Advocates form open-source trade group

The Open Source And Industry Alliance seeks support from the LinuxWorld crowd in its bid to fight efforts by proprietary software makers to quash open-source products.

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A new trade group is on the horizon for open-source advocates hoping to dispel myths about the software and drive its adoption.

Organizers of the Open Source And Industry Alliance (OSAIA) dropped by the LinuxWorld conference on Tuesday, appealing to attendees to join and contribute to the group, which is designed to fight efforts by proprietary software makers to quash open-source products.

"We really do believe that open source is a very important part of the industry, now and in the future, that it is not well-understood, that it is in need of protection and advocacy," said Ed Black, a Washington insider and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which is helping to start the group.

The CCIA, which whose members include Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Yahoo, has been an active critic of Microsoft, challenging its court settlement with the government and supporting open standards. But Black said the new lobbying group isn't necessarily about taking on the Redmond giant.

"This really is a pro-open source and pro-Linux effort," he said. "It is not designed to be anti-Microsoft."

Although the OSAIA has yet to have an official kickoff, the group is working behind the scenes to drum up support from major industry players with a stake in open source. At an organizing meeting on Tuesday, open-source leaders including Bruce Perens, former Slashdot editor Chris DiBona, and Tony Stanco, the director of the Center for Open Source and Government, pledged support for the organization, saying that turning to people familiar with Washington politics is a smart move for open source and Linux.

"If we want open source to continue, we have to have a lobbying group that works for us and is effective," said DiBona.

Stanco echoed that sentiment. "If you're not heard in Washington, you don't exist," he said. "A group like this is terribly important."

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It's not the first time open-source advocates have toyed with the idea of a lobbying group, but other efforts have stalled before they ever took off, partly because the programmers never sought the advice of Beltway insiders.

The OSAIA hasn't hammered out a specific legislative agenda, but it has released a list of principles designed to tout the advantages of open-source software. The group said open source allows people to improve the software and study how a program works--something that isn't always possible with proprietary software.

Black said the group will keep a close eye on SCO Group's legal activities. That company sent shivers through the open-source community earlier this year when it sued IBM, saying the company had incorporated SCO's Unix code into Linux. In a move that open-source advocates fear will make companies skittish about using the software, SCO also sent out letters to hundreds of Linux customers, warning them that their use of Linux could infringe on SCO's intellectual property.

Black said the OSAIA also will take a broad approach to open source, tracking intellectual property laws and international treaties, fighting those that would weigh on the software. And it plans to examine the procurement codes of different organizations and governments, making sure their buying plans don't discriminate against open-source software.

OSAIA representatives said they wouldn't support legislation that would require open source over closed.

The group's organizers wouldn't release a list of members, saying they are just in the outreach stages and are not ready for a formal launch. So far, the OSAIA has drummed up support from Sleepycat Software, Damage Studios and MySQL. Major tech companies such as Novell and Oracle are rumored to be considering playing a role.

The OSAIA plans to target four groups for membership: the original developers of the operating system, pure Linux companies such as Red Hat or SuSE, larger companies that consider open source strategically important even if it isn't their main business, and buyers of the software.

"Our hope," Black said, "is that we will have some representation from each of these four categories."

As open-source software has become more popular among companies and governments looking for cheaper alternatives to proprietary software, battles have raged in legislatures across the globe, from Salem, Ore., to Brussels, Belgium. Some measures before local governments would favor open source over proprietary software. Others would require that open source be contender in purchasing decisions.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has come out swinging against such efforts, lobbying to fight the bills and portraying them as restricting choice. It's found an ally in the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC), a group that's popped up in the wake of similar legislative efforts in other countries and counts Microsoft among its members. The ISC has fought several measures that would make it easier for, or require, governments to buy open-source software.