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Source Code Escrow

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the my-precious dept.

Software 182

Makarand writes "According to this article in The Economic Times (India) Software companies in India are embracing the trend where source code for the software being bought or sold is kept safe with an escrow agent with carefully drafted agreements. This allows the buyer to get hold of the source code in cases where software was licensed from a start-up which has now folded or a breach of contract regarding the maintenance services that were agreed upon can be proven. The source code is automatically released upon the occurrence of any of the events mentioned in the escrow agreement and the buyer will be able to study the source code and continue to provide support services for the software bought without relying on the employees of the software supplier."

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182 comments

Fuck you (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811408)

I posted on Slashdot and all I got was this lousy penis rash.

legal@slashdot.org (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811494)

Dear Sir or Madam,

your Internet Protocol number has been logged for legal purposes in accordance with our efforts to reduce the increasing amount of sexually abusive language on this site and to comply with the Rules Of Governance In Electronic Media as required by Californian law.

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Liar (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811505)

You are such a troll.

or should it be anti-troll?

Re:Liar (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811540)

He is a Good Christian(C) on a quest to liberate the World(C) from the sins of Flesh(TM) by the use of his Power(C).

Disclaimer: Not George W. "Oh yes Connddolleezzaa, ride my greasy pee-niss!" Bush; he is just a stupid fuck who got his fathers meat stuffed in his throat several times too often.

First TOAST! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811413)

toaster,toaster toaser, do you have toast in you yet i think [rowdyruff.net]
so!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Im not a toaster!!!!!!!!!!And one more
thing........YOUR A TOASER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND A COOKIE WITH MILK SOAGE
MILK!!!!!!!!!!AND A BUTT WITH POOP IN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811415)

first post.. yadda yada

First Negro (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811417)

Merry Christmas.

HUGE FUCKING FAILURE (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811491)

Not a new idea ... (5, Interesting)

taniwha (70410) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811418)

not just something that happens in India ... I put source into escrow as part, of a contract at least 15 years ago, and it certainly wasn;t a new idea then

It's a fucking prank! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811648)

In an announcement that has stunned the computer industry, Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan admitted that the Unix operating system and C programming language created by them is an elaborate April Fools prank kept alive for over 20 years. Speaking at the recent UnixWorld Software Development Forum, Thompson revealed the following:

``In 1969, AT&T had just terminated their work with the GE/Honeywell/AT&T Multics project. Brian and I had just started working with an early release of Pascal from Professor Nichlaus Wirth's ETH labs in Switzerland and we were impressed with its elegant simplicity and power. Dennis had just finished reading `Bored of the Rings', a hilarious National Lampoon parody of the great Tolkien `Lord of the Rings' trilogy. As a lark, we decided to do parodies of the Multics environment and Pascal. Dennis and I were responsible for the operating environment. We looked at Multics and designed the new system to be as complex and cryptic as possible to maximize casual users' frustration levels, calling it Unix as a parody of Multics, as well as other more risque allusions. Then Dennis and Brian worked on a truly warped version of Pascal, called `A'. When we found others were actually trying to create real programs with A, we quickly added additional cryptic features and evolved into B, BCPL and finally C. We stopped when we got a clean compile on the following syntax:

for(;P("\n"),R-;P("|"))for(e=C;e-;P("_"+(*u++/8) %2 ))P("| "+(*u/4)%2);

To think that modern programmers would try to use a language that allowed such a statement was beyond our comprehension! We actually thought of selling this to the Soviets to set their computer science progress back 20 or more years. Imagine our surprise when AT&T and other US corporations actually began trying to use Unix and C! It has taken them 20 years to develop enough expertise to generate even marginally useful applications using this 1960's technological parody, but we are impressed with the tenacity (if not common sense) of the general Unix and C programmer. In any event, Brian, Dennis and I have been working exclusively in Pascal on the Apple Macintosh for the past few years and feel really guilty about the chaos, confusion and truly bad programming that have resulted from our silly prank so long ago.''

Major Unix and C vendors and customers, including AT&T, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, GTE, NCR, and DEC have refused comment at this time. Borland International, a leading vendor of Pascal and C tools, including the popular Turbo Pascal, Turbo C and Turbo C++, stated they had suspected this for a number of years and would continue to enhance their Pascal products and halt further efforts to develop C. An IBM spokesman broke into uncontrolled laughter and had to postpone a hastily convened news conference concerning the fate of the RS-6000, merely stating `VM will be available Real Soon Now'. In a cryptic statement, Professor Wirth of the ETH institute and father of the Pascal, Modula 2 and Oberon structured languages, merely stated that P. T. Barnum was correct.

In a related late-breaking story, usually reliable sources are stating that a similar confession may be forthcoming from William Gates concerning the MS-DOS and Windows operating environments. And IBM spokesman have begun denying that the Virtual Machine (VM) product is an internal prank gone awry.

Re:Not a new idea ... (1, Informative)

zEvilOne (304243) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811851)

I can't see how this differs from the concept of a notary.
In France, Belgium and almost all countries where Napoleon once waved the scepter, the function of "notary" was introduced.

Whenever there's a contract where both parties want nonrepudiation, they use that person to ensure legality of the contract, safekeeping of the definitive version of the contract, and to ensure that the actions necessary will be taken when certain events happen.

For instance, in Belgium no one buys a house without a notary. People also use it for things like their last will. He also can perfectly used to keep sourcecode. In fact, all notaries are obliged to ensure safekeeping for at least 25 years personally and after that, documents are moved to the repository of the order of notaries.

BTW, the absence of a notary isn't the only defect of the American legal system.

Re:Not a new idea ... (1)

iron_weasel (415177) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811913)

Ok so we call them Public Notary. They witness signatures , like on wills and so forth.

What are you smoking?

A better way to avoid this problem (-1, Troll)

Amiga Lover (708890) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811420)

If it were open source like it SHOULD BE then there's no reason to have this 'solution' to a problem that would be 'non existent'.

Closed source. Feeding the middle man. and the other middle man. and the other middle man again, ad infinitum

If you want it open source.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811430)

...then pony up the BUX!!!! And have you ever thought that maybe the software buying company doesn't want a COMPETITOR to have access to it? If I had just contracted for some custom software that would give my business an edge, I sure as hell would want for me to be the only ones to be using it. OSS means jack shit to me if all it does is help my competitors pull even with me, on my dime! Fuck that.

you're rambling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811449)

And have you ever thought that maybe the software buying company doesn't want a COMPETITOR to have access to it?

If it's commercial software, then a COMPETITOR can simply buy it. Open source is a more cost-effective to that kind of commercial development.

