Depoliticizing open source

Summary:Much of the commentary on John Carroll's piece about Third World open source movements was political. (The illustration is by Linda Herzog of Vista, California, a member of the Nature Artists group.

When Pigs FlyMuch of the commentary on John Carroll's piece about Third World open source movements was political. (The illustration is by Linda Herzog of Vista, California, a member of the Nature Artists group.)

This is not surprising. It seems nearly everything is political these days.

But it is distressing and totally unnecessary.

The GPL is a license. So is a Microsoft EULA. They are commercial artifacts. They are business agreements. They are market mechanisms. Karl Marx is dead.

One reason EULAs are treated as political is that they are difficult to read, and most people don't read them. EULAs are written by lawyers. Legal language offers precision, simplicity is sacrificed. Thus contracts, like software, become feature-laden, understood only by experts.

Every so often a movement arises to simplify software. Blogging represents such a movement. But then new features are sought. The first software I used here was very, very simple. Our new software has more features, and can do more things. It can also be harder to use.

The point is a balance should be struck in both contracts and software, between simplicity and ease of use.

We've written here before about how OSI is trying to winnow the number of open source licenses down to a manageable number. I would hope they might also consider simplifying license language as well, so we all better understand our rights and obligations.

It would be nice if companies like Microsoft could do the same thing, create a standard EULA that real people can understand, one they will be happy to agree with.

When do I expect this to happen?

Perhaps now you understand the illustration.

Topics: Open Source

About

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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