Is open sourcing Domino a good idea?

Ian Tree has written an open letter to IBM asking them to release Domino under an open source license. While I agree with him that open sourcing Domino could have lots of positive effects, he's ignoring the cost and time involved. All those good things might not happen given how hard it is to open source a large existing code base. Just ask Sun if you want to know how much work it is to release an existing product under and open source license.

  • First off, it's going to take years.
  • IBM will have to go through all the code, line by line (hopefully automated) and make sure that they own all of the intellectual property. Was it written by them? Were those developers under non-disclosures with other companies at the time? Did they leverage some of their patent cross-licensing? And so on. Any good lawyer could write pages of all the things they should check.
  • Then when they open it, in the short term it's going to take more resources than they currently have, assuming they want to create an external community around it. Now not only do the developers need to work on the code, but they also need to interface with the community and bring other developers up to speed.
  • And that community, while willing to help, will not be ready to jump in immediately. It will take a few years to grow that community – it may take a year or two for each individual developer to come up to speed on the project!

Picking the license and model (the parts Ian Tree suggests are hard) might be the easiest part. Making it happen will be the hard part.

So I'm not saying that opening Domino is a bad idea. To the contrary, it might be really interesting. I'm just saying that his reasons for why it's a good idea need to take into account that it might take 4-5 years to actually happen.