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

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.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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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.

Topic: Open Source

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  • I can't see the problem here...

    ... an open standard is one whose specification is publicly available to anyone who wants it. It also, in my mind, implies that anyone who implements the standard will not be sued for doing so.

    With Open Source, you publish the source and let anyone use or modify it. You can mandate that certain rights must be transferred, but once you place it in the public domain it is "open".

    Being open is easy - it just requires full disclosure.
    bportlock
    • You see, but you don't observe.

      As you noted yourself, there is the implication that you won't be sued for implementing the standard. Therefore, being "open" requires more than simple full disclosure. It requires assurances about what you can do with that standard other than look at it and say, "ooh, pretty!"

      These assurances must span the subjects of copyright, patents, and possibly DRM. It might seem sad that we must have contractual assurances for these issues, but we've seen cases where companies renege on promises before (SCO is a high-profile example).

      To illustrate: In the US, any patented subject must have full disclosure on file with the USPTO. That doesn't make it "open", as you're bound by law not to use it unless licensed, even though you know everything about it.
      dave.leigh@...