An Open Letter to the OpenDS Community and to Sun Microsystems

My name is Neil Wilson, and until recently I held the Owner and Committer roles in the open source OpenDS project. I helped found OpenDS, served as the project architect, and have contributed more code than anyone else. However, I must now regrettably inform you that I have been compelled to end all involvement with OpenDS. I have resigned all roles that I held in the project and have rescinded my Sun Contributor Agreement. I will no longer contribute code, documentation, bug reports, suggestions for improvement, or advice of any kind.

I joined Sun Microsystems in October of 2001, where I was directly involved with its proprietary directory products in addition to my later work with OpenDS. I wrote and analyzed code to provide new features, fix bugs, and improve performance, and I developed a number of tools to help improve the Directory Server experience. I had excellent working relationships with a number of customers, and I was instrumental in closing several deals worth many millions of dollars. I consistently received the top rating in annual performance reviews, and I worked with a number of other groups within Sun, as well as with Sun partners, to help ensure that the Directory Server products worked as well as possible with other Sun technologies, including Solaris, Java, and a number of other software products, as well as many different kinds of hardware.

On September 27, 2007, I was notified that Directory Server engineering, including OpenDS, was being consolidated in Grenoble, France, and that US-based positions were being eliminated. Some individuals were reassigned to work on other software products, but among those laid off were the four OpenDS project owners (myself, Stephen Shoaff, Don Bowen, and David Ely), as well as the OpenDS community manager (Trey Drake). We would technically remain Sun employees for the next two months, but were not able to access any Sun-internal resources and were not required to work in any way and were encouraged to use that time to seek employment elsewhere.

This was certainly a very surprising move, but the shock wore off and within a few days the OpenDS owners and community manager got together and decided that even if we were no longer working for Sun that we would like to continue our involvement with OpenDS and wished to ensure that the project was in the best possible position moving forward. To that end, we had face-to-face meetings, conference calls, and e-mail discussions with Sun employees still involved in the project to provide advice and knowledge transfers. I also continued participation on the project mailing lists, committed code changes, and updated the project issue tracker and documentation wiki.

The project owners also decided that as an act of good faith (and without any prompting from Sun) that we should elect a fifth owner who was a Sun employee, since Sun had certainly made a significant contribution to the project. We appointed Ludovic Poitou to this position, as he had served as the architect for Sun’s proprietary Directory Server product for several years, and further suggested that we should amend the project governance to ensure that Sun Microsystems was granted a permanent seat in the project ownership. On November 13, 2007, the OpenDS project owners (including Ludovic) met via conference call with the intention of discussing this governance change. However, during that meeting Ludovic informed us that Sun’s intention was to change the OpenDS governance policy so that the project was controlled entirely by a Sun-selected committee. This was a surprise to us, and we indicated that while we were willing to discuss this further to better understand what was involved, we were concerned that this was not necessarily in the best interests of the OpenDS project or its associated open source community. We noted that the current OpenDS governance policy stated that governance changes could only be made by a consensus of the project owners, and therefore we would be required to approve any potential change.

On November 14, 2007, a member of executive management within Sun’s software division contacted one of the recently-laid-off OpenDS project owners and demanded that the owners approve a governance change that would grant Sun full control of the OpenDS project. During this call, we were threatened that if we did not make this change we could face immediate termination and loss of all severance benefits. The four former-Sun owners discussed this and decided that we could not in good conscience approve the requested change as we did not believe that it would be in the best interests of the project, but we were also not willing to risk the considerable financial loss that could result if Sun decided to make good on that threat. After first trying to resolve the issue through more amicable avenues, we were ultimately compelled to resign our ownership and end our association with the project on November 19, 2007.

This was a very disappointing and hurtful turn of events. I believe that we acted only in good faith and in the best interests of the community, and we had clearly taken action to protect Sun’s position in the project even after our own jobs had been eliminated. OpenDS was founded as a community-focused “doacracy”, and no one has done more than I have to help ensure its success, or to ensure Sun’s success through OpenDS. However, Sun management has shown that at least in this case they are willing to resort to rather hostile tactics to preserve absolute control. This is most certainly not in the spirit of open source and open development that we tried to foster or that Sun claims to embody.

Please note that I don’t feel that this action was representative of Sun’s true open source strategy, but was a relatively isolated incident brought on by middle management acting of their own accord. I believe and certainly hope that the public statements made by individuals like CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps are honest and that Sun truly does want to be a genuine community-focused open source company, and I have no reason to believe that they were aware of or involved with any of what happened with OpenDS. Similarly, I sympathize with the remaining Sun-employed OpenDS engineers who may have been unwittingly drawn into this turmoil, and am disappointed that we will no longer be able to work together, but it was not my choice. Unfortunately, if Sun is unable to ensure that their middle management is on the same page as the senior management setting the open source strategy and the engineers making it happen, then it won’t take too many more incidents like this (or the Project Indiana / OpenSolaris Developer Preview naming fiasco) for people to start to question Sun’s true intentions.

