Open Source Initiative gets into the game of defining 'open'

Summary:Ever since the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' definition of an open standard was thrust into the spotlight as the state's IT department looked to establish the OpenDocument Format as the standard file format for electronically saving and retrieving state documents, the definition of what it means for something (a standard, source code, etc.) to be "open" has been a hot topic.

Ever since the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' definition of an open standard was thrust into the spotlight as the state's IT department looked to establish the OpenDocument Format as the standard file format for electronically saving and retrieving state documents, the definition of what it means for something (a standard, source code, etc.) to be "open" has been a hot topic.  IBM's Bob Sutor has spent a significant amount of text on the subject  (here and then a whole series here, and finally his top level category for open).  The discussion inspired me to contemplate approaches to figuring out how open something is (here, and then here). 

Now, with very few neutral "institutions" in the role of defining open standards, the Open Source Initiative appears as though its stepping up to the plate.  According to the organization's Web site:

These days, everyone seems to be in favor of "standards." But not all standards are created equal. When it comes to software, many tend to favor specific vendors, others are preferred by certain types of customers, and some are even enshrined into law. While this diversity of standards has resulted in an explosion of choice, it has also led to increased confusion about what constitutes a "good" standard....In response to this confusion, both providers (software vendors, standards bodies) and consumers (customers, users, even governments) are increasingly using the term "open standards." Unfortunately, since there is no agreed-upon definition of that term, each group tends to define it on their own, often without regard for either precedent or consequences.....While the Open Source Initiative is not in a position to completely resolve that problem, we believe we (the OSI) have both the opportunity and the obligation to constrain it. In particular, as custodians of the Open Source Definition, we believe it is essential to help decision makers and developers understand how "open standards" relate to "open source software."

The OSI is seeking public comment if you want to chime in. Just go to the Web site and join the discussion group.

Topics: Open Source

About

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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