Open-source discrimination

Microsoft may not have altruistic motives in submitting its shared-source licenses to the OSI for approval, but should we care? Can we discriminate?

There is an ugly feeling growing against Microsoft in its attempts to have a few of its shared-source licenses certified as OSI (Open Source Initiative)-approved. The general sentiment is that OSI approval is for everyone except Microsoft.

I compete with Microsoft. My livelihood depends on beating Microsoft. I have worked for two companies that have been run over by Microsoft and its leveraging of monopoly power. I'm at least as familiar with Microsoft's legal and business tactics as most people, and probably more so than most. I've been on the losing end of Microsoft's monopoly power more than once.

But I don't believe in discrimination. Not even of the "bad guys."

Pamela Jones of Groklaw, whose opinion I value and with whom I normally concur, berated me for daring to suggest that we should welcome Microsoft's participation in open source:

Most of us do *not* want Microsoft to participate. I would like to personally barricade Microsoft out, until it alters its negative, rapacious and hostile behavior toward the GPL and FOSS. And so should you.

I've heard similar comments from others in the industry. But last time I checked, the Open Source Definition prohibits discrimination. It certainly doesn't encourage it. Here's the language and the OSI's rationale:

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

Rationale: In order to get the maximum benefit from the process, the maximum diversity of persons and groups should be equally eligible to contribute to open sources. Therefore, we forbid any open-source license from locking anybody out of the process.

This speaks of licenses, of course, but why should the process for submitting licenses be discriminatory while the licenses, themselves, are not?

Open-source licensing is about the license. This is one reason that Linus Torvalds chastised the Free Software Foundation over GPLv3 : he felt that the FSF was making licensing political, while he liked GPLv2 because:

The beauty of the GPLv2 is exactly that it's a "tit for tat" license, and you can use it without having to drink the Kool-Aid.

In short, you don't have to care whether it's a Microsoft license or an FSF license or an Oscar the Grouch license: the license speaks for itself.

Is there a chance that Microsoft will use its OSI accreditation to the detriment of open source? Sure. But this, however, does not excuse anyone in discriminating against Microsoft, or any other person or organization, that wants to participate in the open-source licensing and development process.

Sometimes we fetish over labels (I'm very guilty of this). There are risks in removing labels, of course, but far greater damage comes from discriminating against labels, rather than people.

I'm not naive when it comes to Microsoft, but I'm also not vindictive. Microsoft should be allowed to participate the same way any other organization does. Period. Open-source licensing does not look to motives, whether IBM's, Microsoft's, Richard Stallman's or Linus Torvalds'.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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