If I had just contracted for some custom software that would give my business an edge, I sure as hell would want for me to be the only ones to be using it.

If you paid for the development of software that gives your business a competitive advantage, then you wouldn't need escrow--you'd own the code. Obviously, that's not the case under discussion.

(You might still want to open source the code because you might find that it's cheaper to share future development and maintenance costs with your competitors than to go it alone, but that's a separate matter.)

Re:If you want it open source.... (1)

Amiga Lover (708890) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811520)

Well maybe you can still sell it for something, and earn a profit, but take a look at all the open source companies still making a profit and earning money. like redhat. There would be others too.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811444)

Open source. Feeding no one. and no one. and no one still. Then your programmers die from lack of food.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (4, Funny)

questamor (653018) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811492)

Programmers don't need food. That's what Caffeine and Beer were invented for, to keep legions of coders alive.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (2, Funny)

Stonent1 (594886) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811549)

Programmers don't need food. That's what Caffeine and Beer were invented for, to keep legions of coders alive.

Ok, who's gonna be the first one to make some caffeinated beer? I might vote for you in the next overlord election!

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (2, Informative)

Pathwalker (103) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811571)

Ok, who's gonna be the first one to make some caffeinated beer?

It's been around a while - I remember hearing about Rethink Beer [rethinkbeer.com] back during the height of the .com bubble. I think they were the first to sell caffeinated beer...

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (1)

Electrode (255874) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811663)

Ok, who's gonna be the first one to make some caffeinated beer?

You've never watched the Drew Carey show, have you?

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811446)

Sure. Open source, however, has its own set of associated problems.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (1)

SupaMegaBuffalo (717226) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811466)

Insightful? wtf?

"If it were open source like it SHOULD BE"

Very well, i'm not busy right now so i suppose i'll feed this troll.
Who are you to declare that all source code should be free (which seems to be what you're implying, correct me if i'm wrong)?
If a company pours money and resources into developing some software they have a right to decide whether or not they want to release the source openly. I think that's enough said.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811475)

> they have a right to decide whether or not they want to
> release the source openly.

Presumably then they are OK bearing the responsibility of knowing they're code could end up locked away or lost when company X goes bust.

It's a tradeoff, and OSS is the best all round solution

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (1)

SupaMegaBuffalo (717226) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811486)

"and OSS is the best all round solution"

I keep hearing this, but i've hardly seen anyone backing this up with any meaningful arguments (don't get me wrong i'm not agains OSS as such).

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811620)

Presumably then they are OK bearing the responsibility of knowing they're code could end up locked away or lost when company X goes bust.

No. Escrow has been used for many decades so that the above is a non-issue.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811625)

Feeding the middle man. and the other middle man. and the other middle man again, ad infinitum

woohoo. you meam we ALL get fed?

Escrow predates Open Source (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811635)

If it were open source like it SHOULD BE then there's no reason to have this 'solution' to a problem that would be 'non existent'.

Actually escrow is an earlier solution. Open Source is the relative new comer.

Re:A better way to avoid this problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811725)

Feeding the middle man?

In the current open source landscape, the programmer is the one primary not being paid.

What if the escrow goes bust as well? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811421)

Then you're truly fucked.

Re:What if the escrow goes bust as well? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811701)

That isn't even necessary. If the original company goes bankrupt, the creditors almost certainly have first dibs on the code in escrow (assuming the company took out loans prior to putting the code into escrow).

Re:What if the escrow goes bust as well? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811718)

IIRC [google.com] , escrow agents are lawyers, or much like lawyers. When a firm folds, there are plenty of people in line to profit from handling their unfinished business. Professional firms in many industries buy/sell/trade business all the time for a variety of reasons. I doubt that there will ever be a shortage of agents. So, don't fear doing business with an escrow agent just because their business might fold. However, they are, mostly, lawyers.

Re:What if the escrow goes bust as well? (0)

jigyasubalak (308473) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811859)

Maybe a few people doubt it's bustability, but most people appear to trust CAs like Verisign more than these software escrows. I see a CAs' service to be pretty close to what a software escrow is providing. Do I smell a contradiction here?

Sounds like a good idea (1)

Alcohol Fueled (603402) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811426)

A way for a buyer to obtain the source code in case of a bad situation, such as the writer of the source goes bankrupt? Sounds like a good idea to ensure you get your source code from somebody, just in case.

Re:Sounds like a good idea (4, Insightful)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811652)

Except of course that there is no guarentee that the source is in a finished state. What if the company takes the big walk in the middle of a project? What if the company says that the project has met all requirements, yet the code is useless for the intended purpose.

These are very real possibilities. They are also common outcomes in IT projects of years past. A source escro is mostly an agreement between a finished software vendor and a client. Between a company and a sub-contractor it's simply CYA. (And not a very good form at that.)

source code escrow not very useful (4, Informative)

penguin7of9 (697383) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811433)

If the developer goes out of business, getting the source code by itself is almost always useless: almost no single customer will have the resources to maintain and extend it. Source code is only cost effective if there is a community of users and developers, and that requires releasing the code under an open source license ahead of time.

(For the same reason, Microsoft source code isn't their crown jewels, as they always claim: even if people got access to it, they couldn't develop and maintain it anyway. The main reason Microsoft doesn't want their sources released is probably marketing--the "Coca Cola Secret Formula" gimmick--and the probably embarrassing state of it.)

Another problem with source code escrow agreements is that people don't know whether the code deposited with the agent will even compile or be complete. And the agents themselves disappear or misplace code.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

little_prince (729131) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811455)

if the company goes bust, it's old employees who worked on that source, will become available too. pay them a slightly bigger slice and attract them to your cause and benefit.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

spectral (158121) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811460)

Situations where you would use this I think would be where Company A wants a specific product, let's call it WhizBangAccountingProgram. They have a specific list of features they want. They don't feel like hiring programmers themselves, to they contract it out to a company to make it for them (and only them). Thus if this company goes under, they get at least part of what they were paying for. At least, that's where it makes sense to me.

I don't think it would get used at a point when said company is developing something as a product for itself and for retail sale. Only contracted programming. Thus yes, it is this 'single customer' that would be maintaining and extending it, since it was originally meant for just them anyway. (Occasionally the developer gets a license such that they can resell it to other people as well, but that's uncommon from what I hear).

Disclaimer: I really know nothing of any of this, except the little bit the airbag professor I had this semester spouted off. So what I just said was mostly what made sense to me..

Re:source code escrow not very useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811647)

Shouldn't your professor be teaching computer science, instead of that dreck?

