Thursday, October 17, 2013

illumos corporate entity... non-starter?

I want to give folks a status update on the illumos corporate entity.

In a nutshell, the corporate entity seems to be failing to have traction.  In particular, the various corporate contributors  and downstreams for illumos have declined to step up to ensure that an illumos corporate entity has sufficient backing to make it successful.

While at first blush, this seems somewhat unfortunate, I think this is not nearly quite as bad a thing as it might first seem.  In particular, the failure of a corporate entity does not correlate to the health of the ecosystem -- indeed many successful open source projects operate without an umbrella organization or entity. 

Instead, we see corporate contributors and downstream distributions focusing on developing the communities behind their distributions such as SmartOS and OmniOS.  Those downstreams play an active role in improving illumos for the benefit of all, and its my sincere hope and belief that they will continue to evangelize illumos, and contribute to the common core.

Furthermore, incorporation in the state of California requires paying about $800 of taxes per year.  This is true even for organizations without any revenue.  This is money that would have to be taken from sponsors that would serve only to enrich our state government with no direct benefit to the illumos community.  (Non-profit status is a way around that, but its exceedingly difficult to obtain, and a number of open source organizations are finding themselves under very close scrutiny from the state and federal authorities.    Indeed, the X.org community themselves lost their 501(c)3 status not that long ago.)

So, without corporate sponsors to justify the tax and administrative load, I've decided that the illumos corporate entity should expire.  I do want to thank Deirdré Straughan for the non-trivial amount of effort she put into this, as well as the Software Freedom Law Center for the pro-bono work they did for us while we were trying to navigate the waters of becoming a true non-profit open source organization.

And, if any corporate sponsors are out there watching this, and interested in resurrecting the illumos organization, then I'm happy to entertain the possibilities.  I think there is value in an actual organization with a legal status to receive and distribute funds, and who can hold certain items of intellectual property, including the rights to the illumos trademark itself.   But there has to be enough of a sponsorship behind this to make it worthwhile.

In the meantime, I will continue to hold the illumos mark as a trademark that I keep in trust for the community.  The code is something that is already subject to distributed ownership, and so is completely unimpacted by any of this.

Thanks.

  - Garrett

1 comment:

Alan Coopersmith said...

Even once you have a corporate entity and have spent years to go through the IRS paperwork to become a charitable non-profit foundation (if you're lucky enough to make it past the high bar the IRS sets for open source foundations), there's a large amount of work and overhead - having done this with the X.Org Foundation, I don't advise other open source projects to go this route unless they have large enough pots of corporate sponsorship to pay for it.

Other open source projects hit the same walls and have instead banded together under a single corporate umbrella to handle the affairs of multiple projects - there was a presentation at OSCON this year on the most successful ones.

By joining an umbrella org such as SPI or SFC you can get many of the benefits without as much of the workload, which is why the X.Org board is planning to have our members vote on merging the X.Org Foundation into SPI in the near future.