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After 10 years: What is Open Source?

In our earlier article, "Facts and Friction on Open Source and Free Software" we have explained where "Open Source" is coming from and what is its relation to Free Software and the Free Software Foundation that represents it. One of the points made was that the term Open Source deliberately de-emphasized a certain aspect of what defines Free Software as originally specified by the FSF in order to make Free Software, albeit under the new term, better appeal to the business world.

A lot of the criticism to the new term came, obviously, from the Free Software Foundation and the movement that aligns with it, as they believed (and continue to believe) it is wrong to hide one of the most important things that make Free Software what it is, the freedom that goes with it and which is the sole reason for which the Free Software movement started. They also say that the term, despite there being an Open Source Definition, would in minds of many simply mean the availability of the source code and not much more than that.

Well, enter 2007, almost ten years after the Open Source term was coined. Read the appeal that the president of the OSI, Michael Tiemann recently posted, aptly titled: "Will The Real Open Source CRM Please Stand Up?".

In it, Mr Tiemann expresses concerns regarding the abuse of the term "Open Source" by applying it to the products which do not adhere to the Open Source Definition and are usually merely allowing access to the source code. For a while it seems it wasn't much trouble for the OSI to deal with this issue, but with the continued proliferation and increased attractiveness of this buzzword, further troubles began:

Michael Tiemann wrote:

Starting around 2006, the term open source came under attack from two new and unanticipated directions: the first was from vendors who claimed that they have every bit as much right to define the term as does the OSI, and the second was from vendors who claimed that their license was actually faithful to the Open Source Definition (OSD), and that the OSI board was merely being obtuse (or worse) in not recognizing that fact.

The trouble is, OSI doesn't really have a trademark nor a service mark on the term. They are merely the ones who coined it the first, but apparently they don't have a legal standing on which they could enforce the proper use of the term. So in a legal sense, everybody indeed does have the right to apply it per their own judgement, which is often taking the meaning of the term literally: open source code; the availability of the source code, nothing more. These two comments to the Tiemanns very post shed some light on that issue.

Tiemann argues, however, by comparing the term "Open Source" with "Open Standards" saying that the term "Open Standards" "came into common use--and began to be adopted in procurement legislation by sovereign governments--before there was any objective definition of the term" posing that "Open Source" could be socially enforced without using the trademark mechanisms in a similar way "Open Standards" is. In addition he argues that making "Open Source" a trademark would make things difficult for governments who make new "Open Source" related legislations.

While this may be a valid point there still remains a problem which may prove to be quite difficult for OSI to resolve, and that is the popular perception of the term. If it is just too deeply associated with the shallow view of it being merely software with the freely available source code, will OSI ever succeed at changing this perception, en masse, to the full set of values that are supposed to define "Open Source"? In addition, how does this make Open Source Initiative look in light of the fact that they deliberately coined a term which would hide a certain set of values in favor of the supposedly more attractive part, basically deliberately showing the public only a part of the bigger picture of what Free Software really is about?

In other words, it may be that the Open Source Initiative, today, is facing a problem that was simply inevitable because of the very nature of what Open Source Initiative is. They wanted to attract businesses to Free Software by coining a term which emphasizes only a part of what Free Software actually is, but they succeeded at attracting businesses to a buzzword more than to a whole set of values that they are now trying to put back forth.

In other words OSI is now forced to act more similarly to the Free Software Foundation, rigorously explaining what Free Software is all about and making a strict and critical connection between "free" and "freedom", Free Software and the Free Software Definition. One therefore has to wonder what, then, was a point of the Open Source Initiative, if it would in this regard end up doing the same thing FSF is doing?

Perhaps it is just another sanctuary, with or without a meaningful name, to those who oddly and ironically enough consider themselves "apolitical" or just slightly allergic to Richard Stallman, choosing to be deliberately ignorant towards the annoyance (sic) that the tiring talk of freedom appears to present them.

I would like to find some other purpose to acknowledge for the Open Source Initiative, but I am hard pressed. I don't believe it was ever needed for business adoption of Free Software and I believe it merely created divisions and complications. While OSI is fiddling with the problem of license proliferation and the enforcement of proper use of their term, FSF is busy drafting a license which is actually advancing the cause of Free Software in the marketplace (bouncing Microsoft's less-than-friendly strategies), organizing numerous freedom campaigns (anti-DRM, anti-Vista, for free file formats etc.) and consequently solidifying the increasing relevancy that this movement is having to the world.

So, considering what we have seen and what the OSI is currently doing, the question begs to be asked. After 10 years, do we really need Open Source or can we get back to the real issues at stake, that being software freedom?