Actually, it isn't dreck. It just belongs in a business school, not an engineering school.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

bmajik (96670) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811465)

You think marketing is the only reason MS doesn't want their sources released ?

Let me tell you what. Microsoft sales / marketing is getting a BEATING re: the whole Open Source vs Closed Source issue. Open Source for better or worse is a giant buzz and people that have no idea why they do or dont want it are asking about it all the time.

If opening the source to all of MS's products boiled down to a bullet point on a marketing brochure, don't you think they'd have done that by now ?

Your assertion about Microsoft is pretty far fetched. Your position in the first paragraph isn't self evident, either.

I think the agreements we're talking about here are going to be along the lines of "customer X makes a product or runs it's business on vendor Y's software". As customer X is dependant on the technology in Y, expect everyone at X to be familiar, if not intimately so, with what Y does, at least from an operational and user perspective.

case in point - the secretary that uses MS word can probably tell me very accurately and concisely what word does. And if someone else wrote their own clone of word, i bet she'd find the differences. The secretary isn't a programmer. She's the customer - the end user.

In the case, the secretary, who isn't in any sort of community, knows exactly what the software needs to do. There's your QA - the user. If you get _any_ developer - even a contract programmer, the source to word, as long as the secretary gets to review builds before they're approved, you've got what you need to keep the secretary in business. No community, no open source, no nothing.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

penguin7of9 (697383) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811581)

You think marketing is the only reason MS doesn't want their sources released ?

You bet, although I'm not sure how conscious they are of it. Microsoft views and presents itself as an advanced technology company. Releasing their source code would be tantamount to an admission that they really don't have any interesting, new technology.

Let me tell you what. Microsoft sales / marketing is getting a BEATING re: the whole Open Source vs Closed Source issue. Open Source for better or worse is a giant buzz and people that have no idea why they do or dont want it are asking about it all the time.

And your point is what? That it would be good for Microsoft to open source Windows because of the current open source buzz? It probably would be in the long run. But I didn't claim that Microsoft marketing is behaving rationally. Microsoft marketing believes that they own the crown jewels and they believe that software should be proprietary. Heck, they probably even genuinely believe that Microsoft is putting out innovative products and that Microsoft is driving the tech revolution. That's how they are presenting the company to the outside. They are not going to turn around and make Windows open source, no matter how rational it might be--it goes against everything they believe in.

In the case, the secretary, who isn't in any sort of community, knows exactly what the software needs to do. There's your QA - the user. If you get _any_ developer - even a contract programmer, the source to word, as long as the secretary gets to review builds before they're approved, you've got what you need to keep the secretary in business. No community, no open source, no nothing.

QA is the least of their worries. A "contract programmer" would be completely overwhelmed with a project the size and complexity of Microsoft Word. Microsoft's version control, project organization, and coding styles only make this even worse compared to open source projects. You'd need a dedicated team just to port it to a new version of Windows, let alone make any significant modifications to it.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (2)

donutello (88309) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811605)

I think his point was that the fact that no one else could maintain and develop based on the code base was not the reason the code was being kept secret.

Among the other reasons you mentioned such as revealing potentially embarassing bugs in the source code, the main reason is the fact that having the source code available would allow competitors to develop software that equalled all the existing features of Windows essentially for free - killing any brand advantage. Software has a virtually zero marginal cost of production and making the source available will allow competitors to get the same production without the initial investments in the development costs, etc.

non-secret != open source (1)

penguin7of9 (697383) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811657)

I did not say that Microsoft could release their source code into the public domain and not suffer consequences (they might or they might not be able to, but that's a harder argument to make). I said that they don't depend on secrecy of their source code for their business. There is a big difference between non-secret source code on the one hand, and open source or public domain on the other.

Sun Java, for example, is available in source form to anybody who wants it, but not under an open source license. The SCSL allows you to look at Sun's code, but it contaminates you with Sun intellectual property and does not permit you to release your own version of Sun's JRE without paying them.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

Sivaram_Velauthapill (693619) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811641)

Let me tell you what. Microsoft sales / marketing is getting a BEATING re: the whole Open Source vs Closed Source issue. Open Source for better or worse is a giant buzz and people that have no idea why they do or dont want it are asking about it all the time.

I highly doubt MS is losing the marketing war. If your assertion is correct, how come companies aren't using open-source software? Where are the linux sales? How many are using mySQL? Or Postgresql? How many use Openoffice.org?

Sivaram Velauthapillai

Re:source code escrow not very useful (4, Interesting)

bmajik (96670) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811721)

How many business run on linux now compared to 1 year ago. 5 years ago. 10 years ago.

It seems like a binary proposition to me:
You either beleive linux and open source are having no effect whatsoever on the computing industry, or you beleive that Microsoft marketing is having trouble dealing with linux/OSS

Let me assure you. MS is losing sales to OSS software. They take it so seriously that there are direct channels of communication within the comapany that go very high in order to attempt a mitigation of any technical (or other) blockers in an OSS vs Microsoft competitive situation.

It is my understanding that it is possible for a leaf-node sales person to have director/VP level ears, in a matter of hours, if necessary, when linux is involved.

Incidentally, this is what lots of people have been asking for, I think. MS is competing on technical merit, on management, on features, on security, and even on cost.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

hummassa (157160) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811906)

case in point - the secretary that uses MS word can probably tell me very accurately and concisely what word does. And if someone else wrote their own clone of word, i bet she'd find the differences. The secretary isn't a programmer. She's the customer - the end user.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Case in point -- my wife is a District Attorney. She types in 40+ pages/day of legalese. I yanked Word from her machine, installed OOo, themed the toolbars/menus so she could use all the buttons/submenus in the familiar places, substituted her desktop shortcut, and... voila... she would not have known the difference if I had not told her. Ok, she does less sofisticated page designs than a financial-firm secretary? maybe... but maybe not. Not a single complaint.
She is a computer USER for the last 10 years (the time she has been a D.A.). No programming, no other computer skills, just Word, web, mail, icq and Sims....

Re:source code escrow not very useful (2, Insightful)

k12linux (627320) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811476)

The biggest problem I would have with this type of escrow situation is that there is no way to know how clean and maintainable the code is until the original developers are gone. Are there comments, are they meaningful. Is the code easy to follow, or does it look like this [ioccc.org] ?

Will my in-house programmers be able to work with it right away, or will they spend the next 6-9 months just figuring out how it works? Will *anybody* but the original programmer know anything about how it works?

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811478)

Your logic is sound, but having useless source code is going to be better than NO source code.

Worst comes to worst you can take the code and outsorce it to some indian company to do something with it. ;)

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

Dr. Photo (640363) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811596)

Worst comes to worst you can take the code and outsorce it to some indian company to do something with it. ;)

Indian Company: Hello, source code. Back into escrow you go!

