The OSI, Microsoft, and history

Groklaw wants the OSI to bash Microsoft and keep it out of the community. Fine. But it's directly inimical to why the OSI was set up in the first place.

It's almost funny (almost) to see how out-of-context my words can be taken. On one side, I can have Microsoft calling me to ask me to not criticize the company as I so often do (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and....you get the point).

Then I have Groklaw suggesting that I'm wrong to think the OSI shouldn't discriminate against groups bringing licenses to it based on past behavior. I would have thought that, if weighed in the balance, people would tend to find me anti-Microsoft (though I admit I don't find it hard at all to separate out Microsoft's products from its strategies). But not enough for some in the open-source community, apparently. This is unfortunate, as I'm a regular reader and supporter of the work that Pamela does at Groklaw.

The sad thing is, the OSI and the open-source community may have brought this upon ourselves.

When you think of "freedom" and "open source" together, you think of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. When you think of OSI, you may think of the same, but that's not the reason for which the OSI was originally set up. It was designed to be the more pragmatic cousin to the FSF. It was designed to encourage businesses to adopt and embrace open source, and not to get too hung up on the freedom component.

The conferees decided it was time to dump the moralizing and confrontational attitude that had been associated with "free software" in the past and sell the idea strictly on the same pragmatic, business-case grounds that had motivated Netscape. They brainstormed about tactics and a new label. "Open source", contributed by Chris Peterson, was the best thing they came up with.

Think that quotation comes from Microsoft? Nope. It comes from the OSI's Web site, and I believe was authored by Eric Raymond.

See the dilemma?

On one hand, the community wants the OSI to be its ideological standard-bearer. But that's not the raison d'etre of the OSI. At least, it's not its stated mission. Its mission is clear:

The OSI are the stewards of the Open Source Definition (OSD) and the community-recognized body for reviewing and approving licenses as OSD-conformant.

That's it. Nowhere does it say that the OSI is supposed to discriminate against anyone--for good or evil--in the process of approving licenses. It is simply there to make sure that new licenses comply with the Open Source Definition.

I have no love for Microsoft. I think it is insidiously seeding the market with the next layer of enterprise lock-in , and I believe that is of much, much more concern than whether the OSI approves a license or two as OSI-certified. While the open-source community sleeps, intent on "doing its duty" to prevent Microsoft from engaging fully with the open-source community, Microsoft is out there doing its real damage with SharePoint.

Wake up. Stop fetishing over the wrong things. The sky will not fall if Microsoft is allowed to participate in the open-source license approval process like everyone else.

It would be morally wrong, in my worldview, to discriminate against Microsoft in this endeavor. Regardless, that is not the OSI's mission. It can be the open-source community's role, if it chooses to take up that mantle, but it is not the OSI's, in my opinion (one that I likely do not share with other OSI board members, but no one has yet explained to me how the OSI's official history, purpose, and charter gives it the right to discriminate against who suggests new licenses).

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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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