Last modified on 16 December 2012, at 21:39

Strategy for Information Markets/Compatibility and Standards/Forking

A possible downside with competing within a market is the idea of forking. Because the firm will be competing for market shares within a standard, competition focus will change from features to price, but there is always the attempt to further the standard by competing on proprietary standards . In an attempt to improve a product, there is the possibility of "forking" the standard. Forking the standard is a phrase used to describe the division of a network into two (or more) parallel networks. If firm furthers features too much in a network, the effect can be a competition for the market, basically destroying the standard and greatly decrease network externalities. An example of a firm splintering the market is Unix. "Several hardware vendors including IBM, Sun, HP, Silicon-Graphics, and Novell, in a desire to differentiate their product, to add value, and to make improvements created their own flavors of Unix" [1]. These companies did not want to wait for a formal standard to be set and instead essentially divided the market for computers. Another such case involves Microsoft when they created Java Virtual Machine. The effect was,"to splinter the Java market by building a Java Virtual Machine tailored specifically to Windows. Applications written to it would run only on Windows"[2]. "The company then designed a Java tool, Visual J++, with special extensions that favored designs for Windows"[2]. Microsoft created software that was designed to work on their own systems, not the standard which leads to forking. A example of a market that may splinter soon is the market for the smartphone the Android.[3]. Many users are running many different versions of Anroid, causing many bugs and lags in the software. Equipment compatibility as well as problems downloading 3rd party software is frustrating many users and developers all due to the forking of the market.

In software engineering, a project fork happens when developers take a legal copy of source code from one software package and start independent development on it, creating a distinct piece of software.

Free and open source software is that which, by definition, may be forked from the original development team without prior permission without violating any copyright law. However, licensed forks of proprietary software (e.g. Unix) also happen.

Forking free and open source softwareEdit

Free and open source software may be legally forked without the approval of those currently managing a software project or distributing the software, per the definitions of "free software" copyright license ("Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits") and "open source" ("3. Derived Works: redistribution of modifications must be allowed. (To allow legal sharing and to permit new features or repairs.)").

In free software, forks often result from a schism over different goals or personality clashes. In a fork, both parties assume nearly identical code bases but typically only the larger group, or whoever controls the web site, will retain the full original name and the associated user community. Thus there is a reputation penalty associated with forking. The relationship between the different teams can be cordial or very bitter.

Forks are considered an expression of the freedom made available by free and open source software, but a weakness since they duplicate development efforts and can confuse users over which forked package to use. Developers have the option to collaborate and pool resources with free and open source software software, but it is not ensured by free software licenses, only by a commitment to cooperation.

Eric Raymond, in his seminal essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar,[4] stated in 1997 that "The most important characteristic of a fork is that it spawns competing projects that cannot later exchange code, splitting the potential developer community".

In some cases, a fork can merge back into the original project or replace it. EGCS (the Experimental/Enhanced GNU Compiler System) was a fork from GCC which proved more vital than the original project and was eventually "blessed" as the official GCC project. Some have attempted to invoke this effect deliberately, e.g., Mozilla Firefox started as an unofficial project within Mozilla that soon replaced the Mozilla Suite as the focus of development.

On the matter of forking, the Jargon File says:

Forking is considered a Bad Thing—not merely because it implies a lot of wasted effort in the future, but because forks tend to be accompanied by a great deal of strife and acrimony between the successor groups over issues of legitimacy, succession, and design direction. There is serious social pressure against forking. As a result, major forks (such as the Gnu-Emacs/XEmacs split, the fissioning of the 386BSD group into three daughter projects, and the short-lived GCC/EGCS split) are rare enough that they are remembered individually in hacker folklore.

It is easy to declare a fork, but can require considerable effort to continue independent development and support. As such, forks without adequate resources can soon become inactive, e.g., GoneME, a fork of GNOME by a former developer, which was soon discontinued despite attracting some publicity. Some well-known forks have enjoyed great success, however, such as the X.Org X11 server, a fork from XFree86 which gained widespread support from developers and users and notably sped up X development.

More recently, the use of distributed revision control (DVCS) tools has made the term 'fork' less emotive. With a DVCS such as Mercurial or Git, the normal way to contribute to a project is to first 'fork' the repository, and later seek to have your changes integrated with the main repository. These tools have been designed to make creating, maintaining and merging branches (internal forks) much easier than with a centralised VCS, and in so doing they eliminate the difference between a branch and a fork from the point of view of the VCS tool. In addition, sites such as Github, Bitbucket and Launchpad provide free DVCS hosting with very easy-to-use support for this kind of forking, so that the technical, social and financial barriers to forking a source code repository are massively reduced. While forking the community necessarily remains costly and painful, having many competing forks of the source code has become a more natural and accepted part of the development process.