(Ahh, another day, another problem solved. :-)

Re:source code escrow not very useful (5, Informative)

Apreche (239272) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811506)

You're right, except for one thing. The reason microsoft doesn't want its source code disclosed is to protect its proprietary properties. For example, NTFS. Right now we only have NTFS read only, and we can write ntfs by actually using microsofts ntfs.sys file. With the source code there would probably be an NTFS kernel patch inside a week that worked perfectly.
Other things that microsoft would like to protect are:

a) obvious security holes that anyone who looked at the code could pick out
b) the source code to IE, so people don't release a patched version that doesn't suck.
c) DirectX, so windows will always remain the system to play games on. Imagine if we had the directx source. Within a couple months there could be a stable linux fork of directx and all windows games would work perfectly in linux.
d) Secrets. There are all kinds of things that windows could be doing that nobody knows about exept for one guy at MS who coded it in. If the source was open ./ers would comb it over with the finest comb and uncover all of ms dirty secrets if any. Maybe there's an algorithm that is patented by someone else. Maybe there's some hidden precursor to some spyware or some DRM. If the source stays secret they can't get in trouble for what is or isn't in it.
e) The #1 reason is really money. If the source for windows was open it would be just that much easier to get free copies of windows. Even better than that, they would get Windows Lite. Just like everyone uses Kazaa Lite. If the source for windows was open there would be a no IE no Media Player stable version roaming the net. People would switch to it so fast. MS would lose all its revenue from desktop OS licenses.
f) File formats. If we had the source to office the doc file format would be wide open among others. Presently doc files are supported for importing/exporting in non MSOffice word processors, but it never goes quite right. Justification is missing, or fonts break. With the file formats open nobody would have a reason to use office.
g) Driver database. This kind of goes with the NTFS thing I talked about, but windows has a huge database of device drivers in it. With access to the source for all these drivers linux or any other OS (SkyOS or BSD) would have equivalent hardware support to windows.

If you get the games (directx) and the hardware support, there just wont be a reason for people like me to dual boot anymore. If MS opens its source people will look at it and fork it and pieces of it. They wont maintain and develop it. They will chop it to bits and turn lead into gold. Thus being the end of Microsoft's monopoly.

Their source code isn't some secret ingredient. It's the only thing seperating them from certain doom.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

penguin7of9 (697383) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811609)

For example, NTFS. Right now we only have NTFS read only, and we can write ntfs by actually using microsofts ntfs.sys file. With the source code there would probably be an NTFS kernel patch inside a week that worked perfectly.

But that would still not matter much because development would still be driven by Microsoft--they could make incompatible changes and put it into the next Windows update and all that open source effort would be useless.

Ultimately, what matters for market control is control of the community and the license on the source code. Whether people can see the source code or not is secondary.

Sun is currently playing this game brilliantly: unlike Microsoft, they do release full sources to the Java platform. But the license under which they release it keeps the implementation and platform proprietary. In fact, their license infects potential open source developers and keeps them from working on open source implementations. As a result, open source efforts to implement the Java 2 platform have met only with limited success and Sun and the JCP retain complete control of the platform.

If MS opens its source people will look at it and fork it and pieces of it. They wont maintain and develop it. They will chop it to bits and turn lead into gold. Thus being the end of Microsoft's monopoly.

Their source code isn't some secret ingredient. It's the only thing seperating them from certain doom.


I didn't say that Microsoft could open source their software and not suffer problems, I said that they don't require secrecy of the source code. Again, look at Sun: Java is not open source, but the source code isn't secret either.

Microsoft could release their source code under something like the Sun Community Source License with probably no ill effects as far as forking is concerned (as I was saying, there is still the embarrassment factor, into which I lump security holes).

In fact, an SCSL-like release of Windows would probably create significant additional hurdles to open source implementations of something like NTFS: right now, it's clear that if you implement NTFS, you did so by reverse engineering. That's legal in many places. If Microsoft released NTFS source code under something like the SCSL, the presumption might well be that if you implement NTFS, you did so from their source and fall under their license. It might be up to you to prove otherwise.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

meldroc (21783) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811514)

That all assumes that the escrowed code actually gets released to the buyer. If the developer declares bankruptcy, the code becomes an asset that can be used to pay creditors, so the judge may nullify the escrow contract so the software can be sold for more money.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (5, Interesting)

TFMReader (225915) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811556)

If the developer goes out of business, getting the source code by itself is almost always useless: almost no single customer will have the resources to maintain and extend it. Source code is only cost effective if there is a community of users and developers, and that requires releasing the code under an open source license ahead of time.

Bzzzzt! Wrong. Code is usually put in escrow after a team of developers, either from the client or a third party, examines it (under an NDA) and comes to a conclusion that if the vendor goes bust they would be able to maintain it. This gives the client the option that their own people or a third party could take over if need arises.

Microsoft source code isn't their crown jewels, as they always claim: even if people got access to it, they couldn't develop and maintain it anyway.

Microsoft code will not be put under escrow any time soon, I suspect. The arrangement usually fits the situation where a small software vendor (e.g. a startup) delivers a software product to a bigger company. The bigger company is concerned that the small vendor may go under, but they have some assurance that they - or another software company - can pick maintenance up with the escrow code. Since they are big compared to the vendor the additional resources will not be prohibitive. They were paying the vendor for support, too. Now they will be paying someone else, or allocate a few people of their own.

What is put in escrow is negotiated - this would normally include everything that is needed to maintain the product, including a working build system, older revisions and logs, documentation, etc. Again, the package is examined before put in escrow, and someone whom the client trusts says, in a pinch I will be able to do it.

Normally the client would still prefer the vendor to stay afloat and provide the service though. Escrow is the second line of defense, and as such it is useful. From the clients point of view it is open source, but they are not in a rush to modify or redistribute it.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

Grizzlysmit (580824) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811615)

If the developer goes out of business, getting the source code by itself is almost always useless: almost no single customer will have the resources to maintain and extend it. Source code is only cost effective if there is a community of users and developers, and that requires releasing the code under an open source license ahead of time.

(For the same reason, Microsoft source code isn't their crown jewels, as they always claim: even if people got access to it, they couldn't develop and maintain it anyway. The main reason Microsoft doesn't want their sources released is probably marketing--the "Coca Cola Secret Formula" gimmick--and the probably embarrassing state of it.)

Another problem with source code escrow agreements is that people don't know whether the code deposited with the agent will even compile or be complete. And the agents themselves disappear or misplace code.

