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Docker Founder Must Right His ShipDocker Founder Must Right His Ship

After some controversy this week, Docker needs to show it has the maturity needed to manage an open source project.

Charles Babcock

December 5, 2014

3 Min Read

to take Docker's code and fork it. Technically speaking, CoreOS has not done that. There's no Docker code acknowledged in Rocket, so let's say it's come up with its own container runtime. It has a right to do so -- even if it wanted to begin with Docker code.

Open source communities have made explicit the right of partners and participants to take source code and commercialize it. One reason they come into existence is to give their members the opportunity to do so, and numerous projects have thrived with the approach. The rules for doing so vary with the open source license, but the core leadership of any project has to be tolerant of that activity and continue to view contributions on their merits. It's very adult behavior to do so, and Hykes tripped himself up by not understanding this.

CoreOS's announcement came the same week as DockerCon Europe, and Hykes viewed CoreOS's move as an effort to undercut Docker presentations there. In fact, there is no "correct" time to break away from an established project to start your own. You simply do it, put out your goals, and highlight your profile as best you can, hoping to attract contributors.

Matt Asay, VP of mobile at Adobe and with a decade of earlier experience with Canonical and other open source suppliers, responded Thursday with a blog on ReadWrite: "When it comes to crisis management, Docker hasn't done so well lately. In a blog post and then a series of Twitter broadsides (the modern-day equivalent of the rashly written 'reply all' email), Docker founder Solomon Hykes ripped into critics, competitors, and interested onlookers, challenging the integrity of CoreOS, which had just announced Rocket."

The developer comments on Hacker News alone should have told Hykes he was treading the wrong path. "Yes, there is some mild-mannered disparagement in the announcement, but it's hard to characterize it as 'slinging mud,' and it's not really fair to disparage it with the name-calling you're injecting," wrote Vacri.

Hykes' Hacker News post drew developers' comments supporting Docker, but he also elicited this comment: "CoreOS made a grand announcement, and yes it competes with Docker ... but just let it play out. Frankly, there are a lot of things Rocket aims to do that are more appealing to me. Security being one of them, and a standardized container specification is another. If anything, it will make Docker compete better," wrote Alupis.

Slightly worse than Hykes' "slinging mud" was a claim, started by an unknown party, that Sequoia, which the lead investor in Docker's $40 million round of venture capital in September, was withdrawing as an investor in CoreOS. The charge that Sequoia had resigned its CoreOS board seat was slinging mud, especially considering that Sequoia didn't have a board seat.

All is not lost, and I'm sure the good ship Docker Inc. will right itself shortly, hopefully with its container cargo intact. In the seas of software development there are tempests, and sometimes there are real storms. It's hard to maintain your balance when success comes quickly -- and accompanied by a $40 million thrust of venture funding. But in the open source world, that's what's required, and that's what Hykes and Docker still need to show us they can do.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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