Google this week agitated the bulk of the open source community by launching the Open Usage Commons consortium to protect the trademarks of open source projects, starting with the Istio, Angular and Gerrit projects it launched.
Launched in collaboration with SADA Systems and some independent contributors, the stated goal of the Open Usage Commons is to help open source projects assert and manage their project identity through programs specific to trademark management and conformance testing.
Istio is a service mesh that runs on top of Kubernetes, while Angular is a web application framework. Gerrit is a code collaboration tool.
Unlike previous open source projects that Google played a major role in developing such as Kubernetes, Google has yet to contribute these three projects to an open source consortium. That decision has members of the open source community now questioning Google’s commitment to open source software.
In fact, IBM, which launched the Istio project in collaboration with Google, this week said the Open Usage Commons does not meet the level of open source governance IBM expects. Originally, IBM said the expectation was that Istio would be contributed to the CNCF once it achieved a level of maturity. That contribution would include Istio intellectual property and the trademark. Now IBM is encouraging Google to reconsider its Open Usage Commons approach.
If Google continues to hold on to the intellectual property rights for open source projects such as Istio, those projects will become little more than a community project that Google exercises control over, said Priyanka Sharma, general manager of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which oversees the ongoing development of Kubernetes, among other open source projects.
“It’s not in the spirit of open source,” said Sharma. “I don’t think you can even call it open source.”
Other open source initiatives will be hesitant to build on top of projects such as Istio if the intellectual property belongs to a single vendor, added Chip Childers, executive director of the Cloud Foundry Foundation (CFF). The trademark is never the main issue, he said.
“The trademark is only part of the consideration,” said Childers.
In the case of Istio, the decision to launch Open Usage Commons might also draw more attention to a Service Mesh Interface (SMI) project being advanced under the auspices of the CNCF. That interface promises to make it easier to rip and replace one service mesh for another.
In the meantime, Google may be trying to maximize its investments in open source projects that until now have tended to benefit rivals more. In terms of consumption of cloud services based on Kubernetes, Google is a distant third at best to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.
In general, there are more open source projects than ever. However, some of the entities that launch those projects have complained that cloud service providers simply turn those projects into cloud services in a way that consumes most of the revenue opportunities any open source project might generate.
Google now appears to be exacerbating those tensions further by trying to retain control over the open source project it leads, while selling services based on other open source software projects. It’s not clear to what degree this rift might drive a wedge between multiple open source factions. Google with this move may just drive more members of the open source community into the arms of AWS and Microsoft. However, for the moment at least, none of the projects covered by the Open Usage Commons trademarks are so critical that they could not be replaced by any one of several alternative projects that are truly open source.