Storm, the component for which source was released, is an object-relational mapping tool for the Python programming language; it can support a number of communication channels with multiple databases. To make it a bit simpler, it helps a developer to map objects to relational databases; hence it is possible to work with different database types using one programming language.
This would not be news were it not for the fact that there is an interesting tale surrounding Launchpad.
Ubuntu, the Linux distribution which tops the charts these days, is developed using this closed system. Kind of a contradiction in terms, one would think.
The mind harks back to the BitKeeper affair. In 2002, Linus Torvalds decided to start using the BitKeeper source code management system for developing Linux. At that time, there was a commercial version and a free non-commercial version. The free version required that all change logs be sent to a world-readable server controlled by BitMover, the company that develops BitKeeper. Both were proprietary - no source provided.
In 2005, BitMover owner Larry McVoy decided to stop the free version of BitKeeper, claiming he was doing so because a well-known Australian developer, Andrew Tridgell, had reverse-engineered the protocols used in BitKeeper. (These claims were later called into question by Tridgell, one of those super-developers, when he demonstrated that he had indulged in no skullduggery to find out how BitKeeper worked; he has just initiated an ordinary telnet session and found out what he needed to know. He released the code for his project, called SourcePuller, soon thereafter.)
The BitKeeper problem led to name calling between Torvalds and Tridgell. Later a system called git was developed by Torvalds and other kernel developers to handle the management of the Linux source code.
In the case of Launchpad, there hasn't been any problem - yet. In a blog posting, Debian developer Joachim Breitner describes the system thus: "Launchpad collects, as far as I can tell, all (relevant) Free Software in source format from everywhere including the complete history, as well as all modifications done by the distributions, and puts it in a single revision control system."
While this may serve as a handy central repository, the obvious danger is that the data is all residing in the hand of one company - Canonical - and it could well be that people come to depend on this service.
There have been repeated calls for Launchpad to be opened up. Much in the same way that you have dummy runners in rugby - to put the opposition off guard - we now have this release of the code for Storm. The Canonical people are pretty slick when it comes to shaping the discussion.
Breitner's post was made in January this year (my mistake: Breitner clarifies that his comments were made on July 17, not in January) but the logic he employed still holds good. "This way, Canonical does to Free Software code what Google did to data of the masses: Google not only provides a search engine that might beat Internet Explorer's market share, but has a hand on peoples (sic) mail (GMail), discussions (Groups), shoppings (Froogle), they are about to become the single important source for maps and sattelite (sic) images and I am sure that I forgot a few services for the public here," he wrote.