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Sun bullied, used threats to gain control of open source project, former owner says

By , Network World
November 29, 2007 12:09 PM ET

Network World - Sun used strong-arm tactics and made threats to the owners of an open-source directory project to wrestle away control, according to one of the former owners and creators of the project.

In the process, Sun potentially has torn a gaping hole in the OpenDS (directory service) project, which is creating a free Java-based directory service for large deployments that offers high performance, extensibility and management.

Neil Wilson, who was the co-founder, co-owner and committer of OpenDS and a Sun employee before he was laid off in September, said on his blog and in an interview with Network World, that Sun threatened to terminate his severance benefits and those of three other recently laid-off employees and co-owners of OpenDS if the foursome didn’t amend the OpenDS bylaws to cede control to Sun.

Sun did not respond to requests for comments by the time this story was posted.

“Owners” of open source projects establish the work’s governance and its goals, guide the community effort and resolve disputes among project contributors, among other activities.

The OpenDS bylaws state that governance changes can only be made by a consensus of the project owners, which is standard language for project bylaws, and Wilson says Sun forced him and the others to give up ownership so the vendor could control who was spearheading OpenDS.

“I don’t think at the time they did it [layoffs] that they realized they had laid off the entire ownership of the project. I think they did not know how to handle that,” Wilson said.

On Nov. 14, Wilson said, a Sun executive demanded during a call with one of the four OpenDS co-owners that the owners approve a governance change that would grant Sun full control of the OpenDS project. It was during that call that the co-owner was threatened with the loss of their severance benefits, Wilson said. The threat was not made directly to Wilson, but was directed at all four co-owners, he said.

“This was a very disappointing and hurtful turn of events. I believe that we acted only in good faith and in the best interests of the community,” Wilson wrote on his blog.

Sun wanted the amendment so the project could be “controlled entirely by a Sun-selected committee,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the foursome took Sun’s threats seriously and all feared losing significant financial compensation. Wilson wrote they “were ultimately compelled to resign our ownership and end our association with the project on November 19, 2007.”

Wilson said he is speaking out now because he is officially no longer a Sun employee and to explain his absence from the OpenDS project.

Wilson said he thinks Sun’s move does not represent Sun’s true open source strategy. He says it “was a relatively isolated incident brought on by middle management acting of their own accord.”

But he wrote on his blog: “Sun management has shown that at least in this case they are willing to resort to rather hostile tactics to preserve absolute control. This is most certainly not in the spirit of open source and open development that we tried to foster or that Sun claims to embody.”

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