Open source software: Meaning or meaningless?

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.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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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]

Topic: Open Source

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4 comments
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  • Not Meaningless Yet

    It's not meaningless yet. It means that the source code is available for "free". However, there are no guarantees what you can do with that code.

    It damn sure doesn't mean that something has an OSI approved license or a license that would is OSD compatible.
    Swashbuckler2
  • Inherent contradiction.

    Making money with the resources of a movement opposed to profit has always required contortions. Now that open sourcers no longer need be glad for any good words said about them, they're noticing the twists and turns.

    Perhaps the next step will be the recognition that their efforts have been used even by companies motivated by cost savings rather than utopian vision.
    Anton Philidor
  • Those that are not true open source will be shouted down, so almost none

    will try it. Yes, the Microsofts of the world will try to confuse the issue a little with something that sounds similar. Yes, the Sugar CRM people will claim open source even though they are not OSI approved, but darn close to being open source, but there is a limit to how far you can stretch it without getting shouted down. People that stretch it too far will find themselves out of favor rather rapidly.
    DonnieBoy
  • Sun, Novell and the rest..

    As far as Sun is concerned, apart from the CDDL they have just released j2se as GPLv2. So that is clear to me. CDDL (Glassfish) by the way is also Open Source Licenses (opensource.org) listed.

    Novell's linux kernel is GPLv2 (obviously) and most of he stuff on top is as well. Even Novell's mono is GPL/LGPL/MIT licensed which are al clear OSI accepted licenses.

    As far as putting proprietary stuff in the bundle; I have no problem with that as long as the differences are made very clear. After all there is not always an 'acceptable' alternative of everything one might need. Or some might choose to use a proprietary licensed application even on top of open source.

    I think its good that zdnet put this issue in the public awareness, cause it will make us aware of these new guys on the block, pampering with open source definitions.

    Now that I have been made aware it does influence my choices. It doesn't mean they are not in the batch any more, they just got a lot less attractive. people simply like a clear statement, is it foss or not.

    For these companies to call themselves open source, it is correct to ask them to explain why they do so and whether they will get their license in compliance with the FSF or the OSI licenses. In accordance with their claim.

    If not they should be publicly asked to halt their use of the phrase 'open source'. Ofcourse all in a cordial way and taking enough time for that process.
    mad-man