Open source software: Meaning or meaningless?

Summary:David Berlind, Dana Blankenhorn and others have been noting how open source could be in trouble if there aren't standard definitions for it. The gist: So many software makers claim something is open source that the whole movement loses meaning.

David Berlind, Dana Blankenhorn and others have been noting how open source could be in trouble if there aren't standard definitions for it. The gist: So many software makers claim something is open source that the whole movement loses meaning. Perhaps open source is just a sales model.

And it gets worse.

The case as laid out by reader George Mitchell:

Part of the problem is that the term "open source" has become widely identified with free software. By definition the term "open source" simply means "not closed source". In other words, any vendor who releases their source code, regardless of restrictions, can call their product "open source" and be technically correct. By that classical definition (which was extant long before the appearance of free software), Microsoft could refer to their shared source and being "open source". But they wisely chose not to further confuse the issue by assigning a new designation of "shared source". Other vendors are not going to be so scrupulous. There is huge temptation to try to hop on to the open source bandwagon, even if ones product doesn't quite meet the contemporary definition of open source. To some degree we see the same thing happening with Sun. Open software with Proprietary type restrictions is not open software. It may technically be "open source", but it is not open at all in the free software sense. Over time, with companies like Sun and Novell, plus a lot of smaller players like Sugar, this is going to confuse things to the point that the term "open source" becomes meaningless in terms of free v proprietary software. But perhaps, in a sense, it always has been.

For me, the term open source has already become so vague it's meaningless. How about you? [poll id=25]

Topics: Open Source

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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