Today the Open Simulator group announced the formation of Overte Foundation, a 501c(3) entity that allows tax free donations from the USA. The foundation will hold the rights to the code that makes up the simulator, the server side of many virtual worlds. It appears the main purpose is to clean up licensing issues and head off future problems. But, what does this do for the OpenSim user? To understand we need to know a bit about the Open Simulator Project and what is changing.
One change is a uniform license is being created for those contributing code to the project labeled; Contributor’s License Agreement (CLA). Quoting the Foundation, “Under this agreement, each OpenSimulator developer, including the core developers, will continue to retain copyright over their code but will also grant an explicit copyright license over their contributions to the Overte Foundation.”
The current licensing is BSD, which does not require an author to state they have all necessary rights to contribute code to the Open Simulator Project. The CLA changes that. Nor does BSD grant a right to distribute the code to an explicit entity. The new licensing will deal with that too.
Some open source projects use contributor’s agreements, like Apache, Python, and Linden Lab. Others do not use them. While it is debatable whether they are necessary, the foundation is choosing to use them. It seems this would make it clearer where liabilities that come from contributions will lie.
In general all this is nice, but it doesn’t appear to do much for users of the project. However, one of the strange aspects of design work on simulator and viewer software that will affect users is that a developer cannot work on both. It’s one or the other, viewer or simulator.
It seems there is a Chinese Wall between simulator and viewer developers. The wall was necessary because of various software licenses and proprietary code. Presumably simulator code belonging to Linden Lab is disclosed to viewer developers. So, those developing the Open Simulator were required to maintain an independence to protect Open Simulator development. Getting Linden code into the Open Simulator would make a licensing mess and likely lead to law suits.
This makes the problem that viewer and simulator developers can’t really know what the other is doing. Also, a developer chose to work either on the simulator or the viewer. So, if a viewer developer found they needed some feature in the simulator to support a viewer feature, they must ask and wait for someone to implement the sim feature and hope they get it right. This could make for a long drawn out process that impedes both sim and viewer development. If the viewer developer wanted to write the code for the sim, the developer would have had to stop working on viewers for six months before they could switch over and work on the simulator. A real PITA.
This new organization removes the restriction, the Chinese Wall, that has impeded development. This will allow a developer to write the server and viewer sides of a feature. It should allow OpenSim and viewers for OpenSim to move forward much faster, a good thing for users.