There is always a better solution, it's called Open source software, release it as GPL, and all those problems go away.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811667)

Hilarious. An absolute scream.

I've read the "OSS is better" lie so many times in this thread, I just have to respond.

If you are the consumer of the software, then you could make the argument that OSS is better because you have the source code if the provider goes under.

Lets take a look at what you lose -

(1) Code quality. Look at RDBMS - are you trying to tell me that Postgress or MySQL can compare to Oracle/Sybase/SQL Server in terms of functionality? They can't. You say they can? Base a mission critical app on an OSS RDBMS with your job on the line, then we'll talk.

(2) Security. Security issues happen. Even the best developers introduce security holes into their code. Do you really want every single black hat out there to have access to your source? Lets face it, security through obscurity works, regardless of what clueless consultants might claim.

(3) Lastly, the odds are that if your OSS provider goes under, you are no better off than you were before - you still aren't getting support! Look at the number of open source projects with bitchy, irritable developers that make comments like "don't email me, don't contact me, I don't want to hear it" etc etc. So you got no support before, you get no support now, but you have the source code. Whoopdee-fuckin-doo.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811750)

(1) Comparing code quality between open source and closed source is useless, because... you can't see closed source.

(2) Yes, yes I do. Because that means every white hat out there ALSO has access, and the holes will be found and fixed. With close source time and time again, the black hat's find the holes even without the code, often long before it gets found and fixed by the good guys.

(3) No, but if the demand is there a company will pop up to sell you support.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811866)

But those problems are yours, not the developer's. You're going to have to come up with a much, much better argument if you want to convince companies to GPL their stuff. "So we can develop it further and maintain it if you go bust!" isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid.

No, Escrow can be complete and accurate (4, Informative)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811703)

Another problem with source code escrow agreements is that people don't know whether the code deposited with the agent will even compile or be complete

Escrow is just like software, its goodness or badness varies with the people involved. Nearly two decades ago I worked at a medium sized company that sold equipment to the phone company. Everything went into version control. Source code, documentation, compilers, libraries, tools, config files, etc. Developers produced a release candidate, passed along CRCs of all files to QA. QA wiped a PC's hard drive, grabbed the candidate from version control, built it for themselves, and verified the CRCs matched. QA only tested what they built for themselves. When a candidate was approved and released to the phone company that release was also sent to the escrow company designated by the phone company. And of course checklists documented the process above.

Re:source code escrow not very useful (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811862)

Microsoft source code isn't their crown jewels, as they always claim: even if people got access to it, they couldn't develop and maintain it anyway.

So you're saying that there is no other company on earth capable of maintaining and developing the Windows source if given the chance? Not IBM, not Sun, not some new, "thrown together just for this" division of one of the huge multinationals? Not when it would open up an entire new market, with the potential to reach some 95% of all desktop PCs?

If that's true, then what you're effectively saying is that there's something very special about MS's Windows dev team, that no other company can hope to copy.

Don't get me wrong, I've had to take over code developed by third parties before, and it's not necessarily easy - unfamiliar codingh style and conventions, poor/incomplete/missing documentation, obscure build requirements, etc, all add up. But given enough people and enough time, I don't think it would be impossible to take over development of Windows.

Build Environment ? (4, Interesting)

bmajik (96670) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811438)

At least they mentioned documents and manuals related to the code. However, even with that, one thing that's over looked is the build system / environment. For any project interesting enough to put in code escrow, the build /cms system used is probably necessary.

Also, i wonder if these agreements are just the tip revisions of a bunch of files ? If so, you'd lose the incredible documentation provided by SCM changelogs. And if the SCM database is held in escrow, what if the software licensee doesn't have a valid license for the SCM system the code was developed with ? What if the SCM / build tools provider goes under, or has some problem ?

It'd be interesting to actually read one of the documents. The legal nonsense just to buy a house is absurd enough.. imagine trying to write a legal document that basically gives you a guarantee that you can survive without some random software company in India.

Has anyone succesfully executed a SC escrow action (2, Interesting)

ozzee (612196) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811439)

If I was a software supplier, I would certainly agree to somthing like this - there simply is no downside. For one, I can usually put the "source" in escrow but no-one really know if it's enough for someone to move forward.

Also, if the company goes into bankruptcy, the bankruptcy judge may have some reasons to intervene in such agreements.

An escrow contract simply does not compete with true open source software.

Re:Has anyone succesfully executed a SC escrow act (1)

BuckaBooBob (635108) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811563)

But It is a step forward.. Well Kinda :)

Legacy Software isn't allways great to keep around other than to read Archived Data.

Running your company on software that was developed 20+ years ago... Come on.. Its time to upgrade your software and migrate from legacy systems.. There isn't a need to constantly run the lastest and greatest... But there is a line to be crossed and migrating can increase effeciceny.

Re:Has anyone succesfully executed a SC escrow act (4, Interesting)

johannesg (664142) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811857)

The one downside I can think of is that it offers your customers an incentive to drive you out of business...

"Nerd can't throw snowballs"? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811440)

OSDN Personals?

WHAT IN TEH FUCK IS GOING ON!?
Slashdot has really gone to shit... I hope this place dies.

the only answer is jihad (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811469)

ANTI SLASH.org [anti-slash.org]

This is not new. And it's not that useful. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811442)

Source code escrow is a very old idea. I used it at my last job when in a situation where the two parties had not had a great relationship.

The trouble with the code escrow is that, of course, if the relationship (or the programmers' company) goes to hell then the buyer of the code will have a big lump of code that may or may not be obfuscated. It's questionable whether the code can be completed at all, let alone brought to market in a reasonable time period.

Another problem is that the escrow company we used charged fees for receiving the source code discs in the mail, additional fees if you actually wanted them to insert them in a computer and report what files existed, and exorbitant fees if you had the nerve to want them to compile and link the files. I don't know if they even offered the ability to run the resulting application to see what happened (i.e. to see whether the developer sent you the source for your project, or sent you the source for gcc running on a Sun 3).

It seems like a market opportunity for an IT-oriented company that has spare cycles, if any of those exist. Could be a nice sideline business. Advertising should be pretty easy; we had a hard time even finding the one (not very good) escrow service that we used.

lawyerware (3, Funny)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811443)

I'd love to see a patch to SourceForge which allows a lawfirm to use an RFC protocol to validate access to the escrow.

nothing to see here..... move on (1, Redundant)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811447)

Nothing new here. And not a very viable concept. The company who insists the code be put in escro will get an assurance that something has been put in escro, but if the relationship has so little trust between parties that a third party needs to be brought in, then the developer may very well not put a full copy of everything in escro. If the company wanting the assurance doesn't find out until the developer no longer exists, they have little recourse. And if they find out before that, then the developer's worst fears are realized and justified.

