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What's Open? Continued…

March 4, 2007

I recently blogged about the modified MPL attribution licenses, Alfresco’s excellent choice to become open source, and companies like Socialtext that have been claiming to be open source even though it took them almost four years of selling their software to release their source code under a non-OSI approved license. I’ve suggested that OSI should have a wall of shame and a formal censure process. A couple days after my previous post I spoke with Michael Tiemann, the President of OSI and I shared my opinions with him. Michael is thoughtful, intelligent, funny and just plain cool.

I hope I get this right because it’s been several days since we spoke. Michael feels OSI should be a positive force rather than a negative one. He believes the open source community, mostly, does a good job of policing itself. Also, he thinks there is a  trend among the companies using modified MPL attribution licenses toward a return to the fold of open source, as is evidenced by Alfresco and others. I understood his point and I shared with him that it’s probably a good thing he’s more reflective and not as reactive as I am. Michael blogs on these topics on the new OSI website (he calls it the OSI 3.0 website) that hasn’t yet officially launched. Allegedly the board will be blogging regularly here. I hope so. 

In our conversation Michael I concurred on several items not least of which was: 

One particularly insideous subversion of the movement is the meme that “open source is about creating a commercially successful software project, so any licensing change believed to be more commercially defensible is, ipso facto, more open source.” Commercial success is a predicted side effect of open source, but open source is not defined by the commercial intentions of a software project.

My biggest concern  is the proclivity for the many newly VC backed “open source” companies to create their own licenses. In fact, I just read the lengthy piece Berlind wrote regarding this topic way back in November. I suppose it was right after our email exchange and my first post in which I accused him (perhaps inappropriately) of being too scared to take a stand on the topic. I want to highlight:

The reason for my neutrality is not that I don’t believe I could make arguments for one side or the other. In fact, if I were in the position to use or host SugarCRM (and I am, but that’s a different story), I’d have no objection to the attribution requirements. My problem is that focusing on the attribution argument right now is a distraction from what in my estimation are the more pressing issues for ZDNet’s open source-using readers (and developers) and the open source community as a whole.

Berlind goes on to assert that if this trend continues “the total number of unblessed licenses will at some point out-number the number of blessed ones.” Thereby rendering OSI and open source meaningless. David, I’m with you 100% on this. I suppose I may have been a tad harsh with you and I should provide you with kudos on, at least, two points: 1). you’re talking about this very important issue 2). and you’re addressing the real problem. I know this is a little late, but hey, I don’t spend all my time reading/writing in the blog-o-sphere. By the way, I too don’t particularly care either way about attribution. Well, that’s partially true. I do think attribution licenses are silly. However, the more important issue here is that if the spawning of non-OSI approved licenses continues unchecked it creates confusion and demeans open source. 

Finally, I’m still more than a little confused as to why Mayfield and Socialtext is being heralded as a good and noble comprimising champion of open source as Berlind, among others, have asserted when the fact remains, and I know I’m being repetitive here, this company claimed they were open source for years of selling their software without releasing so much as a stitch of code. Has everyone overlooked this because there are perceived greater evils?  

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