that he admits is "buggy and slow" when someone else has a grant to rewrite it from scratch? Why get upset over the death of a project that had already stalled out in an (apparently) unusable state? Maybe

    • Yes, but how often do you get forked by Bulgarians?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:34PM (#25249201)

    I dunno what the deal is... sounds completely legit to me. There's nothing in the GPL, or in F/OSS in general, that says that if you write something, someone else cannot come along with a better story, more money, more developers, etc. and take your code or even forking it out from under you and taking control of the project. They can also start selling support for it and making money off of it (even without additional development... just support it).

  • Duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:37PM (#25249239)

    So you have something open source.
    Someone takes it, throws money at it, and tries to do something with it.
    This pisses you off, because they now have the resources to one up you on the project.

    Excuse my ignorance, but I thought open source was supposed to be open and free so it would allow anyone to evaluate, use, improve upon, etc. a project, with the end result being better stuff for everyone.

    If this company put up money to do something with a base they saw as promising, then they're doing exactly what open source is all about.

    If your code/project is not covered by any license that forces them to keep it open source / attribute credit to you, that's your fault.

    It seems to me your e-peen got butt hurt, and you're crying foul.

    • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter&slashdot,2006,taronga,com> on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:46PM (#25249347) Homepage Journal

      Someone takes it, throws money at it, and tries to do something with it.

      Except according to the OP they're not taking anything, they're re-implementing it from scratch in Java using the current UI as a guide. And it's Carnegie Mellon that's putting up the money, and who were (apparently) providing support for the original project.

      Now that's not unreasonable, if there were problems with the original that CM couldn't resolve... for example, if the FOSS software wasn't going anywhere and they needed something that worked (which was my first thought reading the article). And, after all, it's not like there are no FOSS projects that have done the same thing (though if they target another FOSS project rather than a commercial one you tend to get some bad blood). On the other hand, it's possible that the Bulgarians pulled an end-run around the people at CM who knew what was going on and got some PHB to pull the plug on the FOSS project.

      We don't know, and it's better to avoid jumping to conclusions... either that Sophie was stabbed in the back by the Bulgarians, or that Sophie was adrift at sea and the Bulgarians rescued it... without more information.

      • by jeaton ( 44965 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @03:10PM (#25249699)

        And it's Carnegie Mellon that's putting up the money, and who were (apparently) providing support for the original project.

        Carnegie Mellon [] is not the Mellon Foundation []. The Mellon is the same (Andrew), but other than that the two are unrelated.

    • They're insisting you rewrite it all in Java.

      Way to piss off all the developers.

  • A better headline... (Score:5, Informative)

    by lax-goalie ( 730970 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:38PM (#25249267)

    ...might be "How To Kill an Open Source Project With A Crappy Web Site".

    I took a look at, and there's nary a specific description of what the project is, no screenshot graphics, and the only documentation and examples seem to be embedded in downloadable .zip files.

    I'm not saying that the project's good, or bad, or bogus, but from the website, there's nothing that makes me want to litter my hard drive with zips from an unknown, untrusted source, just to find out more.

    • no screenshot graphics,

      But they do have somewhat useless screencasts []. The frustrating part is that this is multimedia software, so they could put their manuals into the .sophie form, which would be cool and relevant. Then, they could just take some screenshots of those .sophies and throw 'em on the frontpage, and yeah that'd be way more informative than what's already there. And they totally need to find a way to display examples (html works just fine) without forcing people to download the software, 'cause the crowd they're aime

    • That's why I run a Volatile box and a Verified box. The volatile compy pseudo-lives for strange and wonderful things!

      (Digression: This is possible. Create an Expert System that websearches the item to reverse-rank popularity. Then you can tag a Wonderful factor. Fun! Where was I...)

      Oh yes. Sophie. Well it seems to want to create books, but apparently fails miserably at the Intuitive factor. I am unable to get any content into a New Book.

