Informal Review

Informal openness evaluation of Sakai

Sakai Sakai is a community of academic institutions, commercial organizations and individuals who work together to develop a common Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE). The Sakai CLE is a free, community source, educational software platform. Sakai is a Java-based, service-oriented application suite that is used by about 160 educational institutions around the world. Version 1.0 was released in March 2005. The current version (November 2009) is 2.6.1. Development work is ongoing for the new major version 3 of Sakai. This will be a major rewrite of the application.

This informal analysis of openness follows that used in A 2007 overview of JISC projects in terms of openness.

Governance and leadership

Sakai was originally a closed community project but is working towards a more open development model. It has been set up as a collaborative effort of five educational institutions[1] and this consortium was funded by the Mellon Foundation to collectively create a CLE. There are now several bodies that play a role in governing the community:

The Sakai Foundation

The Sakai Foundation is a member-based, non-profit corporation engaged in the collaborative design, development and distribution of open-source software for education, research and related scholarly activities. It consists of a ten-member Board of Directors and of a day-to-day staff. The members of the Board are elected by all members of the Foundation and provide the strategic leadership for the Sakai Foundation. Furthermore, there is a Foundation staff of about seven people. Foundation staff coordinate software development, quality assurance and distribution activities for the community. Staff members oversee Sakai's intellectual property and track contributor agreements. They manage and maintain a Sakai community website, wiki, mailing lists and other tools.

The Sakai Partner Program

Through the Sakai Partner Program academic institutions as well as non-profits and commercial organizations are invited to participate, while paying an annual fee to the Foundation.

The Sakai Foundation Commercial Affiliate Program

Besides the regular Sakai Partner Program, there is also a Sakai Foundation Commercial Affiliate Program that aims to 'support the work of the Foundation, support the development of Sakai, and directly contribute to open source technological innovation for higher education'. It is unclear from the website how the two partner programs are related and how one can become a member of the Commercial Affiliate Program.

The Sakai Product Council

The Sakai Board of directors have recently installed a Product Council (by means of a subcommittee containing non-board members) to act on behalf of the Sakai community. The council is responsible for determining which projects will go into a Sakai product release. Also, the council informally advises projects as they progress from R&D to production-ready maturity. There is a product-council mailing list with public archives, but the list seems not to be used very actively. The meetings are announced publicly and the minutes are published on the wiki. The council appointments are tied to the 2.8 release in order to revise the council and process in about a year's time (as mentioned in the FAQ).

Sakai Fellows

Initiated in 2008, the Sakai Fellows program yearly awards the title of Sakai Fellow to a total of six individuals to recognise and support outstanding Sakai volunteer contributors. The fellows receive a stipend from the Sakai Foundation. The Fellows are appointed by a committee that consists of at least one member of the Sakai board. Candidates may be nominated by anyone within the Sakai Community or may self-nominate. It is unclear how the committee that chooses the fellows is formed.

There is a Sakai Developer Practices page on the wiki explaining the process for new developers, but this page is not finished yet. When new developers submit a patch to the codebase, they will have to sign a Sakai Contributor License Agreement (CLA) by which the developer grants copyright to the Sakai Foundation. Only after that their patch can be applied to the codebase.

Signing a CLA is then naturally also necessary when a new developer wishes to become a committer on the Sakai project. A Sakai Licensing Working Group is in place to maintain license management. According to their own website, they have modelled the contribution process after the Apache Software Foundation.


The Sakai website is quite extensive and gives three main routes to access the information: 'Choosing Sakai', 'Using Sakai', and 'Contributing to Sakai'. The information on the website is supplemented with a (Confluence) Wiki and there are on many pages links to this wiki. However, a number of pages that have been visited for this report are still very much work in progress.

There are many mailing lists that one can subscribe to ranging from topics such as accessibility and performance to regional lists like spanish-sakai and ja-sakai, and the usual developer list sakai-dev and a read-only list to trace Subversion commits.


Sakai is a software project and is open using the Educational Community License, version 2.0 licence from release 2.6.0 onwards. Earlier versions are released under Educational Community License, version 1.0.

Sakai consists of a number of 'tools', which are in most cases separate projects that are released as part of Sakai in one package. These projects are classified as either Core, Service or Provisional. The Core and Service projects are the regular projects in the release, whereas the Provisional projects are also in the release, but disabled by default 'while the community builds trust and experience with them'.

Besides the regular release of Sakai there are about 40 other projects, called Contrib tools, that work with Sakai and in most cases are accessible through the Sakai wiki and the Jira bug database. These projects are not ready to be part of the Sakai release or explicitly choose to be not part of it, e.g. because they have another licence (For example, the Skin manager is released under LGPL] ).


There is a whole range of standards that are used within Sakai. New projects often use or provide support for new standards as well. Some of the standards that are currently supported are:

For Sakai 3, a new set of open development standards will be used, such as:

Relationship between projects

Given the widespread use of Sakai by over 100 institutions, there are also a large number of projects that are related to Sakai on different topic areas. Projects can also become part of Sakai by entering as a Contrib project. On the wiki the process is explained by which projects can become a Contrib project and may finally be part of the Sakai release. There is a list of projects that are not yet in the Contrib space. There is some documentation of what the entry criteria are for projects to become a Contrib project, but this is also work in progress. The entry criteria are currently not very specific.

For Sakai 3 more collaboration is planned with external projects on a technical level. Most prominent are Apache Sling (which incorporates the OSGi implementation Felix and the JCR implementation Jackrabbit) and Apache Shindig. There are already some links between these projects. For example, Dr. Ian Boston, Sakai Fellow 2009 and candidate to become a member of the board of the Sakai Foundation, is also a committer and PMC-member of Apache Sling.


The Sakai project is a very large project with many organisations involved. There are several governing bodies that seem to play a role, but the relationships between those bodies and the responsibilities are not always clear. With the recent installation of the product council and developments with regard to Sakai 3 the structure seems to be changing and responsibilities may shift as well. In terms of openness there is a lot of information publicly available, but for instance the product-council mailing list is hardly used and therefore the discussion does not always seem to take place in the public space. It is also not always clear how committees are formed and what their formal role or mandate is. Because there are many information channels (e.g. many different mailing lists) it is not always clear what is the right way to be informed.

[1] The original five members of the Sakai consortium were: Indiana University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, University of Michigan, and Polytechnic University of Valencia

OSSWatchWiki: SakaiInformalOpennessRating (last edited 2013-04-15 13:56:24 by localhost)

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