I wrote a book on Open Source Software Licensing, but why?

One part of my role, over the last 15 years, has been to police the flurry of software components developers want to leverage. In response to that I developed internal systems, processes and gained experience of interpreting licence agreements. I’ve always been trying to keep on top of such things because I didn’t want to be distracted with any repercussions. I just want to get back to code.

During a recent customer deal, my experience expanded when one client insisted that as part of a software escrow deposit, any hint of open source contamination could trigger code exposure to the customer for investigative purposes. This swiftly followed by a highly elevated level of scrutiny over our codebase; leading us to outsource independent verification of our findings. We wanted to have confidence that we have taken all reasonable and diligent steps to protect ourselves and our assets. Being competent, confident and responsive to 3rd Party component usage information requests have also made further deals and engagements progress more smoothly for all involved.

Over the last year, I bought a number of books on Open Source Software Licensing to solidify my knowledge. It quickly dawned that not many provide pragmatic advice on how to start taking control of the problem, or how to manage it day-to-day. They are often filled with more information than (I) needed.

When I work, every minute is precious – I hate being inefficient or ineffective, and I’m sure others do too. So I decided to write a book that was going to get straight to the point – helping people like me who really just want to get back to coding as soon as possible.

I thought it was going to be easy – I was wrong.

At first I wanted to focus on the pure pragmatic advice, and forgo dull introductions, build up, terminology. But it soon became apparent that I needed to build some foundational knowledge in the reader before laying out my experiences. This started to pollute my vision but felt a necessary evil; and I suddenly understood why many books do this. Everyone needs to be on the same page (pun by design). I also wanted a quick-fire Q&A section, but realized that it would mainly be a copy & paste of the content in the book, as it was already fairly minimal.

I was writing during the evenings and most weekends, and I soon realized that writing on such a topic seemed hard going. Every time I wrote a sentence I doubted what I was saying was fact, and  believed it was just my crazy opinion; so I then had to research and find corroborating support from books or online articles. This obviously slows down the process while adding legitimacy, and protecting me from embarrassment. Further slowdowns were caused by writer’s block, or as I like to call it word blindness and imposter syndrome.

During the process I discovered many articles and useful web sites I just had to try and include in the book. Unfortunately that broke the planned structure. In the end I rewrote it about fifty five billion times – give or take one. Rewrites and reorganizations take time, and you also then get confused with what you’ve reviewed and if you’ve already talked about a topic. Rewrites also introduce more grammatical errors, something I’m already terrible at.

Eventually I just decided to stop worrying about it, dump all the content into the book; then go through linearly (many times, in both directions) to make sure I hadn’t stated the same thing twice (or at least not verbosely). Then streamline some more, making sure the pragmatic ethos is applied. After drawing some pretty diagrams and formatting headings, adding emphasis on the correct words and getting page breaks right, I felt ready to publish. The PDF was ready.

Little did I know that it would take another month to publish. But kind words from those I gave pre-release copies to really helped push me on. @MrRio and Laura Turner to mention a few.

If only I’d have googled ‘how to write for a Kindle device’, things would have been a lot smoother. No one set of formatting seemed to work well on iPhone/iPad/Fire reader.  After many nights of pain, I had to drop Apple Pages, and use Microsoft Word. All the beautiful formatting and indentations were lost, artwork had to be redone. The Amazon cover page creator is seriously rubbish too, I started to lose the will to live.

It almost got to the point that I was going to publish regardless of how scraggly it looked, and never read it again. After telling my friend Amelia, a professional copy editor, about my Kindle woes – she just constantly nodded; as if she’s heard it all before.

I’ve sworn not to write a book ever again, the process has been so traumatic. Not something I enjoyed, but I don’t regret doing it. After-all, It’s kinda cool to say I’m an internationally published author!

As for sales, I’m not going to retire anytime soon. At the time of writing I’ve had one purchase in Japan, one in North America and 70 normalized pages have been read through the Kindle Subscription services. I knew this was going to be a niche market; so no surprise there!

I do have some plans to neatening the book up a little; for a start the bibliography and references section needs help – I was largely at the mercy of Microsoft Word->ePub conversion, and I gave up the fight.

I could also do with adding recent events regarding the Oracle Java API case, and elaborate more on some of the popular licences in play and their associated risks/permissiveness.

I’m dreading the first reviews – it’s been a rough experience and reviews can be quite brutal. I just hope the audience appreciates I’ve tried to respect their time by keeping it minimal and pragmatic – Given Kindle pays per page read, I’m not surprised there’s some oversized books on the shelf!

Here’s the book in all it’s glory, it’s fun to see what it looks like in Japan’s store..

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon JP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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