      ( [Magpie] Oh look, when I close, it "drops me into the Squeak Dev. En

    • No shit. 4 clicks in and I still have no reason to care about this. So rather than read more, I posted a message on Slashdot, where people read my message and did not care any more than they did before.
  • So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:42PM (#25249299)

    Someone was apparently not happy with the current developers and gave the next job to someone else.

    Dude, you had your chance. You blew it. By your own admission "As the current version is still somewhat buggy and slow" you programmed and released shit.

    • yes, it read like someone decided that while the UI and the artwork were worth salvaging, but the backend code behind it was irreversibly bad. And decided to give someone money to take the good parts and reinmplement the basic function. Kinda like Bill Gates looking at Windows Me and opting to go XP.
      • by iNaya ( 1049686 )
        Except XP didn't reimplement the basic function. It was an extension on Win2K and NT.
        • I just picked ME/Xp as an example where very little of the old ME kernel made it in the "next version", unlike previous 95/98/ME transitions.
          And from TFA it is not clear if the mystery Bulgarians have an existing product to modify either.
  • What on earth is USC Los Angeles? As opposed to another USC? There's only 1, which is in Los Angeles. There's a university that's part of the University of California system called University of California, Los Angeles, or UCLA. That's not USC Los Angeles either. By the way, it's USC that hosted this project.
  • Jahshaka (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:44PM (#25249329)

    A very similar thing happened to the Open Source video editor Jahshaka. Apparently some very dark interests were involved, because the author had to sign an NDA. Guess what happened later? The project stalled, and the author was forbidden to even talk about it in his own forums. This situation continued for more than a year, with everybody wondering how the project was doing, and why it didn't advance at all.

    The peril is not the funding per-se, but the contract. When a company wants to pay you to develop your existing open source software, you need to be wary about NDAs and changes in the contract terms. ESPECIALLY if the company wants to retain the ownership of your work!

  • Pathetic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Proteus ( 1926 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:46PM (#25249359) Homepage Journal

    It's not illegal. You obviously think your project is better than theirs, so act like it. I suggest you spend less time whining that someone "stole" your idea (if you wanted to keep it, why did you make it Open anyhow?) and more time writing good software .

    Whichever software is truly more useful to people will get used, and people will hear about it.

    Grow a pair and get to work.

    • Too many people have this painfully naive idea that Open or Free software is better or morally superior to closed or commercial. It isn't necessarily.

      As you correctly point out, OSS can suck. It has its own version of the Tragedy of the Commons. Most open source software is not very good. Either poorly written, poorly documented, poorly maintained, or just junk period. Anybody can write it (and does). Some, of course, rivals closed and commercial. Not surprisingly, the answer should be that the model

      • 'Most open source software is not very good. Either poorly written, poorly documented, poorly maintained, or just junk period. Anybody can write it (and does). Some, of course, rivals closed and commercial.'

        Most closed source software is not very good. Either poorly written, poorly documented, poorly maintained, or just junk period. Anybody can write it (and does). Some, of course, rivals open and free.

        'GCC was a godsend almost 20 years ago, but once you're in the real world, if people aren't willing to par

  • Umm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Compuser ( 14899 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:47PM (#25249365)

    First off, wtf is Sophie? Their page says it is "software for writing and reading rich media documents in a networked environment" and I am still as clueless as before? What does it do? I tried reading their user manual and gave up. It is utterly unclear. As best I can figure, they were making some sort of bastardized office suite. If so, why? Isn;t there enough of that already?
    As for the question in the summary, what is their license? Both for the original project and for what this company is developing. Just saying open source is not enough when you are dealing with a fork.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Duradin ( 1261418 )

      Maybe they wanted Office but in cornflower blue?

      Too bad we didn't get a link to the specs the Bulgarians got. From my poking around it looks more like the bastard child of pdf, (la)TeX and flash *shudder*.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by tpr ( 267368 )

        It's rather more interesting than that; it's free so why not spend a minute to download it and take a look?

        The major differentiator is the timeline & trigger system. You can make graphic elements and movies and text boxes appear and disappear depending on time and triggers hit. Pages can turn automagically. Simple example - have movie running and small textboxes that appear as things happen in said movie that you want to point out.

