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Google’s plan for the future of Istio? Open trademarks

The Open Usage Commons describes itself as "something wildly new in open source": a way to open up the use of trademarks while Google maintains control of some of its important open-source projects.

Chris DiBona, director of open source for Google and Alphabet​

Chris DiBona, director of open source for Google and Alphabet, is leading "something wildly new in open source."

Photo: Courtesy of Google

Google is about to attempt a fascinating experiment in open-source software, betting that it can satisfy critics who prefer a vendor-neutral approach to its key cloud computing projects while retaining full control of their future.

On Wednesday, Google will launch the Open Usage Commons, a new organization designed to host trademarks associated with three of its most promising open-source projects: Istio, Angular and Gerrit. The group will specify how companies building products and services around those open-source projects will be able to use those trademarks, buttressed by millions of dollars in Google Cloud marketing money, in their own marketing efforts.

"We're announcing that we're librarians for trademarks," said Chris DiBona, director of open source for Google and Alphabet and chair of the OUC, in an interview with Protocol.

"We're going to be bringing trademarks into the Open Source Definition," he added, referring to a widely accepted set of guidelines that outline the parameters of what is considered open-source software. The new organization will ensure that "everyone in the open-source chain — from project maintainers to downstream users to ecosystem companies — has peace of mind around trademark usage and management," the new group said in a blog post.

Nothing will change with respect to the governance models that control how code and higher-level concepts are incorporated into those projects, DiBona said. Istio — a service mesh project for managing microservices that has the highest profile of the three to be overseen by OUC — is currently controlled by Google. That's in contrast to Kubernetes, another important open-source project created by Google and transferred to the vendor-neutral Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2015.

Anyone can use open-source code, like that of Istio, when it is released under one of several commonly accepted licenses: Organizations can use it as part of their own internal tech infrastructure or even in their own products. But use of the trademarks associated with those projects is a very different subject.

To use Kubernetes as an example, one of the many reasons the container management project emerged as a de facto standard over the last few years was in part because the trademarks associated with the project were controlled by a vendor-neutral foundation, allowing companies like AWS and Microsoft to launch their own branded services using the Kubernetes name as it gained popularity.

But the CNCF also specifies a rotating cast of directors and major contributors to projects like Kubernetes, which prohibits a single vendor from being able to influence the future direction of the project in their best interests. (That's the theory, anyway.) The Open Usage Commons makes no such assurances but will instead move control of just the trademarks outside Google and outline specific ways contributors and users of those projects can use the trademarks within their own commercial services.

"Before, we could sort of count on the intent expressed in open-source licenses to handle questions around trademarks," DiBona said. But trademark guidelines in licenses were born of a more collegial era in open source, before companies could make a lot of money from offering open-source projects as a service. "The reality is, there's too much vagueness there for the modern age."

The Open Usage Commons also attempts to sidestep an issue that has dogged Google for almost a year.

As reported by Protocol in February, last year Google angered several companies and individuals working on Istio by reneging on long-stated plans to transfer Istio to a vendor-neutral foundation like the CNCF. The shift was driven by a group inside Google that believed it was a strategic mistake to let go of Kubernetes, rather than using it as a hook to entice people into Google Cloud, and feared the same thing would happen with Istio.

Then, in April, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian surprised many (including me, the person who asked him the question) when he said that Google would transfer the project to a foundation in the near future. The Open Usage Commons is not a foundation, and Google is not attempting to describe it as one.

DiBona said plans for the Open Usage Commons were underway before Kurian made those comments. Clarity around the use of trademarks was an important aspect of the push to get Google to release control of Istio, but open governance was equally if not more important to Google's critics in the enterprise open-source community.

Still, DiBona thinks providing an ostensibly neutral home for open-source trademarks is a big step.

"The point of open-source software licensing is that people can work together without having to have an 11-month negotiation between companies or organizations," DiBona said. "What we're doing with the OUC is we're saying, 'Listen, this area of trademarks, which was not clarified in any open-source license, is becoming the lever that people use to control each other in a way that I think is extremely inconsistent with the Open Source Definition.' That's what we're trying to attack."

DiBona is one of six members of the inaugural OUC board of directors, which also includes Alison Randal, former director of the Open Source Initiative, which set the Open Source Definition; Charles Lee Isbell Jr., dean of the Georgia Tech College of Computing; Cliff Lampe, a professor at the University of Michigan; Jen Phillips, head of program management at Google's Open Source Programs Office; and Miles Ward, chief technology officer at SADA Systems and formerly of Google Cloud.