Unless an escro company is in the loop enough to do actual releases, then there will not be a viable system that confirms what is in escro is what the client needs.

Hire an expert (2, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811495)

There could be. Lawyers have consultants who help them with all sorts of stuff, including software. It wouldn't be so hard to have an expert verify the source code by compiling and comparing it against the binary software released.

Re:Hire an expert (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811522)

The problem with that is it involves bringing in a developer to look at the "secret" code. Sure, that's what an NDA is for, but you can only sue an NDA violator for what he has. A multi-million dollar company putting it's most valuable secret into the hands of somebody who doesn't have a million to be sued out of is a big risk, one that's bound to come up craps for somebody.

Re:nothing to see here..... move on (1)

geeklawyer (85727) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811880)

not a very viable concept... if the relationship has so little trust between parties that a third party needs to be brought in, then the developer may very well not put a full copy of everything in escro

On the contrary it is a viable concept. I draft escrow agreements for clients of mine and the situation you describe is well anticipated. It is dealt with by me or a consultant going to the source provider and building the binaries and then validating the binaries produced against the normally supplied system - e..g md5 sums, functionality tests etc.

Validation is an expensive add on option to an escrow for this reason.But if the client wants to pay me for their paranoia thats fine. There are cheaper ways of obtaining less solid verification.
One of the great advantages FOSS is not having to deal with this. Makes me less money so its not all good.

OSS is NOT the answer (-1)

Trolly McTroll-Troll (632114) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811448)

C'mon kids, open sores may be fun and games, but there's a profit to be had!

More popular in the 1980s. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811463)

Source code escrow was quite common in the early days of microcomputer software. Back then, the software companies were little and their customers were big, and they had to keep the big companies happy. Now, it's the other way round.

Some of the early source code escrow companies themselves went bust. You need a software escrow agent that's likely to be around for decades. There are still companies offering software escrow services [yahoo.com] , but it's a minor business.

Iron Mountain has a software escrow business, and they offer some stories of software released from escrow. [dsiescrow.com] The most common situation is bankruptcy of a supplier.

Re:More popular in the 1980s. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811496)

This is also used for tape backup, and similar types of software.

The biggest consumers of tape backup software demand, and receive, source code escrow agreements from Veritas, Legato - etc.

Nothing like having your tape b/u s/w company go under, and you sitting on all that tape data.

Not really useful (0, Interesting)

Sarojin (446404) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811497)

If the developer goes out of business, getting the source code by itself is almost always useless: almost no single customer will have the resources to maintain and extend it. Source code is only cost effective if there is a community of users and developers, and that requires releasing the code under an open source license ahead of time.

(For the same reason, Microsoft source code isn't their crown jewels, as they always claim: even if people got access to it, they couldn't develop and maintain it anyway. The main reason Microsoft doesn't want their sources released is probably marketing--the "Coca Cola Secret Formula" gimmick--and the probably embarrassing state of it.)

Another problem with source code escrow agreements is that people don't know whether the code deposited with the agent will even compile or be complete. And the agents themselves disappear or misplace code.

whatta concept! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811504)

..the buyer will be able to study the source code and continue to provide support services for the software bought without relying on the employees of the software supplier.

I liked this idea better when it was called "open source".

What would Linus Torvalds say? (1, Funny)

robolemon (575275) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811507)

Real men don't use code escrow agents, they upload their code to an FTP site and let everyone else put up mirrors.

New Species of Penis Bird Discovered (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811516)

(*>
/ )
/|\
8==========D

3-Legged Penis Bird Recently Discovered in Poland (AP photo).

SLEUSOISHEWICZKI, POLAND (AP) - A new species of Penis Bird (lateralus phallicus) was discovered upon the penis of a Polish whoremaster in Brussels today. Stanley Wlosdrjfski, who asked that his name be withheld, mentioned to his doctor that there seemed to be a strange growth on his cock-and-balls. Doktor Fritz Sklflsdffmdkski, who also asked that his name be withheld, immediately called a press conference to express his joy at once again being able to look at another man's penis. WHoops, we mean at discovering the bird. The good doktor also notified EPA spokeswoman Pamela Handerson, who was so overjoyed at the thought of a new species of Penis Bird that she immediately began to massage and poke at her naughty bits.
Later, she full-fisted her own asshole as she named the new species: "OHHHHH, FUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!," she screamed in ecstasy. "I DUB THIS NEW SPECIES....TRIPHALLICA!!!!" Meanwhile, a more sensible individual (whose name is not known at press time) gave the Latin name of the new species as Lateralus Triphallicus. The new Penis Bird itself seemed rather indifferent to all of this as it continued to peck and claw at the cock of Sklflsdffmdkski, who was quoted as saying, "AUGH!!! Fucking birds! What the hell are you laughing at?! Fuck you, roundeye!"

Compile-by-escrow? (3, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811535)

One way to assure that the customer is getting binaries that corrispond to the source in escrow would be to have the code given to the escrow company by the vendor, and then have the client pick up the binary directly from the escrow company... therefore delivering binaries that don't match the code would be impossible. Of course, the vendor should do they test-complies against the escrow's compiler to assure they work, but once there's a "release" the code is locked away at the escrow and the client gets the resulting binary with no room for monkey business on the way there.

Not garunteed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811567)

There is still room for monkey business.

Unless the escrow company does a code audit, how can you garuntee that the make file doesn't look like this:

mainapp.exe :
cp splash.jpg mainapp.exe

Re:Compile-by-escrow? - (3, Interesting)

belmolis (702863) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811608)

There are a number of factors that determine how useful the source code is to a client, including:

  1. does the client need to change the program's functionality or simply want a version that runs on a new platform, works with new hardware, or can be linked with improved libraries?
  2. is the source written to a widely used standard in a widely used language (e.g. POSIX C)?
  3. is the source well written?
  4. is it well commented and supplied with other necessary documentation?
  5. is it appropriately modularized, so that parts that are likely to need to be changed can easily be isolated?
  6. does it rely entirely on generic hardware interfaces, or are there aspects that deal with particular pieces of hardware at low-level?

