Say global, act local

OPINION: CA's Ingres migration project is endorsed by NZ's open source community, but questions remain

When is a global competition not a global competition? When it's a Computer Associates global competition, it would appear.

At the beginning of the month, CA announced the Ingres Million Dollar Challenge, a contest in which the company will pay open source developers serious money to come up with a migration tool that will allow users of Oracle, SQL Server, and other databases, to move to CA's Ingres database.

CA open-sourced Ingres at LinuxWorld in San Francisco shortly before announcing the challenge.

The company sent out a media release about the contest that notes in the second paragraph it's "designed to leverage the global-developer talent pool."

However, a bit further down, it says the challenge is open only to open source community members who are "physically located in the 50 United States, Canada (except Quebec), Mexico, the UK, India, China, Australia and New Zealand."

So it's not exactly going to "leverage the global developer talent pool," as it excludes developers from many places which have active, long-established open source communities. OK, maybe I'm being a bit pedantic about the use of the world "global" but it does raise the question — why have large parts of the world been excluded from this contest?

CA says it's to do with legal issues surrounding the running of competitions in the excluded countries. "Although we have worked to make this contest 'borderless' to mirror the community, the laws governing contests vary from state to state and country to country and in some cases the variations are substantial," the contest rules and regulations say.

Computerworld asked the Montreal Linux User Group about Quebec's exclusion. Spokesman Paul Tatham says he can only guess at the reasons, but notes "I would say Quebec bill 101 obliges them to offer the contest in French — this law is about language, not competitions."

It'd be nice to know a bit more about why the contest has been limited to the countries it has but let's accept there are good reasons for doing so and move on the question of what the holding of a such a competition by a major software vendor means. One could take the view that CA has decided since its Ingres database didn't gain much traction as a proprietary product, it might as well open-source it and try to take market share from its competitors that way.

That certainly seems to be the impression gained from a glance at the prize pool, which consists of $US1 million divvied up according to the pre-eminence of the database vendors CA is targeting. It goes like this: the open source developer who comes up with a migration tool to take Oracle users to Ingres gets $400,000, the one who develops a DB2–Ingres path gets $300,000, SQL Server is worth $100,000, Sybase and Informix will both bag $75,000 and MySQL will get you a paltry $50,000.

New Zealand Open Source Society president Peter Harrison wishes CA well in the project and says the prize money is unlikely to be the only motivation for entrants. "As open source developers, we prefer to have a clear motivation in writing software and sometimes the motivation is to write something you personally want, sometimes you're paid to develop something someone else wants."

Harrison says the problem with competitions is that developers risk spending a large amount of time developing something for which they they have no personal need. "For this reason, we believe developers who work with the issues of porting from other databases to Ingres will probably treat the competition as an extension of what they do already."

He says CA is providing members of the open source community with an incentive to work with their technology and "they realise that without a healthy open source community behind them, they may as well not release Ingres as open source." There have been less-than-successful open source products released by software vendors in the past, he says.

"As an example of open source done wrong, you only need to look at Borland's Interbase, which had a leap in popularity when it was open-sourced but has failed to capture market share because of a withdrawal of support from Borland," says Harrison. "By cooperating with the open source community, CA are avoiding the same mistakes and we look forward to seeing Ingres become another compelling reason to move into the world of open source solutions."

Ingres was officially open-sourced at LinuxWorld a month ago, but CA had announced its plans to do so earlier in the year and when the news broke reaction was mixed. Several users at CA's CA World convention in Las Vegas praised CA, with one telling Computerworld US "I'm tired of being treated like an ugly stepsister and a second-class citizen because I use Ingres. I dig CA's open source effort.... now I don't have to apologise for my database."

CA claims there are up to 50,000 Ingres users worldwide and says it has open-sourced Ingres under its CA Trusted Open Source licence, which users can download free of charge but have to pay for service, maintenance, and indemnification.

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