Open Source?

David Berlind posted an article titled: "Are SugarCRM, Socialtext, Zimbra, Scalix and others abusing the term 'open source?'" in which he opines on the prevalence of non-OSI approved licenses among Web 2.0 companies that are alleged to be open source. Actually, strike that, Berlind doesn't actually seem to say anything beyond: Gee-wiz everyone seems to have a point. In my opinion he almost seems too scared to state an opinion for fear that he may anger dozens of alleged open source Web 2.0 execs or OSI. If anything he speaks snidely of OSI with statements of "'allegedly' keepers..", etc. I suppose this makes it all too clear who has the power here.

If you're reading this you almost certainly understand that OSI (Open Source Initiative) maintains the official definition of open source and is a standards body that all open source license authors turn to have their licenses ratified as meeting the requirements of the open source definition. This is a very important organization that has done a lot to maintain innovation in software. Also, it is hugely significant because it helps to prevent confusion about licensing.

When we were selecting licenses for DekiWiki and Dream we considered many licenses. The one thing we knew for certain was that we would select a license that was OSI approved. We did this for the same reason that we launched OpenGarden, released our source, and made our bugs database public all before we began selling a product. Because open source is a process. It's not an event. It's not a tick in a feature matrix to get funding. And it's certainly not about getting free labor. For us it has always been about Free Knowledge and rapidly evolving the best damn software application possible.  I’m making this point because some of these same companies that Berlind is talking about have actually spent years selling a product while not making their source code publicly available and then when they did release their source for the time they did so under a non-OSI approved license. This makes them decisively not open source.

Allow me to share my opinions on this topic further. As I state on our licenses page: every time a new "open source" company comes along and creates their own open source license it muddies the landscape of open source licensing. As we all know there is a significant amount of FUD in this space. By creating new licenses it only creates more confusion, which by definition breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Moreover, I personally find it offensive when companies slap open source contributors and companies in the face by claiming the title of open source while, in some cases, selling for years while not releasing their source code or providing any transparency and then when they finally do release their source they create a non-OSI approved license. It's asinine and inexcusable. In short, that's fine if you want to use these licenses, but do not claim to be open source unless OSI has approved your license. Nor should you claim to be open source when you’ve not even released your source code.

Companies that claim to be open source without OSI approval weakens OSI. I now hear that OSI is actually considering these 'attribution' licenses for approval. Going back now and approving them would greatly diminish OSI's legitimacy. As mentioned, take a look at how many of these companies have developed their software. Open source is clearly an event for them and not a process. For them it's about free labor, press, and a tick in a feature matrix. If OSI approves these licenses retroactively or doesn't, at some point, do something to discredit these claims that these companies are open source I, for one, will lose a great deal of respect in the organization.