Define open source

Summary:That headline sounds silly, doesn't it?But it's an honest question.

That headline sounds silly, doesn't it?

But it's an honest question. How much freedom must a software license give you before you think of it as open source?

Richard Stallman (left, from SoftPanorama) gives a clear, hard-line answer. He describes it in terms of freedom. The code must not just come to you free, he says, but you must be free to see it, you must befree toadd to it, and you must also be obligated to give your additions back on the same basis as you got the original code. These four freedoms are embodied in the General Public License of Gnu.Org.

But that's not the only way to define Linux. There are, in fact, a multitude of open source licenses, some of them very open, others less-so. As corporations move toward embracing the open source world, in other words, they need to read the fine print.

This is even true when reading the news.

Today Sun, for instance, is letting us all take a peek at the code for its new desktop Java release, code-named Mustang. But to get at it you must sign Sun's Java Research License. Sun maintains control, not just of the original code, but any enhancements.

So, you going to go for it? Or are you going to keep your distance?

You and your company need to come to your own conclusions on all this. How much freedom do you demand in a software license before you consider it to be truly open source? And how much freedom is too much?

Topics: Open Source


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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