"The Open Usage Commons is something wildly new in open source, and in the spirit of the transparency that propels open source, we'll be the first to tell you that the Commons intends to start small and walk before it runs," the group said in a blog post. DiBona said more details should be released before the end of the year.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Charles Lee Isbell Jr. and misspelled the name of Jen Phillips. It also misstated Alison Randal's role; she is a former director of the Open Source Initiative, not the current director of the Open Source Initiative. Updated July 8.

People

Beeper built the universal messaging app the world needed

It's an app for all your social apps. And part of an entirely new way to think about chat.

Beeper is an app for all your messaging apps, including the hard-to-access ones.

Image: Beeper

Eric Migicovsky likes to tinker. And the former CEO of Pebble — he's now a partner at Y Combinator — knows a thing or two about messaging. "You remember on the Pebble," he asked me, "how we had this microphone, and on Android you could reply to all kinds of messages?" Migicovsky liked that feature, and he especially liked that it didn't care which app you used. Android-using Pebble wearers could speak their replies to texts, Messenger chats, almost any notification that popped up.

That kind of universal, non-siloed approach to messaging appealed to Migicovsky, and it didn't really exist anywhere else. "Remember Trillian from back in the day?" he asked, somewhat wistfully. "Or Adium?" They were the gold-standard of universal messaging apps; users could log in to their AIM, MSN, GChat and Yahoo accounts, and chat with everyone in one place.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

People

Google's union has big goals — and big roadblocks

Absence of dues, retaliation fears and small numbers could pose problems for the union's dream of collective bargaining, but Googlers are undeterred.

Recruiting union members beyond the early adopters has had its challenges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

When the Alphabet Workers Union launched with more than 200 Googlers at the beginning of the year, it saw a quick flood of new sign-ups, nearly quadrupling membership over a few weeks. But even with the more than 710 members it now represents, the union still stands for just a tiny fraction of Google's more than 200,000 North American employees and contractors. The broader Alphabet workforce could prove difficult to win over, which is a hurdle that could stand in the way of the group's long-term ambitions for substantive culture change and even collective bargaining.

The initial boom of interest from Googlers was thrilling for Alex Peterson, a software engineer and union spokesperson. "It's really reinvigorating what it means to actually be a community of Googlers, which is something that's been eroding over the past four or five years, or even longer."

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

About Protocol | Enterprise

‘It’s not OK’: Elastic takes aim at AWS, at the risk of major collateral damage

Elastic's long-running dispute with AWS entered a new chapter last week with big changes to two of its open-source projects. AWS now plans to take those projects under its wing.

"I don't know why this is surprising to people," Elastic CEO Shay Banon said in an interview with Protocol.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Fed up with what he sees as unfair competition from AWS, Elastic CEO Shay Banon felt he had no choice but to restrict the way third parties can use two important open-source projects developed by his company. Yet much of enterprise tech thinks he just threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Last Thursday, Elastic published a blog post — curiously titled "Doubling down on open, Part II" — announcing that Elasticsearch and Kibana, two widely used open-source projects in enterprise tech, would no longer be available under the permissive Apache 2.0 license. Instead, all subsequent releases to those projects will only be available under either a controversial new license known as the SSPL, or the Elastic License, both of which were designed to make it difficult for cloud companies to sell managed versions of the open-source projects they're applied to.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire. He served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure, and most recently produced a leading cloud computing newsletter called Mostly Cloudy.

The current state-of-the-art quantum computers are a tangle of wires. And that can't be the case in the future.

Photo: IBM Research

The iconic image of quantum computing is the "Google chandelier," with its hundreds of intricately arranged copper wires descending like the tendrils of a metallic jellyfish. It's a grand and impressive device, but in that tangle of wires lurks a big problem.

"If you're thinking about the long-term prospects of quantum computing, that image should be just terrifying," Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel, told Protocol.

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Dan Garisto
Dan Garisto is a freelance science journalist who specializes in the physical sciences, with an emphasis on particle physics. He has an undergraduate degree in physics and is based in New York.
Election 2020

Google says it’s fighting election lies, but its ads fund them

A new report finds that more than 1,600 brands, from Disney to Procter & Gamble, have advertisements running on sites that push pro-Trump conspiracy theories. The majority of those ads are served by Google.

Google is the most dominant player in programmatic advertising, but it has a spotty record enforcing rules for publishers.

Photo: Alex Tai/Getty Images

Shortly after November's presidential election, a story appeared on the website of far-right personality Charlie Kirk, claiming that 10,000 dead people had returned mail-in ballots in Michigan. But after publishing, a correction appeared at the top of the story, completely debunking the misleading headline, which remains, months later, unchanged.

"We are not aware of a single confirmed case showing that a ballot was actually cast on behalf of a deceased individual," the correction, which quoted Michigan election officials, read.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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