Open the Initiative

When the Open Source Initiative decided to approve two licenses submitted by Microsoft (the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL)), Michael Tiemann, President of the OSI, also decided to give an explanation about it on his OSI blog.

Right away, this struck me as unusual–I don’t recall other newly approved licenses getting their own explanations from the OSI president. But, oh, right, we’re talking about two Microsoft licenses, aren’t we?

In his explanation, Tiemann took the tack that to deny a hostile company the right to their own open source licenses would make the open source community a bunch of hypocrites and deny Microsoft the chance to become enlightened in the ways of open source. This is not a bad argument to take, because it takes the moral high road to justify the OSI’s decision.

But some questions still remain unanswered. Brandioch Conner, a frequent commenter on Linux Today, put the best one right out there: what gap did these licenses fill?

So, forgetting all the nonsense about Microsoft for a moment, let’s put the question out there: why, given the OSI’s repeated public stance on reducing license proliferation, did they feel it necessary to increase the number of OSI-approved licenses? What is so unique about these licenses (other than their author) that makes them worthy of being added to the list?

Russ Nelson, the License Approval Chair, gives little clues on his own blog entry, save to jibe other licenses en passant:


“These licenses are refreshingly short and clean, compared to, say, the GPLv3 and the Sun CDDL. Like Larry Rosen’s pair of licenses (the Academic Free License and Open Software License), they share a patent peace clause, a no-trademark-license clause, and they differ between each other only in the essential clause of reciprocation.”


That was… not very helpful, Russ. In fact, I have an additional question: why is it that such license discussions are not made open themselves? Are the minutes of OSI board meetings available to the public? The OSI “is a California public benefit corporation, with 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, founded in 1998,” according to their Web site. Wouldn’t a public benefit corporation need to make their dealings transparent?

There needs to be, I believe, a release of the discussions about any new license. It was indicated that a majority of the board approved these licenses. How much of a majority? How many members disapproved of the licenses? Did anyone abstain?

Also, if the OSI is indeed the defender of the Open Source Definition, and is making strides on reducing license proliferation, then can we see a list of licenses that the OSI has not approved over the last year? Two? Five years? Were any licenses turned down?

I am, most emphatically, not accusing the OSI or any of its board members of any wrong doing. But given the promise of non-proliferation of licenses, it seems that the OSI either cannot live up to that promise. Maybe it was a promise they should have never made.

More importantly, I believe the OSI has lost a lot of the community’s faith by approving these particular licenses. And yes, the licenses’ author has a lot to do with it. I think that to restore the community’s faith and build that trust back up, a little more openness in procedures is a needed thing.