In order to avoid potential retaliation from Sun, I have remained silent on this matter through the duration of the two-month period following the layoff notification during which I was still technically a Sun employee. Now that this time has elapsed, I am no longer at risk of losing severance benefits and I believe that it is important to clear the air. I have no desire to pursue this matter any further through legal or other channels, but simply wish to explain why I am no longer able to be involved with the OpenDS project.

I am passionate about the technology and hope to continue working in this area in the future, but I am not yet prepared to discuss where I’m going from here. You may watch my new blog at / for more information in the future.

Neil Wilson

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the OpenDS Community and to Sun Microsystems

  1. Mr Phipps, your public comments on the issue, and you apparently early on taking one side, the side of Sun (quote “he [Neil] has been selective about what he has said”), makes it crystal clear why there is no point in contacting you, the self-appointed Sun open-source ombudsman in such cases.By your own words, you haven’t finished the investigation. But you are already spinning the facts to please your corporate masters. You, quote “encourage everyone not to jump to too many conclusions”, but Mr Phipps is apparently not just “everyone”, and can’t keep his mouth shut.The impression I once more get is that Sun uses open-source as a way to get cheap labor, and screws contributors and, as we now know, employees left, right and center when it pleases Sun.


  2. Neil,I hope you will get the time to join forces with ApacheDS team, you will achieve more outside SUN, wish you the best!Sorry, Sun: When will your managers wake up! and thank you Microsoft! without .Net kicking the a** of Sun … Java would never be open! and would never develop to Java 7!


  3. Andy asked: For starts…what kind of idiot relocates their open source development to Europe NOW.I can see the reasoning. It’s extremely important for Sun (or any global high-tech company) to keep a significant amount of development in France since the French government will stop buying from you if you don’t. (A little touch of the old-fashioned dirigisme or maybe mercantilism.) So if Sun wants to go to one directory development shop from two, it makes sense to close the US one instead of the French one.Sun management surely makes some completely dumb decisions (they RIF’ed *me* a couple years ago) but I don’t think the RIF part of this one is *completely* dumb. (The governance changes, now, I don’t understand enough say anything useful.)


  4. Rich,being french, I can assure you that the french Government is not smart enough to buy Sun software 😉 They prefer to give money to former state owned companies like Bull ! (damn, when I think I’m paying taxes for such stupid decisions …)


  5. Neil:Just my opinion, you and your colleagues handled this exactly right.Sun, on the other hand, just keeps blowing off another one of it’s digits with every statement. It’s actually pretty pathetic and just proves your point.Really enjoyed cn=Directory Manager and hope you continue to work — and blog — on LDAP related stuff. Your team’s contributions are still valued by those of us down here in the trenches.


  6. I hope this is just the danger of big companies.The next manager in any division seems to be a matter of chance. You go from somebody who contributes to the company and mankind to a bozo who’s actions takes years to repair or never get fixed.if Sun don’t go ahead and fix this in some very public and productive way, then it’s much deeper and Sun “is evil”.


  7. Sun’s software strategy has been totally f*cked ever since Rich Greene weasled his way back into the company after his failed post-Sun ventures. I feel bad that once more engineers who believed that Technology was more important than Sun internal politics have been inconvenienced by reason of losing their jobs. How can anyone believe that Sun is sincere about anything?On the other hand, French engineers rock! I know it’s hard to believe but they really do!


  8. After the core of an aging massive star ceases to generate energy from nuclear fusion, it may undergo sudden gravitational collapse into a neutron star or black hole, releasing gravitational potential energy that heats and expels the star’s outer layers.


  9. This is a very sad story.I used to be an engineer at Sun (until I was RIF’d in March) and I genuinely believe that Sun is trying to do the right thing.Mistakes are inevitably made during any RIF. In this case, it sounds like Sun made some legal moves which overruled its open source commitment on this particular project.I am very glad that Simon Phipps is already investigating this. There will be internal discussions at Sun and people will question the decision of the member of executive management and ultimately, it will be Jonathan’s call if they change the policy on RIFs and open source projects going forward.I truly believe that once Sun abandons its semiannual reductions in force, these types of issues will go away.Jonathan has been trying hard to change the culture at Sun and this issue shows that he still has a lot of work ahread of him.-Larry


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