It seems to me that source escrow could be made more useful if the escrow agent not only compiled the binary supplied to the client, as the parent suggests, but also studied the source and issued a report on factors like the above. This would allow potential purchasers to assess the risk that they were taking. This could affect the choice of software and possibly pricing - some buyers might be willing to pay more for software with lower risk, or might be willing to buy riskier software at a lower price on the theory that they could estimate what it would cost them to deal with less useful source if it came to that. And since many of the same factors tend to be correlated with code quality, a positive report on this front would also give some confidence in the quality of the program. Obviously open source provides the maximum protection, but if that is not an option, a system like this would seem to be helpful.

a better way to do it... (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811542)

would be to have a nightly build which gets encrypted and uploaded to the client ftp site, or site of their choosing. then if the supplier goes bust have instructions to release the passphrase to each client so they can unlock the code they paid for. this way you can be sure the code thats released to you under the escrow agreement is 1. working 2. is up to date 3. no middle man (cheaper)

asrtert (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811569)

Escrow is also the name of a german car. FU CK@! FTHE BHT BUNNIES!

Another symptom of programming viewed as a commd. (3, Insightful)

jstockdale (258118) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811586)

Outsourcing to India, worrying about receiving proper code, escrow. All seem to be symptoms of the perverted view corporations have taken when viewing source code and programming as neither science nor art, but just another commodity. The problem is, that we're not talking corn or soy beans here, we're talking about a system designed for a particular reason. Anyone that has gone through a proper programming education (not that I'm claming to have done so, I'm in the middle of my undergrad career at Stanford but am considering CS) would be horrified at this approach. But it seems that many businesses are content not with how well a chunk of code is designed, but whether or not it functioned.

Code escrow is just another deluded side of this, a result of management types thinking CS is just "coding" and disregarding the quality of their product.

Quality, Functionality, Low Price. Pick two of the three.

Thinking that you're going to get _any_ use out of the cheapest functional code once it has been taken out of context (and probably not properly documented, or readable) is lunacy.

Re:Another symptom of programming viewed as a comm (0, Offtopic)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811671)

Cog 258118 seems out of alignment today. Put in a workorder for a fresh flashing of his firmware.

But seriously...

Let's face it this is the same mindless decision making process that turned sexy into a bunch of anorexic bubbleheads running in swimsuits and music into the uninspired crap typified by the Backstreet Boys and Brittney Spears.

For whatever reason they don't seem to want to cater to anyone with an IQ greater than 90, and certainly no one older than 14.

Common Misconception (4, Insightful)

bmajik (96670) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811740)

This comes up time and time again. There is an underlying assumption which is often voiced that there is a substantial quality difference between US code and Indian code.

This is usually bolstered with stuff like "art" and "quality", and "design".

Do you know what the difference between the illegal immigrant house painter that does cash-only jobs and the US programmer that holds your view point is ?

One of them is a pretentious asshole, and may have invested more heavily in formal education.

If people wanted "design" and "quality" and "art", nobody would buy Kia's. South Korea and Taiwan wouldn't have booming economies, and 95% of the clothes you wear wouldn't be made by children in malaysia.

But, as it turns out, by and large nobody gives a crap about those, or, they've made the determination that outsourced ultra cheap labour does the job acceptably well given the cost incurred.

Programming is no different. It's not like 50 years of American software engineering has produced an obelisk of invincible bug free code. No, we had Y2k, Windows 95, and a US vs Metric bug in a satellite.

Coding for Coding's sake is not a national treasure, it is not an art form, and really, it has nothing tod o with making money. IS/IT are a COST CENTER. Hiring programmers does NOT SELL SHOES. It does NOT SAVE LIVES. Everybody should be looking to save money on software development unlesss their business is software development! Otherwise it is an expense and subject to the inhouse vs outsourced discussion, just like any other expense!

Now, if your point had been "it's a shortsighted view to think you'll come out financially ahead by outsourcing software development to indian labor instead of using off the shelf stuff or using US based consultants", then you'd have an argument. But instead it smacks of idolization of the US intellect and the programmers-guild mentality so prevalent in the US/unix world.

A major misconception (4, Interesting)

Uhlek (71945) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811914)

When programmers were rare, when the ability to develop digital solutions to real problems was an uncommon skill -- then software was science and art. However, today, programmers are a dime a dozen (at least in the states, overseas they're closer to three cents per bakers dozen) Software is now a tool to do a particular job.

When shopping for a tool, I don't look at how beautiful it is, or how elegant. Does it do the job I need it to do, and is it effective at doing so.

Software is the same way. Does this particular piece of software do the job that it's intended to do so, does it do it in an efficient manner that does not affect productivity or security in a negative fashion.

I honestly do not care how elegantly or clean the code is written, or that if I gave you four weeks of additional development time you could slim down the code by removing a few extraneous lines here and there. It quite simply does not matter.

This is why American programmers are failing when it comes to foreign competition. They view themselves as computer scientists -- or worse, digital artists of a sort -- and demand exorbant salaries for a job that someone shoved through two years of tech school can accomplish.

I am a network engineer -- I design and maintain telecommunications systems. I know that in a heartbeat there is probably someone out there that could snatch my job away from me at a moment's notice and for a significant paycut.

If American programmers would realize the same -- and accept the lower salaries that the global market is pushing on them -- then they may have a chance to compete.

My escrow experience (4, Informative)

jp93023 (84606) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811610)

I had the lead for my former company's purchase of a customized Learning Management System. My employer was a privately held retail chain which could barely keep the configuration straight on our POS, and had already replayed the whole custom software development death march several times. But the lawers insisted that we obtain a "Source Code Escrow" for our $250k LMS purchase. I asked them under what conceivable circumstances they thought we would actually put together a team to take the code back into development, or even to create the build environment for debugging (and recursion testing, rinse, wash, repeat). I escalated to VPs, who basically said "Gotta have Source Code Escrow" while having no clue what would really be involved. So we paid for and got it. The LMS company indeed went belly up during the dotcom bust and we abandoned their product for an off the shelf system from a more stable vendor. But they still have the right to dig that old code out of escrow should they desire!

Something like this already exists (1)

richcoder (539438) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811612)

We've been holding donations for yet-to-be completed software at SourceSupport [sourcesupport.org] for some time now.

Despite a few submissions to slashdot we have yet to get posted. Every other day I get an email wondering why we don't let the slashdot crowd in on it. o-well.

Effective as administrative grease (4, Interesting)

maggard (5579) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811616)

I've used escrow.

We were a medium large company with a package we wanted developed. For reasons I wasn't in on it wasn't being done in-house. The big concern was the small shop we were considering hiring going belly-up halfway through, or just as bad not being responsive to future maintenance issues or possible further development.

So I suggested escrow and it reassured the right folks in the right offices and the outside developer was also agreeable. So the next week our lawyers wrote something everybody was happy with and the contract was given and the project went ahead. A month or so later along with delivery of the application we got the code we'd paid for, our coders looked it over and liked the internals, it passed our QA, all good.

