What is Open Source?
I’ve spent time this week with every range of attendee at OSCON. From those who’ve been in the open source
community for years to those who have heard of it and were interested enough that they came to OSCON to learn more.
No one has the same idea of what ‘open source’ means & talking to everyone has left me wondering if my ideas are too concrete. Too rigid.
To some of the experienced folks here software isn’t open source unless it meets the open source definition as written by Bruce Perens. There are nine tests
of a software’s license to determine if it is open source, and affording the user the freedoms the definition addresses.
Now, many folks here who’ve been involved for a short-time have one absolutely critical concern. Access to the source code. That has several implications; the most important one being permitted to change it to their needs. These are the two “Under God” elements of open source.
Beyond that many folk are not that concerned if they are simply the users. I’ll
address this now just as an end-user. Doc Searls yesterday at lunch was addressing some of his problems with the politics of what open source is. Linux Journal (LJ) is talking about adopting a blogging element to their website, but it has to be ‘open source’. But, as Doc put it
, “What’s that? It’s political, right?”
For him, personally it’s cool if you can get the source code and can mess with it. He was implying that that wasn’t going to be good enough for the guys back at LJ. Either they wouldn’t technically accept that or the reader wouldn’t.
This differing view was also raised during the talk “Introduction to
"http://movabletype.org">Movable Type.” The software itself is extraordinary. But, alas its license doesn’t meet the formal open source definition. This
was raised by some folks who are software developers. The presenter, Mena Trott
, one half of the husband and wife development team, mentioned aloud that they weren’t exactly sure what they were doing at an “Open Source Convention”. The audience didn’t think their presence was odd at all. You can have the code and mess with it. They simply ask you don’t redistribute your changes freely because
it makes it difficult for them to provide support to folks who may be using code
not supplied by them. That’s not unreasonable to many people. Many folks also didn’t have much of a problem with there being different licensing for commercial vs. individual use. This is only slightly different from the license of the
widely beloved and deployed qmail so don’t get too excited.
Now this all begs the question. Just because there is a formal definition does it mean anything if people don’t recognize its full doctrine in real-world use? I’m left questioning this myself. And as an end-user I wondering what my
definition is. It has changed. Again.
Keep in mind that the current PHP license doesn’t meet the formal definition either. Would any of you choose not to use PHP because of that? Linux
Journal didn’t let it stop them from making their website with PHP.
And your take on the subject is…?