    • Wikipedia isn't much help here, either.

      It may be an e-book creator, but I have no idea about the specifics.

    • Here is a better description from [] (Smalltalk)

      Sophie is a digital media assembly tool to combine images, text, video, and audio into a single multimedia document such as slideshows, presentations and annotated videos.

      If any of you played with Squeak, you should see that even if you exclude the code from Sophie -- Squeak already has most of the multimedia functionality described above (and really, like many Squeak applications I've seen, Sophie really doesn't try to advertise the fact that it's bui

  • Rewrite in java? (Score:2, Insightful)

    That's about the fastest way to kill a project, yes.
  • If they had a sense of humor the Bulgarian team would rename it Sophia...

    But seriously, if it's taken 4 years to get to a "buggy and slow" version, what could possibly be wrong with doing a rewrite while keeping the UI? Presumably a lot of lessons learned could be applied to the new version, and there's nothing stopping the old devs from keeping their fork going. As others point out, that's the beauty of open source.

  • lol wut? (Score:2, Interesting)

    So my understanding of the summary/question:

    Carnegie Mellon donates moeny for Sophie development. Four years later, it's slow and buggy. Carnegie Mellon donates money to bulgarian group to rewrite Sophie in Java.

    What's the problem, exactly?

    Oh, and for an example of a similar situation (this time with software that's known), consider the Emacs/XEmacs split. Emacs development was slow, so Lucid paid their employees to work on it and contracted with one of the main Emacs developers (Joe?). RMS didn't

  • They want to recreate the project by getting rid of all the original developers who understood the old code and are familiar with all of the design challenges and tradeoffs, replace them with the cheapest warm bodies they can find, and rewrite the whole thing using (what I'm assuming) is Java+Swing.

    Is this really a story about an Open Source project imploding, or a for-profit initiative starting off with a disastrous set of software engineering decisions.

  • I can see why they made the decision, but re-writing the project from scratch was the death of the project right there. As also seen with Netscape, you never ever take a working code base and decide to re-develop it from scratch. Even if it is really really junked up, if it is popular, it will survive the re-factoring or transition little by little to a new language or platform (or UI or what ever). And then you can slap a fancy 2.0 moniker on it.
    • by mellon ( 7048 )

      What color is the sky on your planet? Never ever take a working code base and re-develop it from scratch? First of all, rumor (in the form of TFA) has it that the code base *isn't* working. Secondly, the refactoring of Mozilla took such a long time that a lot of people gave up on it, and in fact there's a very nice replacement for it called WebKit. This is a win-win situation.

      The question here is, can the Bulgarian team do it. Apparently CMU believes they can. Why not wait and see what the outco

      • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
        Are you using Netscape to make your posts? I mean, before IE ate them for lunch, they were to dominant browser. If they had not re-written Netscape from scratch then most people would still be using it. While IE was adding new features, Netscape was re-writing their software from scratch trying to get existing ones working and got killed by delays, bugs, and bloat they thought they were getting rid of. And Mozilla and Webkit are not both rendering engines. I think you meant Gecko. I view Webkit and Ge
    • by WK2 ( 1072560 )

      Rewriting from scratch is done too often, and most of the time fixing the original would have been better. However, sometimes you really do have to rewrite from scratch. You can only polish a turd so much.

      Your comment is like saying, "Never use a hammer." Sure, a hammer is inappropriate for screwing screws, and it's a poor way to open a window, and most anti-spam solutions involving a hammer are illegal, but sometimes you have a nail that you need to beat into a board.

      • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
        One of my favorite sayings is - "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"
        • by WK2 ( 1072560 )

          Yes, that saying is where I got my analogy from. My point is, "sometimes you really are looking at a nail."

  • by Jah Shaka ( 562375 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:59PM (#25249539) Homepage

    i feel your pain! funding killed my project... and herein lies my story :) jahshaka ( []) was a open source digital content creation tool for film/video released at the start of the online video revolution. We had great hopes and we were pretty hot with 40-50k downloads a month and a active community. we won a few awards (best graphics software of the year) and intel contacted us saying they wanted to help out.

