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Free-Teams-gate: Docker apologizes for shooting itself in the foot

Botched data deletion threat roils open source worlds

Container biz Docker on Thursday scrambled to bandage a self-inflicted marketing mishap, its ham-handed discontinuation of Docker Free Teams accounts.

"We apologize," Tim Anglade, chief marketing officer at Docker, proclaimed in a mea culpa. "We did a terrible job announcing the end of Docker Free Teams."

We did a terrible job announcing the end of Docker Free Teams

The day before, Docker sent out an email informing legacy Free Teams organizations that they had 30 days to upgrade to a paid subscription. Recipients – mainly maintainers of open source projects – were told they stood to lose access to paid features, including private repositories, and would see their organization data deleted if they didn't pay up.

Docker today offers four main service tiers: Personal (free); Pro ($60/year); Team ($300/year minimum); and Business ($1440/year minimum). Written off for dead in 2017, Docker has shifted many of its customers from free to paid accounts and now appears to be thriving. A year ago, the biz trumpeted its financial success, with further financing of $105 million bringing its total valuation to $2.1 billion.

As part of making its business viable, the container platform opted to shed its Free Teams offering, supposedly used by less than two percent of customers, because the account plan no longer made sense.

"The Docker Free Team subscription was deprecated in part because it was poorly targeted," explained Anglade. "In particular, it didn’t serve the open source audience as well as our recently updated Docker-Sponsored Open Source (DSOS) program, the latter offering benefits that exceed those of the deprecated Free Team plan."

The problem was that Docker's messaging left many with the impression that the deletion of organization data would extend to the organization's public Docker images, a scenario that would have caused mayhem in the open source community. Docker images specify the software components used to build a container and serve a critical function in software deployment pipelines. Removing them from Docker Hub would break all sorts of applications and build infrastructure.

Anglade in his mea culpa addressed that misapprehension. "We’d also like to clarify that public images will only be removed from Docker Hub if their maintainer decides to delete them," he said. "We’re sorry that our initial communications failed to make this clear."

Affected developers also expressed concern about what might happen to the namespace of their organization if the Free Teams account was not transitioned to the alternative DSOS program. A miscreant could conceivably take over the name of the abandoned account and use it to host malicious images under a trusted name.

We’d also like to clarify that public images will only be removed from Docker Hub if their maintainer decides to delete them

Anglade's statement, however, explains in an accompanying set of FAQs that namespace squatting should not be a problem because Docker will not release the namespace of organizations that leave Docker, get suspended, or get deleted.

Nonetheless, the damage is done. Some developers are planning to migrate their Docker images elsewhere. Others have said that they've tried to get into the DSOS program but did not get accepted or didn't hear back – a problem Docker says it will try to address by assigning more staff to review applications.

Even so, individual developers operating as a Free Teams organization have observed that the $300 annual minimum Teams fee, for those not in the DSOS program, is too much.

Too little too late

Software developer James Sandford in a GitHub Issue for Docker Hub responded to the container company's effort to iron things out by asserting that unclear communication isn't really the problem.

"I hope you can understand that while the communication of this change wasn't great, this is not the primary concern of the community," he wrote. "And this updated FAQ has not fixed the majority of the community's concerns."

"Teams will still be deactivated. Images will still go without updates. Images that use affected images as a base will also be affected, potentially in a hard to see manner. Some teams are now being forced into extra monetary burden.

"Anyone who uses Docker Hub will now have to put effort [into] analyzing and mitigating the effects of this on their code/workflows. Some will have to communicate their plans as to whether they will stay with Docker Hub or move. And the community still has less than 30 days notice to work around all of this." ®

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