Usually, forks restart from version 0.1 or 1.0 even if the original software was at version 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0. An exception is when the forked software is designed to be a drop-in replacement of the original project, in which case, for example, forked version 5.2 is compatible with version 5.2 of the original software (as it happens in the case of MariaDB and MySQL as of 2011).[5]

Forking proprietary softwareEdit

In proprietary software, the copyright is usually held by the employing entity, not by the individual software developers. Proprietary code is thus more commonly forked when the owner needs to develop two or more versions, such as a windowed version and a command line version, or versions for differing operating systems, such as a wordprocessor for IBM PC compatible machines and Macintosh computers. Generally, such internal forks will concentrate on having the same look, feel, data format, and behavior between platforms so that a user familiar with one can also be productive or share documents generated on the other. This is almost always an economic decision to generate a greater market share and thus pay back the associated extra development costs created by the fork.

A notable proprietary fork not of this kind is the many varieties of proprietary Unix — all derived from AT&T Unix and all called "Unix", but increasingly mutually incompatible. See UNIX wars.

The BSD licenses permit forks to become proprietary software, and some say that commercial incentives thus make proprietisation almost inevitable. Examples include Mac OS X (based on Nextstep and thus BSD), Cedega and CrossOver (proprietary forks of Wine, though CrossOver tracks Wine and contributes considerably), EnterpriseDB (a fork of PostgreSQL, adding Oracle compatibility features), Fujitsu Supported PostgreSQL with their proprietary ESM storage system, and Netezza's proprietary highly scalable derivative of PostgreSQL. Some of these vendors contribute back changes to the community project, while some keep their changes as their own competitive advantages.

Other notable forksEdit

A timeline chart of how Linux distributions forked.
  • Most Linux distributions are descended from other distributions, most being traceable back to Debian, Red Hat| or Slackware. Since most of the content of a distribution is free and open source software, ideas and software interchange freely as is useful to the individual distribution. Merges (e.g., United Linux or Mandriva) are rare.
  • Pretty Good Privacy was forked outside of the United States to free it from restrictive US laws on the exportation of cryptographic software|.
  • The game NetHack has spawned a number of variants using the original code, notably Slash'EM, and was itself a fork of Hack|.
  • OpenBSD was a fork of NetBSD 1.0 by Theo de Raadt
  • OpenSSH was a fork from SSH, which happened because the license for SSH 2.x was non-free (even though the source was available), so an older version of SSH 1.x, the last to have been licensed as free software, was forked. Within months, virtually all Linux distributions, BSD versions and even some proprietary Unixes had replaced SSH with OpenSSH.
  • XOrg forked from XFree86 in 2004, due to the latter's change to a license many distributors found unacceptable.
  • DragonFly BSD was forked from FreeBSD 4.8 by long-time FreeBSD developer Matt Dillon, due to disagreement over FreeBSD 5's technical direction.
  • Adempiere is a community maintained fork of Compiere 2.5.3b, due to disagreement with commercial and technical direction of Compiere Inc.
  • NeoOffice is a fork of OpenOffice.org, with an incompatible license (GPL rather than LGPL), due to disagreements about licensing and about the best method to port OpenOffice.org to Mac OS X.
  • Joomla! is a fork of Mambo.
  • The Inkscape vector-graphics program started as a fork of Sodipodi.
  • Xvid was a fork of OpenDivX.
  • Boxee and Plex media player software's was both forked from XBMC media center.
  • Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems soon resulted in the forking of LibreOffice from OpenOffice.org, and MariaDB from MySQL, due to concerns about Oracle's commitment to open-source development.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Shapiro, Carl; Hal R. Varian (1999). Information Rules. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. 
  2. a b CNET News (2 December 1998). "Jinxed by Java". CNET News. http://news.cnet.com/Jinxed-by-Java/2009-1001_3-218429.html. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  3. Michael Arrington (11 October 2009). "A Chink in Android's Armor". TechCrunch.com. http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/11/a-chink-in-androids-armor/. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  4. w:Eric S. Raymond (Last-Modified: Thu, 15 Aug 2002). "Promiscuous Theory, Puritan Practice". http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/homesteading/ar01s03.html. 
  5. http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/31551/forked-a-project-where-do-my-version-numbers-start