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Groovy project should have a clear governance structure

January 20th, 2015

I just came back from Tokyo to learn that the Groovy project is looking for a new home. Related posts from the project leaders here, here, and here. Hacker News commentary is here.

This news hit close to home for me for several reasons. For one, I like Groovy a lot myself, to the point that I have developed several projects around it (like this and this.) Two, the Jenkins project uses Groovy a lot in various places. I think Groovy has a number of things going for them, such as great IDE support (and the optional static typing boosts this), greater compatibility with Java, and an existing ecosystem. So my best wishes to them.

One of the things I realizing while reading the news is that I actually don’t know the governance structure of the project. Is the name “Groovy” trademarked? If so, who owns it? How about the domain name? How is the decision making done? Who becomes committers?

Questions like this are important at times like this, because we don’t know how much is owned by Pivotal, and that determines how much is up in the air.

For example, had Groovy been an Apache project, then we’d know the answers to all of the questions above, and this news really just boils down to who would be willing to hire the team and let them work on the project. Maybe they won’t find a single company that is willing to hire everyone and put them all full time on open-source Groovy — I bet they talked to prospects in private before going public, so at this point I assume the chance of this happening is pretty low. But I have no doubt they will each find a gainful employment that does involve some open-source Groovy work.

In contrast, if Groovy is a company-sponsored open-source project like Spring was, in that the company owns all the key assets and dictates the development process, then we have a lot bigger problem at hand, because there’s greater uncertainty. The project would have a bigger risk of fragmentation (for example if the team gets hired by different competing companies.) Perhaps license would change.

This is why I think the ownership of the project should be thought separately from the ownership of the developers (i.e. who pays the salary of the key contributers of the project.) When the latter changes, having the former sorted out considerably reduces the impact. And this comes from my own personal experience dealing with Hudson/Jenkins. This is one of the reasons why the Jenkins project has a governance structure laid out.

So I’d like to encourage the Groovy project to sit down and clarify the governance. This should be a part of their “find a new home” plan. Maybe they could even just join Apache Software Foundation since the license is compatible, maybe they could come over to SPI, where Jenkins is.

At this point, I’d be very happy with a less active Groovy project without a corporate sponsorship. But I wouldn’t like to see a governance-less Groovy project. I think they can avoid that.

Update: I’ve written a follow-up post on this topic

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  1. van geir
    January 20th, 2015 at 18:20 | #1

    > Is the name “Groovy” trademarked? If so, who owns it? How about the domain name? How is the decision making done? Who becomes committers?

    Groovy 1.0 had a copyright message saying Groovy was a registered trademark of Codehaus. However, I couldn’t find it in the online U.S. trademark query service at the time, and in Groovy 1.5 the notice had been removed. When Groovy’s creator James Strachan left the project, he still refered to Groovy at Codehaus as the “current reference implementation” in his last ever mailing list posting.

    Codehaus currently lists 5 people as “despots” [1] viz Jochen Theodorou, Guillaume Laforge, Paul King, Ben Walding, and Cedric Champeau. One of them, Laforge, has always claimed to be the “Project Manager” but recently started pitching himself as the “creator”. Another, Theodorou, claims to be the “Tech Lead”, although Laforge stopped using that title for Theodorou after Champeau was employed by SpringSource/Pivotal 3 yrs ago. Another despot, Walding, is the Codehaus administrator who has nothing to do with Groovy, and Groovy is the only project that has him listed as a despot.

    Groovy isn’t only losing its Pivotal funding but also its Codehaus repository soon: “Codehaus hasn’t made an announcement yet, but contacted some of us privately so far. But they mentioned a mid-February deadline, after which *all* projects will have to have been migrated elsewhere. Everything hosted at Codehaus will disappear. JIRA, website, mailing-lists, Git/SVN, Bamboo…” [2] Some of the developers are promoting a new internet address [3] but I don’t know who controls it.

    I’d agree that the ownership problems related to the brand, codebase, support, channels, and what not, makes the whole mess is a legal nightmare. Pivotal obviously decided simply terminating funding was more profitable than trying to split off a separate business and sell it all to someone else.

    [1] https://xircles.codehaus.org/projects/groovy/members
    [2] http://groovy.329449.n5.nabble.com/GPars-Web-site-revolution-help-sought-tt5722181.html#a5722194
    [3] http://www.groovy-lang.org/

  2. January 21st, 2015 at 10:05 | #2

    @van geir

    Codehaus going away is a news to me and that’s unfortunate timing especially for Groovy.

    And I wouldn’t call the whole thing “a legal nightmare.” AFAIK all the parties are acting cooperatively, and just because we don’t know doesn’t mean they themselves don’t know. So it really just needs to be sorted out and clarified.

  3. February 2nd, 2015 at 06:13 | #3

    My first question is: who owns the trademark? If Pivotal (who presumably the trademark lawyers would see as the organization providing Groovy software products) is truly willing to work with… whoever starts governing Groovy, then you’re fine. But trademark ownership is not easy to solve unless everyone is truly working together.

    However, Pivotal would need some specific person – or better, a legal entity – to give their trademark rights to. Hopefully the Groovy community can figure this out. Unfortunately, that likely means either forming a non-profit or joining one of the existing non-profits that provide OS project homes. It also means you likely have a new governance structure somewhere that is disjoint from however all the core developers are getting paid for $dayjob.

    Also, don’t call something a registered trademark if it’s not. USPTO doesn’t have any record of GROOVY, although it’s possible they attempted to register in another country (but seems doubtful).

  1. January 20th, 2015 at 15:58 | #1
  2. January 29th, 2015 at 00:57 | #2
  3. February 18th, 2015 at 05:31 | #3
  4. February 18th, 2015 at 08:36 | #4