A pre-dawn visit to Thomas Jefferson for the Cherry Blossom Festival

Jefferson Memorial at dawn with cherry blossoms
Jefferson Memorial at dawn this morning during the D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival
The bloom of the Japanese cherry trees in Washington, D.C. is at its peak, so Renee and I went over to the Tidal Basin at dawn this morning to watch the sun come up behind the Jefferson Memorial. We got some nice photos.

I was surprised at how popular the Tidal Basin was at 6 a.m. During the Cherry Blossom Festival, D.C. has turned Ohio Drive SW into a one-way street going north, with parking available on the west side along the Potomac. By sunrise at 6:47 a.m., there almost wasn't a parking spot left. There was a plethora of photographers lined up along the Tidal Basin walking path, all prepared with their tripods and telephotos. Renee set up her tripod near one tree, while I roamed around shooting hand-held, which made for a lot of blurry photos in the pre-dawn twilight. I shot at ISO 800 initially, then switched to ISO 200 in the hopes that it would let me blow-up the photos extra-large without as much graininess. Still, I was shooting at 1/30 of a second and slower for a lot of the early photos. That's what I like about shooting digital: I deleted about 60% of my photos with no thought to all the "film" I wasted.

Visiting the Tidal Basin before dawn to enjoy the cherry blossoms was a good idea. The area around the basin was packed a couple of hours later, with the usual gridlock traffic on Independence Avenue SW and the Memorial Bridge entering the district from Virginia. If you're in D.C. and plan to visit the cherry blossoms on Sunday, definitely arrive early. I saw a lot of cars idling along the Memorial Bridge, slowly crawling toward D.C. -- and probably not finding a close space to park.
Jefferson Memorial at dawn with cherry blossoms
Framing Thomas Jefferson through the cherry blossoms

I uploaded several of my photos from today and from last weekend to Picasa Web Albums.

Some cherry tree facts: There are 1,678 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, with more surrounding neighboring roads and parks. Trees originally were planted around the Tidal Basin in 1912 as a gift of friendship from the people of Japan. About 400 of the present trees were propagated from the original 1912 trees. The health of the trees often suffers as a result of their beauty. The crowds who visit the area often tromp around the base of the trees, compacting the soil. The drainage in the area could use some improvement, too, as you'll notice when you have to walk around some of the flooded areas along the Tidal Basin path -- forcing you to compact the soil even more around those trees. New trees need to be planted regularly to replace the suffering ones, which is probably one reason none of the trees you see there are ancient.

If you are interested in planting a Yoshino cherry tree at your home like the ones along the Tidal Basin, the non-profit American Forests sells them online. My "green" plug for the planet.

Alfresco Software says freeloading corporations led them to closed-source strategy

Alfresco Software said Tuesday it will not release certain new enterprise features of the Alfresco content management products, such as high-availability clustering, as open source as a way to persuade freeloading companies to pay up. John Newton, CTO and co-founder of Alfresco Software Inc., posted notice of this new business strategy in a blog entry that effectively says Fortune 50 users of the free version of Alfresco are cheapskates. He reassures everyone in his blog that core components of Alfresco will remain open source and free. Alfresco thus joins other commercial open source projects, such as MySQL, in bifurcating their source code into a core version licensed as open source, and a version with features important to large businesses (the ones with money) available for a fee.

In a blog last August, Andrew Lampitt called this division an "open-core licensing" model. This division is now officially reflected in Alfresco Software's release Tuesday of Alfresco Enterprise 3.1.

Newton implied in his blog that Alfresco Software was pushed to close-source enterprise features of Alfresco for financial reasons. Many "world-class companies" with "household brands" are using Alfresco's free and open source Labs version, he wrote, and not paying the annual Enterprise subscription. Enterprise subscriptions are a source of revenue for Alfresco Software. Subscribing customers receive a more stable "Enterprise Edition" of the Alfresco content management suite, dedicated support, and optional training and consulting. By releasing enterprise features of Alfresco only to paying customers, Newton said, he hopes Alfresco's largest users will see the benefit of paying Alfresco an annual subscription rather than paying their own developers to figure out how to deploy Alfresco in a high-availability environment or writing their own management tools.

If indeed Alfresco Software won't be able to survive (or at least thrive) without finding a more sustainable revenue source, this move sounds like a good strategy. It will allow Alfresco to continue to improve its already excellent enterprise content management system while allowing smaller companies to use Alfresco's core products for free. If, however, this bifurcated source code strategy is merely a way to return higher profits to Alfresco's founders and funders, the change might negatively impact how Alfresco Software is perceived by developers writing useful extensions and integrations and releasing them as free, open source. Open source developers release their code for the community's benefit as a whole, but might hesitate to do so when a corporation profits indirectly from their work.

There is nothing wrong with a corporation out to make money, and adopting the "open core" model might be the best move for Alfresco's future -- as a product and as a company. I don't know whether much or any of the Alfresco "core" code base was written by non-Alfresco employees. If not, the risk of Alfresco losing contributions from external open source developers is small. Other "community" contributions, like free technical support offered by fellow users on the Alfresco forums, likely will continue unaffected by the licensing change because much of that free exchange of information is among users of the free Labs version.

From what the privately held Alfresco Software says publicly, it isn't hurting for money. Alfresco employees I spoke with last year say the company is profitable. Matt Asay, Alfresco's vice president of business development, said in a CMS Wire story Tuesday by Barb Mosher that sales have been increasing recently by more than 27% from the quarter before. On Monday, Alfresco Software released limited financial information for its fiscal year ended Feb. 28. The news release says Alfresco Software Inc. closed the 2008 fiscal year with a 103% year-over-year revenue growth and a 92% increase in revenue from the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the same quarter in 2007. It also added 270 paying customers during the 2008 fiscal year.

Newton wrote in his blog that Alfresco Software looked at options other than close-sourcing enterprise features. Alfresco considered "crippling" the open source version, he said, or letting the open source branch become so cutting-edge that it fell "into a destabilized state." But going that route "would make it difficult for certain governments to use our product," he said, and could cause the open source community to create competing forks to fix the crippleware.

Newton said Alfresco's new software model will adhere to these six principals:
  1. Alfresco extensions to create high-availability, clustered systems and provide better monitoring and and administration will be developed as closed source.
  2. The core system and interfaces will remain 100% open source.
  3. Bugs fixed for Enterprise customers will be folded into the next open source Labs release.
  4. Code that Alfresco Software writes for paying customers to integrate Alfresco with proprietary systems will remain closed source.
  5. Integrations to "ubiquitous" proprietary systems, like SharePoint, will remain open source.
  6. Alfresco will continue to support paying customers to the levels of their SLAs.