Later we paid for some bells and whistles to be added by the original developer. I also know our coders made some trivial changes to the cosmetic side. Beyond that it's probably still running pretty much as-was.

The escrow bit was really there to reassure folks; it sounded good and responsible to the folks nervous about hiring a small shop. In reality it probably would have cost us more in legal fees and meeting time (plus come-up-to-speed time for the coders) to rescue & reuse the escrowed code then just sending out the contract again or doing it in-house. But as administrative grease it worked fine.

Oh, Open Source? First off that company didn't think that way (insurance/HMO-type folks) so that battle would have been twice as tough as escrow was. Furthermore as the code was intended to touch our partners/owners/clients letting it free could have freaked them out too. These days at least they'd have heard of the OS though might still be hard to sell on actually implementing it (it'd publicize their internal data structures or something.)

Would I do it again? Sure in that kind of butt-covering situation. In an adversarial situation, particularly one possibly turning such early on, it'd be far too easy to poison (the benefits could never outweigh the costs of that sort of disaster anyhow).

I'd also not go with escrow alone for something big and complex and vital, too hard for someone else to pick up. In that situation either we'd bring it in-house, make damn sure of the developers, or perhaps require our interests being protected with our own team actively involved and vetting it.

But used it once, to good effect, yes.

Re:Effective as administrative grease (2, Insightful)

belmolis (702863) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811639)

A month or so later along with delivery of the application
we got the code we'd paid for, our coders looked it over and liked the internals, it passed our QA, all good.

This isn't just escrow. You actually got the source along with the executables. That's even better than escrow since you can look it over and change it. It's like purchasing the source without the right to redistribute.

Don't really see the point (-1, Troll)

mysterious_mark (577643) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811624)

Since the Indians don't write miantainable code anyway, I don't see how turning over a bunch of poorly written, un-maintainable code to a third party after the the vendor has failed to deliver will do much good. It would be far better to hire a couple of highly skilled reliable programmers to do you're project. The approach of trying to produce good code by hiring many low skilled off shore programmers is bound to produce poor results. I know this sounds troll, but have yoe ever seen WIPRO code, it is horrendous and unmaimtainable. Hiring laywers when you should be hirng good reliable (not off shore!) programmers is a watse of money. MM

Re:Don't really see the point (1)

efextra (673412) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811712)

I know this sounds troll...
You bet it does! After seeing some code from one one company you decide all Indians write bad code?

Re:Don't really see the point (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811738)

...write miantainable code... ...The approach of... ...have yoe ever... ...horrendous and unmaimtainable... ...should be hirng good reliable (not off shore!) programmers is a watse of...

Every offshore programmer I've met has had a far better grasp of the English language than you have, my friend.

Or to put it another way, nice troll.

indians and software open source for freelance (1)

chrisranjana.com (630682) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811659)

Actually it may work, but what happens to the update. Getting the source code sounds fun but it normally drives up the development cost to learn someone else code rather than code from scratch.

aut0tr0ll is teh sp0kE!? (-1)

Jack Froidalbungle (730156) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811761)

Hello master.

sid=90563
formkey=GEf59fNv9p

This is a joint venture that will be mutually advantageous to both parties involved.

Which oldest software is still in production? (1)

vinod (2092) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811776)

And does it have source code? Is it still compilable? (perhaps those used in space research fit this bill.)

It seems like the task of designing a system that will be live after few decades has become easier now. The key task here is to reduce the number of dependencies on multiple sources. If a major corporation would indeed like to make sure their systems will survive for decades, they could do so:

- Make sure chip and board designs are maintained, and can, at any time, be reproduced. Many design houses can offer this.
- Deployable distribution along with specifications and documents. Can be archived for very long time. Dependencies such as highly available storage should be virtualized, and dependency be removed.
- The core production software. Direct third party dependency here. But, investing in open source software definitely helps here.
- Software enhancements made in-house; can be controlled with planned archiving and reproduction methods.

If this can become a fad, then new solution-oriented companies would emerge with a very high inclination towards open source software.

-Vinod

Re:Which oldest software is still in production? (4, Interesting)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811836)

It is always difficult to foresee what will happen to a computer-based system.

In 1989-1990 I was involved in a project that implemented a system that would have to be maintained for at least 10 (preferably 15) years.
The project was related to a mobile telephone network that predated GSM.
The people deciding the hardware and software platform chose the Digital Equipment Corporation VAX running VMS. Furthermore, a couple of Compaq PCs were used, running MS-DOS and using some very special cards in ISA slots.

In hindsight, what can we see:

- Digital Equipment Corporation no longer exists
- the VAX line was replaced by the Alpha
- which is being discontinued as well
- VMS I don't know, is it still maintained?
- MS-DOS isn't used by anybody anymore
- PCs with ISA slots are now very hard to get
- but fortunately: the network for which this was all developed was taken out of production after about 5 years, to be replaced by GSM.

I thing to sit out its entire 15-year maintenance would have been kind of tricky. Maybe with proper monitoring of end-of-sale announcments and buying some spares at the right time, it could have been pulled off.

any successes? (1)

jonnosan (300963) | more than 10 years ago | (#7811883)

Has anyone ever been involved with a project where escrow has done anything other than make management types feel warm and fuzzy?

I've just finished implementing a project where we are delivering a web service to a very large stuffy customer who insisted on an escrow aggreement, so they can continue to support the service if we go bust. To me this seemed kind of dumb, because I just can't see anybody coming in fresh to an app that's been hacked on by 20 different people over the last 5 years being able to actually make any sense of the system at all, not to mention that littered throughout the code are all sorts of assumptions about OS's, mail servers, domain names etc that would make it nigh on impossible to actually set up the application in a totally new environment.

Maybe on something like a missile guidance system, where the problem domain is well known, and the application itself has a well defined scope, it may be possible to take something out of escrow and give it to a new contractor to work on, but 9 times out of 10, if the originator goes belly up I'd think the old code is pretty much useless.

planet/population still being held hostage? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7811893)

buy phonIE fauxking greed/fear/ego based corepirate nazi gangster execrable?

not in the gnu millennium? where the 'kode' belongs to everyone?

reflecting on unprecedented evile in 2003 (Score:mynuts won, good gnus travels last?)
by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, @06:28AM (#7811885)
tough year to say the leased. what a mess?

as we can see, despite evile's unprecedented assault/life0cide perpetraitored on the creators' planet/population/humankind, most of us are still alive.

as the # of lumenaries grows, you might also note the declining 'influence' of evile on many of US?

the planet/population remains in high crisis alert with a real risk of overheating (peacing off?) the main processors still looming large.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators.... get ready to lighten up.
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