Open-source group to corral licenses

OSI gets under way with an effort to pare down the number of open-source software licenses in widespread use.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--The Open Source Initiative has begun an effort to pare down the number of open-source licenses in widespread use.

The OSI, a group that bestows official open-source status on licenses, will promote a small number of licenses as preferred options, according to a position paper it adopted on Wednesday. The group hasn't yet decided which of the more than 50 licenses it's so far approved will get the status.

OSI also adopted three new administrative provisions designed to screen out new licenses that don't add much usefulness. The provisions, proposed in March, require licenses to be clearly written, simple and understandable; reusable; and not duplicative of existing licenses.

License proliferation has been a widely discussed issue in the software industry in recent months. Hewlett-Packard's top Linux executive, Martin Fink, in particular has pressed for a radical reduction in the number of licenses, to avoid needless confusion and expense.

Open-source licenses determine whether software from one project may be shared with another. That in turn affects whether there are numerous islands of incompatible source code or fewer, larger collections. License proliferation also makes more work for company lawyers evaluating open-source software; a product such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux includes software employing several licenses.

Sam Greenblatt, a senior vice president at Computer Associates, agrees there's a license proliferation problem, though he disagrees with Fink's approach to reducing the number. In a speech at the conference, he said CA would be willing to scrap its own open-source license if the right replacement can be found.

Sun Microsystems' Community Development and Distribution License is a step in the right direction, he added. "Sun's CDDL is a great starting point in stopping proliferation," Greenblatt said.

And simply removing licenses can be difficult. Intel removed its own open-source license from OSI's list, but the license remains alive as long as the software it governs exists, Greenblatt said.

The license changes were adopted at the first meeting of a newly expanded OSI board, held here in conjunction with the Open Source Business Conference. Five existing board members were joined on Friday by five more, most from outside the United States: Joichi Ito, vice president of international operations at blog indexing Web site Technorati and a board member of Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers; Bruno Souza, a senior consultant at Summa Technologies and president of Brazil's largest Java user's group; Chris DiBona, an open-source program manager at Google; Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, the managing editor of the online journal First Monday and a program manager at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands; and Sanjiva Weerawarana, a former IBM programmer and founder of the Lanka Software Foundation to promote open-source software in Sri Lanka.

"OSI is institutionalizing itself," making a transition to avoid pitfalls that afflict many organizations that can't survive the loss of founders' charisma or skills, group founder Eric Raymond said.