Is the Open Source Brand in the Right Hands?
The methodologies of Open Source are not owned or guided by any one person. The closest thing we have are the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and support of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The OSI certifies what qualifies as an open source license. They have as of late also been adding the TM to the Open Source logo which is the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for open source software. While the Free Software Foundation maintains the Free Software Definition--to show clearly what must be true about a particular software program for it to be considered free software.
I don't think most open source users understand the implications of this organizations. They control--though not challenged under law--the Open Source trademark. A quick search at the USPTO shows that open source is not a registered trademark for software. There is a registration for Entertainment services, namely, a continuing series of audio programs about current events and culture via radio and global computer networks. It's in use by Chris Lydon and Mary McGrath who produce a talk show podcast and blog.
As more software becomes released under an open source license I believe it's very important to the future development of OSS that the term is used appropriately lest it introduce confusion and potentially harm adoption of open source development. Truth be told in a more naive stage in my career I misapplied the term. There is an advantage to having a bona fide open source software package because it benefits from the goodwill generated by other open source software that has come before it.
Recently I have watched with great interest as Bruce Perens has made an impassioned plea for a seat on the OSI board. Current OSI board member, blogger, and software executive Matt Asay has commented on Bruce's candidacy questioning his credentials.
I think Matt's a little harsh. Bruce is the guy who wrote the Open Source Definition and was the leader of the Debian Linux project. He was a vocal and important part of the early open source software movement. Though Matt's point should definitely be considered. And Bruce tends to make heartfelt but often abrasive campaigns that can make you question whether he has the judgment to be in a leadership position.
Open Source Initiative Governance
As I watched these events unfold I was admittedly ignorant of the inner workings of the OSI so I looked over the bylaws. I thought that perhaps I should join and cast a vote but soon found out that the organization has no members (per Article IV of their bylaws) and is governed by a board of directors who are self policing. Here's what I found out:
The bylaws of the Open Source Initiative Article III, Section 1. General Purposes notes that the OSI is not for private gain of any person but for educational purposes
Article III, Section 2 specifies the specific purposes as amended on March 7th, 2005 which slightly changes their mission
Now the part that I was unaware of the election and specifications of the board members. Article V, Section 2 states the specific powers:
Finally there is some restriction on the makeup of the board as specified in Article V, Section 4.
The bottom line is that no matter what the users, vendors, or even Bruce Perens want the board has no obligation to act based on their input. Though OSI president Michael Tiemman recently stated his position:
Tiemman even notes that he was the one that suggested to Bruce to campaign for a seat,
I must say the reason I even posted this diatribe was I suspect that many people are unaware of the workings of this important organization. They use, develop, and distribute open source software without a thought to the power the open source brand has. There are also many companies that rely on the open source brand to help grow their businesses. I think it's worth our attention to consider whose running that show and how other organizations might join the governance of the brand. Until this point in time things have been running smoothly. It seems that collective board of directors has done a good job making sure that the Open Source brand has remained intact.
Ironically when I started writing this peace I thought I might be making some call to action. Though when it comes right down to it the future of the brand is controlled by ten people who we ultimately have to have faith in to continue to do the right thing. Hopefully my admission of my own ignorance educates and provokes the thoughts of others.
For more Mark Hinkle, visit his Socialized Software blog.