What's in an open-source name?

Trying to drum up buzz for the mapping software it recently open-sourced, Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif., created a bit of a muddle by naming its offering after a similar open-source program.

Late last year, Autodesk released the source code for its MapGuide product, naming it MapServer Enterprise. Unfortunately, the MapServer moniker was already used by another mapping program, one that was co-sponsored by NASA and developed by Stephen Lime, who now heads up that project's technical committee. The University of Minnesota now oversees the software. Although the two programs share no code, both can position geographically annotated information on Web-based maps.

It turns out the naming was deliberate: Autodesk execs thought both parties would benefit from sharing the base name. The idea was suggested by geospatial open source contributor Frank Warmerdam, and the MapServer project leaders agreed to share their name. The original MapServer would be renamed MapServer Cheetah. To sweeten the deal, Autodesk set up a foundation to support both efforts.

Just after the name change took place though, the project leaders polled the (original) MapServer users to see if they would mind the co-branding quid pro quo. They voted overwhelmingly against the idea (96 to 17) though. 'I find it odd that Autodesk would abandon the MapGuide name. I find it insulting that they were allowed to STEAL the MapServer name,' one wrote.

'We feel we've added just as much energy to MapServer by adding the Autodesk name to it, but we understand where they are coming from,' admitted Gary Lang, vice president of engineering for Autodesk.

So Autodesk backed off rather immediately, to its credit. We only wished it did so before going public with the idea. Now MapGuide is branded MapGuide again (MapGuide Open Source being the free version and MapGuide Enterprise 2007 the commercial version).

The MapServer name resides solely with the University of Minnesota MapServer program again. AutoDesk replaced the MapServer Foundation with a broader entity called the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (www.osgeo.org). Maybe you could use mapping software to keep all those names straight.

Note: This story was updated May 19.

About the Authors

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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