The news that Michael Tiemann is now the interim president of
the Open Source Initiative is at once both exciting and
It is exciting and positive because Tiemann, who is employed as
Red Hat's VP of Open Source Affairs, is a very smart, very business
savvy technician who should bring be a good helmsman for OSI.
It is worrisome because this is the second such change of power
in a month's time, and with the "interim" tag, there is the
appearance of more changes to come. OSI has lately come under a lot
of public scrutiny because of the proliferation of open source
licenses, and a perceived lack of stability is the last thing this
Here's why I am worried about OSI right now: there have been a
lot of reports in the media of late, both technical and mainstream,
that open source is about to take off in a big way. Just mentioning
the name open source, it seems, is starting to get venture
capitalists to salivate in the way they used to when you used to
mention "Internet" back in the early days of the dot.com
This is not a bad thing in and of itself. The inflow of positive
press and solid capital will ultimately help progress open source
to the status most of us feel it deserves.
But you'll notice that thus far in the column, I haven't written
the term "Linux." As I have stated in other missives, what's good
for open source is not necessarily good for Linux, as competing
technologies operating within the open source umbrella have just as
much chance of slowing down Linux' growth as proprietary
technologies. This is to be expected, of course, but there are a
lot of people both inside and outside of the Linux community that
don't always get that.
The problem is made more manifest by the converse of my "good
for" statement. Because what's bad for open source is almost always
bad for Linux. The EU Patent Directive, the constant attacks from
Microsoft, and the still-present misconceptions about what open
source is are all potentially detrimental to Linux. I do not
believe that any of these obstacles are insurmountable, but they do
preclude that Linux will on some levels have to hang together with
other open source technologies or hang separately. Linux is not the
whole of open source, but it will always need to be a player in the
open source community.
The coming days of success for open source as a development
methodology are pretty much a sure thing in my mind. The popularity
of distributed computing, the benefits of many eyes, and the
attractiveness of a lower entry barrier to a fiscally successful
business model are all contributing to open source's continued
What I worry about is how this success will be managed.
During the dot.com bubble, I was working for Jupitermedia as a
contractor on their BrowserWatch site, so I saw first hand the rise
of many companies who were rushing into the market in hopes a
catching a rising technology star. As we all saw, that star fell,
hard. I am concerned that a similar set of events might occur with
open source if caution is not applied.
To combat that possibility, I think the controls and guidance
from organizations like OSI are going to be needed now more than
ever. So their consistency and focus is definitely needed.
The three proposed definitions of open source software are
clearly a step forward for OSI, as it grapples with the
conventional wisdom that there may be too many open source licenses
out there now and in the pipeline. I wonder if shifting what were
always procedural guidelines, such as proving non-redundancy, to
the actual definition is going to make a huge difference, but at
least the message will be more prominent.
Is OSI crucial to the continued success of open source? No,
because I do not think any one organization (or person) is vital to
something this massive. Remember, it is the distributed nature of
open source that drives its opponents nuts. There is no head office
to embrace, extend, and digest.
And certainly OSI is not directly needed for the continued
success of Linux. Linux is doing quite well on its own technical
and legal merits. But as good citizens of the broader open source
community, a strong OSI with a focused mission will be a benefit to
us all in the long term.
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