Open source is its own worst enemy

The Open Source Initiative is leading a charge for open-source purity that will end up hurting open source more than it helps it.

Tech Culture

The open-source industry sometimes seems like it comes straight out of a Dickens novel. Like the debate surrounding the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company in "Nicholas Nickleby," I'm constantly amazed by the industry's ability to spend time determining how much open source can dance on the head of a pin. (Answer: none, because no one can ever be pure enough to pass muster with the guardians of purity.)

It's clear: while open source presents a hardy threat to open source, it pales in comparison to the threat presented by mindless and endless wrangling over just what "open" means in open source.

Other areas of the technology world also discuss openness, but not with nearly the level of dogmatism that open sourcerors do. One mobile blog, for example, presents a taxonomy of openness, but makes no rigid judgments about what is right and wrong.

Ultimately, there are two things that matter in open source: producers and consumers. So long as producers can feed their families, and consumers are not locked into any particular software, it's unclear to me why we continue to strain at open-source purity gnats (swallowing irrelevancy camels in the process).

"Open source" was created to balance against free-source dogma. It was founded as a bastion of rational thought around freedom in software; as an alternative to the more didactic Free Software Foundation. Eric Raymond and the other founders deserve our sincere thanks for making open-source software distinct and desirable to businesses everywhere.

"Open source" should remain the province of pragmatism, the guiding principle that motivated its creation. There are various interpretations of openness, and various stages at which companies and individuals are willing to open source all of their code. We should promote the evolution of the industry toward openness, not point to flaws in individuals as they make that journey.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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