Bruce Perens campaigns to join the OSI

Bruce Perens wants to be on the OSI board. What has he done to deserve this?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

Bruce Perens wants to be an OSI board member. That's fine. But he also seems to want to engage in scorched earth political campaigns to get there. That's not so fine.

Bruce claims that the OSI is over-represented with vendors and, populist that he is, wants to return power to the "people" (i.e., developers). I can appreciate this. I made the same point about the Linux Foundation when it was formed from the ashes of the FSG and OSDL.

But this is where Bruce's candidacy loses some of its potency. To merit a board role, Bruce must show that he's for more than he's against, and he must show that he has actually done something for open source in the recent past. From his post we know that he's against Microsoft joining the OSI, but this is a strawman, as is his fight against special (corporate) interests channeling the OSI's energies. But tilting at strawmen isn't enough to justify an OSI board role.

As an outgoing board member, and perhaps the most corporate of the bunch, I wanted to respond specifically to Bruce's insinuations. In so doing, I'm speaking as Matt Asay, and not for the OSI.

I have served on the OSI board for a few years now. In that time I have been frustrated by the board's lack of corporatism, not its alleged predilection for corporate interests. Ask some of the open-source companies who have tried to get OSI to take positions favorable to them on attribution (badgeware) and other topics, and they'll concur. The OSI is, if anything, not corporate enough. Bruce's claim completely misses the mark here.

Yes, the OSI's board is overwhelmingly comprised of people who work for companies like IBM, Intel, Red Hat, etc. But so are Linux, Apache, etc. That's the nature of the open-source beast in the 21st Century, for better or for worse. I think it's for the better and suspect the communities I mentioned would concur.

Despite these corporate affiliations, however, my own experience with the OSI board is that its board of directors is influenced by exactly one thing: the good of open source. I have never heard one statement from Michael Tiemann, Danese Cooper, etc. that smacks of corporate jingoism or otherwise is anything less than they would be saying if their employer were Richard Stallman (or Bruce Perens, for that matter). This is not a group of people voting with their paychecks.

His suggestion that even Microsoft (gasp!) could be given a board seat is more egregiously wrong. I think I'm the only one of the OSI board who has ever seriously considered that an option, and it's one that Microsoft's recent actions have pushed me to reject. I don't have anything against Microsoft other than what it does on a routine basis (Engage in practices designed to lock customers in, not liberate them). The day it changes these is the day I'd gladly welcome it in, were I still on the board (which I won't be).

But I'm a minority voice on this. Most of the OSI board members have been around long enough to have been burned by Microsoft at least a few times, and aren't going to embrace Redmond anytime soon. Bruce's suggestion to the contrary is a populist canard.

On license proliferation, I tend to agree with Bruce. But it's not clear how he'd do any better, and it's equally unclear why he can't do more good as an outside agitator than as an insider.

My primary question for Bruce, however, is this: "What has he done for open source lately?" Like some other early heavies in the open-source movement, he gets a lot of credit for a reputation built a decade ago, and that's fine. However, one can't rest on past laurels when campaigning for a present-day role./p>

The OSI needs a vibrant membership of those currently shaping the open source landscape. It's possible that its current make-up doesn't reflect this. Point well taken. But it's equally possible - indeed, I'd say probable - that Bruce's directorship wouldn't change this. I like Bruce but aside from the occasional picketing he does, I can't point to anything substantive he has done for open source in the past half-decade or so.

Perhaps this would be a chance for Bruce to shine again. Perhaps. But my own personal view is that Michael Tiemann et al. better represent open source than Bruce does.