Amidst restructuring, Open Source Initiative founder Eric Raymond makes room for new regime

Summary:Under a great deal of stress from all corners of the technology industry due to a structure and process that more closely resembles that of a club rather than an organization that can professionally lead and represent the interets of such a rapidly growing community, the Open Source Initiative has announced that it will restructure to meet the demands of a much more mature open source world.

Under a great deal of stress from all corners of the technology industry due to a structure and process that more closely resembles that of a club rather than an organization that can professionally lead and represent the interets of such a rapidly growing community, the Open Source Initiative has announced that it will restructure to meet the demands of a much more mature open source world.

Stepping aside from his role as president, Eric Raymond, the organization's founder and president and the man that many look to as the spiritual leader of open source will continue to do outreach and ambassadorial work for OSI under the title of president emeritus. According to a press release issued late last night, Raymond said "One of the most important parts of any founder or leader's responsibility is to know when to step aside and let that growth happen." Taking over as president will be long time OSI board member Russ Nelson who, according to the release, said "We'll be offering initiatives aimed at meeting the needs of what has become a serious and professional software ecosystem." Also stepping aside, and making way for a new legal team is Larry Rosen who, since becoming the OSI's first general counsel, has helped the organization navigate the shark infested legal waters of the commercial software industry.

The change comes at a time when open source is both a momentum gatherer and source of consternation.

As more constituencies from developers to governments to small buisness to enterprises climb have climbed aboard the open source, finding a true North that gets them safely through their voyage hasn't been easy and the OSI, under it old structure, wasn't well equipped to serve the needs of those constituencies. According to OSI spokesperson Danese Cooper, the organization's first order of business will to become a much more member driven organization, very much like that of the Apache Software Foundation. Whether or not the OSI will have any luck a recruiting the sort of blue-chip members (from beyond the hi-tech business) it needs remains to be seen. But the long overdue change is unquestionably the right move for the organization if it hopes to adequately represent the needs of all members of the open source community.

Beyond that, Cooper told me, the organization will most certainly be looking to address the pressing problem of OSI-approved license proliferation. Once the OSI started approving project-specific licenses, it couldn't stop with Sun's Community Development and Distribution License (CDDL, pronounced "cuddle") be the most recent of the approved licenses. The result has been a balkanization of the open source software world into provinces whose borders are represented by license incompatibilities that prevent the unfettered intermingling and sharing of code that's theoretically one of the cornerstones of open source religion. Proliferation hasn't been the only problem with open source licenses. The language in some licenses, Cooper acknowledged, can use a little cleaning up and modernization to bring them more in line with core open source philosophies.

Though Cooper offered no specifics, IBM's Common Public License (the CPL) is one example of a license that may have some questionable language in it. Two years ago, as Web services were emerging out of their embryonic state, the CPL was the subject of heavy criticism from HP because of a provision that terminated a licensee's rights to CPL- licensed software if it sued a distributor of CPL-licensed software for patent infringement even if the suit was over software that was completely unrelated to the CPL. The provision states that "If Recipient institutes patent litigation against a Contributor with respect to a patent applicable to software (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit), then any patent licenses granted by that Contributor to such Recipient under this Agreement shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed." When the Eclipse Project was first bootstrapped under the CPL by IBM, HP complained that the provision created a situation where IBM, as a key contributor to the Eclipse Project, could infringe on the patents of other licensees without fear of reprisals if the licensees depended on access to the Eclipse Project for business success. Although the CPL still remains as an OSI-approved license, the legal pressure was relieved when the project-specific OSI-approved license for the Eclipse project was changed to the Eclipse Public License (EPL). The EPL's language regarding patent infringement suits is only applicable to the CPL-licensed code as opposed to the more broadly applicable and all encompassing "software."

Cooper gave no timetable for the plans but emphasized that the membership program was the organization's top priority as well as having several rounds of post-restructuring meetings that would be open to members of the open source community and would likely be tacked on to some of the year's popular open source events.

Topics: Legal

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David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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