Thank you

Danijel Orsolic

More:

Comments

Firstly I am pleased that

Firstly I am pleased that the OSI are tackling the spread of the term 'Open Source' to describe proprietary software, with this I hope that they will be able to keep the Open Source Definition as linked to every instance of 'open source'. Yet this will only be social pressure, as you and others have said Danijel, they have no legal ownership of the term. Thus they have reached the same predicament as the FSF in having to explain to everyone what their cherished term actually means.

As you stated the OSI now seems stagnant and has been bitten by the beast it fed. This is the first proactive thing I've heard about the 'Initiative in a while. In the meanwhile the FSF have been doing proactive projects which fight for our freedoms as users of computing technology.

Now to the question of the current need for Open Source. Without it I would never have heard about Free Software, I would be there with the millions of other people drooling over Windows Vista. But has this use come to an end? Open source is one gateway to Free Software, but as issues of DRM and data safety become more prevalent will this gateway be needed as people will know more directly about Free Software itself? Thus I think the traction Open Source had as an idea is slowly failing, but, if its definition is defended strongly enough by social pressure it may be of help with the massive task of spreading freedom.

dylunio wrote: Without it I

dylunio wrote:

Without it I would never have heard about Free Software, I would be there with the millions of other people drooling over Windows Vista.

I could say the same thing as I have heard of "Open Source" first as well, but I am not as sure that we wouldn't be there if there wasn't an "Open Source". My first contact with Free Software was through GNU/Linux, not the Open Source term, so I would have ended up reading FSFs pages anyway. In other words, the only reason why I initially heard only Open Source and called it that way was because the term was prominently imposed on me. I quickly chose Free Software after hearing about FSF.

So, what I'm saying is that it is the actual OS which brought me over, not the Open Source term, and I therefore doubt that it was ever needed for me to consider Free Software. And in fact right now I believe it is needed even less.

Is it correct to say that

 

Is it correct to say that the term "open source" was coined, in part, because of the confusion that the word "free" can cause (its two meanings, as in "free speech" and in "free beer")?

So now, the OSI faces a similar confusion over the term "open source". Some proprietary software developers are not true to the spirit of the term as OSI defines it.

One way to go is to educate people about the true meaning of "open source" to get them to use free software. Once this has been achieved, if ever, we can educate them about the importance of freedom.

Why not tell them about "free software" right away and save the intermediate step? RMS is right, there is no such concise way as "free speech, not free beer" to explain the intended meaning of "open source."

What you say is very true

What you say is very true Danijel, though one of the main reasons for me to ever try GNU/Linux was the fact you could do cool things like see the sourcecode and play with it - yes the fact it was Free Software - and this was branded as 'Open Source'. Though in further reflection the term 'Free Software' with much the same explanation I was given about 'Open Source' would have had the same effect. In the end one could argue it's the freedom with matters and not the term which conveys this to the peoples.

dylunio wrote: Though in

dylunio wrote:

Though in further reflection the term 'Free Software' with much the same explanation I was given about 'Open Source' would have had the same effect.

That's what I mean. So if there's really no difference there and people are attracted to the actual software and freedoms that they have with it, Open Source again remains on the dry, not all that essential as ESR and company thought it is.

dylunio wrote:

In the end one could argue it's the freedom with matters and not the term which conveys this to the peoples.

Well, different terms convey different meanings. Open Source was made *not* to convey the idea of freedom.

Michael Fötsch wrote:Why

Michael Fötsch wrote:

Why not tell them about "free software" right away and save the intermediate step? RMS is right, there is no such concise way as "free speech, not free beer" to explain the intended meaning of "open source."

Exactly. I think that would be simplest and most effective.

Btw, welcome to Libervis Michael.

libervisco: Well,

libervisco wrote:
dylunio wrote:

In the end one could argue it's the freedom with matters and not the term which conveys this to the peoples.

Well, different terms convey different meanings. Open Source was made *not* to convey the idea of freedom.

Indeed, I never doubted this, though I suppose that it brings up the question of whether knowing you are free is more important than just being free, but I'll think I'll discuss that in more depth in something I'm thinking of writing for LN.

Sounds like an interesting

Sounds like an interesting topic. There is one point related to that; valuing freedom can motivate people to fight for its preservation while otherwise it can easily be taken away. The question is, how actively one has to be aware of the state of freedom for it to be really valued, but I guess that's something for your article. Smiling

total agreement...

 

but first i must oppoligize if my comments are going to be alittle off topic... i notice a recurring theme with some of the posters here.. in that.. as myself.. first came to linux before knowing or hearing about "opensource"... it was in testing linux that i came to know the term opensource.. then in other forums got a better understanding of opensource as it pertains to "free software" (free as in speech) which is, in my opinion the only, true, pure meaning of opensource..

i find it ironic that .. today.. while i use linux and it is what introduced me to free software.... it is not important to me.. it is the "free software" that is important..

Come together ... over OSI

 

FSF : "It is open source but it isn't free."
VENDORS: "It is open source but it isn't free."
It's great to see how the OSI has brought everyone together.

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