Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parents are never "cool"

December is usually a very light month in the trade news world. Whoda thunk that this week Juniper and Cisco would announce major plans to "go open?"

Juniper started the love-fest with "openness" on Monday with the announcement of its Partner Solution Development Platform (PSDP). Essentially, if you're a big company, and Juniper decides that you're worthy, Juniper will give you the privilege of signing an NDA and paying it yearly fee in order to develop applications that will run on the control plane processor or line cards of its router.

Not wanting to seem like a shrew, Cisco today announced that it too will open up IOS, somehow, someday...

Now, first let's get around to separating the men from the boys. Juniper actually has a real program with a real name (with a real gobbledy-gook four-letter acronym, doncha know). Cisco basically just did an internal reorganization of itself and is handwaving at some future openness, trying to rain on Juniper's parade. The fact is, Cisco has nothing other than an intent to do something, someday.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at Juniper. Basically, Juniper's program is an invitation-only affair, like a snobby country-club that would never be so crass as to allow the riff-raff into the building. If you're interested in developing to Juniper's PSDP (aside: am I the only person who says "piss-dip" there?), you can apply, but Juniper has to feel that you're "worthy" enough to be accepted. Once they decide that you're good enough, you get the privilege of signing a bunch of legal paperwork and paying them a hefty fee. After all that, you can write programs in the JunOS-variant of FreeBSD and for their forwarding engine processors.

Sitting here at Vyatta, this all feels a lot like when your parents tried to be cool in high school by adopting the then-current teenage slang vocabulary in order to "get more connected with their kids." Now matter how hard they tried, they always looked foolish and it always ended badly. Simply adopting language doesn't make you cool. Teenagers know this instinctively; multi-billion dollar public companies seem to forget it.

So let me be the first to really question Juniper's program (I won't even consider Cisco's handwaving further). Juniper, I ask you, what really changed here? Juniper, are you saying that previously, if I was a large, multi-billion dollar company like PSDP-pioneer Avaya, and if I came to you and said I'd like to develop something that would run on JunOS, you wouldn't have considered it, and if accepted make me sign NDAs and pay you a lot of money for the privilege? I find that hard to believe. Okay, so maybe you got a bit more formal in the method that you use to process these requests and you gave it a four-letter acronym, but what's really different for users?

See, to really be cool, you have to adopt more than the terminology. If you really want to be open, then go all the way. Post your source code on the Internet like Vyatta has (on purpose this time). Let anybody download it at any time. Without signing an NDA. Without paying you a lot of money. Without even telling you they have done so. Let them release an extension or a hack and do so in a vertical niche market you haven't ever heard of. In short, really open it up to developers large and small and harness the innovation of the whole world, not just the limited imaginations of other multi-billion dollar corporations who are able to pay the annual dues to your country-club.

That would really be cool. Oh, but then you can't claim to be first, because that's already been done.

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