    One thing led to another and with intels help we got £4 million from a tier-1 vc in the UK, under the terms that i move to the UK to be cheif evangleist (?). Sounds great right? Well for the first year 75% the funding went into the hands of upper management and their consultants (since upper management were clueless to open source).

    Then they close-sourced the project, so with the communities help we tried to wage a war against management to 'open their eyes' and i ended up getting sacked for it - and left stuck in london with my family, wife and kids. And london aint cheap.

    After the 2nd year (with no progress at-all, no new releases, and a failed attempt at build a CMS which was nothing to do with our project) eventually i was hired back as a consultant.

    I immediatly directed as much of the budget as possible (turned out to be around 2 mil us) into building a fork of the underlying engine in the original project, called the openlibraries, under the LGPL. i took a back seat and directed this while i watched another CEO proceed to build a online video distribution system with the rest of our cash (also nothing to do with our project but whatever) with a goal of eventually getting my stuff back.

    In the end i was able to use my consulting fees to buy it all back... for around £50k... only to find out that i had wasted 4 years of my life and was back to where i was when i got the funding. I got some cool tech out of the deal and some cool domains ( []) but it has then taken me the better half of this year to figure out how to get the project back off the ground.

    so, if nothing at all, you can learn from mmy experiences. open source is not about money its about the people. if you want to build a comercial business then you need to make up your mind from the start.

    hope this helps,

    Jah Shaka []
    • clearly your broken keyboard resulted in many bugs committed and also poorly written business documents, which is probably why you really got canned

    • I'd like to add to that there are many different reasons why people write open source software, and some, including me, do it exactly to escape the commercial realities and constraints. When I'm free from that, I can use the computer in the way I was drawn to it as a kid: the Ultimate Tool in the history of mankind. A lot of developers somehow forgot or lost that, earning a living working for boring companies. That wasn't the original appeal or what I dreamed about. Writing software without compromises, un
    • I'm sorry, mods, I'm sorry, Jah... but please hear me out. I had been waiting for that project for all those 3 or 4 years. I'm a strong open source and Linux supporter, and, if you read my journal, you'll see that I'm all for having drop-in replacements for GNU/Linux. So, here comes Jahshaka, promising us the all-wanted multimedia Linux revolution that hopefully will bring down to earth the "year of desktop Linux" (because without drop-in replacements, it ain't gonna come).

      So, we wait, I actually try out th

      • []

        There's your player. Where's the code? All I see is a Windows installer, an EXE. Open Source proponents (especially linux users) completely abhor executables. We want the source code. Why aren't there any links to the cineplay source code? Ah, there it is, in the little tiny link below the page.

        OK, let's say I begin to trust you...

        Your page looks professional. But TOO professional. It lacks the community feel.
        If I had built your cineplay page, I would add a link to the forums,

  • Notice that the Mellon Foundation is also one of the major sponsors of Zotera, the opensource replacement for Endnote featured on /. for bringing about a lawsuit. Not that there's a connection; I'm just saying that it looks like their philanthropic interest is in enriching/enabling scholarly discourse, not in coddling developers. Even the world of charity can be ruthless - people want their donations to change the world, not just subsidize some programmers. It seems some people are learning that open-source

  • Kill it? Save it! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @03:00PM (#25249563)

    They're paying to have a project that doesn't work well enough (by your own admission) rewritten completely so that it -will- work. Sounds to me like they're trying to save it.

    If you want to prove yourselves, take the time to fix the current one before they have had time to completely rewrite it... If you can't, there's your real problem.

  • I've worked with an open-source project that had a rough couple of years due to outside funding. The core of the problem is if the funding is for some work that may not really be all that interesting to the core of the community. You end up with a bunch of work that the core user/developer base isn't interested in and so it doesn't get as much TLC as other things that are features added by someone close to the project. After the pain of it happening and the few years of recovery the governing body for the p

  • Just had to link to Dilbert [], which seems to be paralleling this story [] ....
  • So the problem basically is that you didn't get the money to do the work, and instead went to some company in Bulgaria? Was the original development funded? because otherwise, what changed? How is the project dead, since the bulgarians will keep maintaining it?

    and who wants to get a job porting something to java anyway? (unless you were using something like Visual Basic before, what's the improvement?)

  • by usc cinema ( 1377875 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @07:40PM (#25252253)

    As Dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Principal Investigator on the original Sophie grant, I'd like to share my own perspectives on what's happening with Sophie.

    Sophie 1.0 was and is a collaboration between our School and the Institute for the Future of the Book (IF:Book). Sophie is intended to make it easier for anyone who is interested in authoring rich-media ebooks to be able to produce professional quality output with minimal training. Bob Stein, head of IF:Book and before that the founder of the Voyager multimedia company, is Sophie's visionary, and a longtime colleague and friend. Bob and I approached Mellon (note: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Program in Research in Information Technology, not Carnegie Mellon, as someone suggested) for funding because Sophie's core constituency is also their core constituency: people in higher education institutions, libraries, museums, arts organizations, and wildlife organizations who want to author interactive content that makes extensive use of text, images, audio, and video. Mellon supported the project on the same terms as all software projects it supports; namely, that the software must be offered under an open source license, and that we must work to develop a sustaining, open source community for Sophie as part of our responsibilities.

    Sophie 1.0 is written in Squeak, a Smalltalk variant. It implements Bob's vision, does what was promised to Mellon, and does it well. As a 1.0 product, there is still plenty of room for enhancement, and we had always intended to approach Mellon for additional funding for version 2.0. Unfortunately, despite a lot of interest among individual faculty and a few small programs, the widespread institutional adoption necessary to form a viable Sophie 1.0 sustaining community was not happening - due in large part, our inquiries suggested, to lack of interest in supporting an enterprise software application written in Squeak. In the community whose support was most essential to Sophie's survival, everyone wanted a language that was more widely known and used; the largest single group of potential adopters wanted Java

    There's a long story about how it happened, but the short version is that IF:Book and USC asked one of the contractors that had helped write Sophie 1.0 - a Bulgarian firm called Axa Solutions - to write Sophie 2.0 in Java, so that it could be adopted widely enough to become a self-sustaining, community-supported open source project. Sharing our concerns about adoption, and continuing to believe in the project, Mellon enthusiastically supported our decision by making a grant for version 2.0 in Java. Sophie 2.0 is not just a Java rewrite of version 1.0: it is a true version 2, containing all the lessons learned in version 1 and substantially extending the functionality, which merely happens to be written in a different programming language.

    Let me correct some inaccuracies in the comments I have read so far. No, I don't consider what we're doing to be forking the project, any more than any version 2 is a fork of version 1: Sophie 2.0 will even feature backward compatibility with Sophie 1.0 books (as well as an improved file-format, one of the lessons learned from Sophie 1.0). Yes, our solution uses a Bulgarian firm, Axa Solutions, as a contractor, but that is not as much of a change as it has been made to sound; as I mentioned, the Bulgarians were part of 1.0 development as well. No, the Bulgarian firm is not closing the code: they don't own the IP, we do, and we have signed a contract with Mellon to make Sophie available under an approved open source license. No, this is not a commercial undertaking in any sense: this is two not-for-profit organizations developing open source software with the help of a charitable foundation, to be sustained by an open source community of not-for-profit user-institutions like colleges, museums, and theaters. Apart from Axa Solutions, which is a contractor to us in the same way the rest of the original Squeak coders were contractors to us (including, I assume

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thank you for taking the time to post a response, Ms. Daley. In a world overwhelmed with partial information and people so excited about taking a single fact out of context and blowing it out of proportion, it is wonderful to see a clear explanation of a situation. Thank you for the breath of fresh air.

      Best Wishes,

    • by JavaRob ( 28971 )

      Excellent, clear response, and exactly what I suspected the situation was....

      Original submitter: if you want to jump in somewhere, responding directly to parent is the likely place to do it.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay