OSI to defend open source definition aggressively

OSI to defend open source definition aggressively

Summary: This flagrant abuse of labeling is not unlike sweetening a mild abrasive with ethylene glycol and calling the substance Toothpaste.

TOPICS: Open Source

Michael Tiemann by Joi ItoMy recent story on open source CRM drew few public comments, but today it drew something more important, the attention of OSI President Michael Tiemann of RedHat. (Photo by Joi Ito.)

In a piece published at the group's own blog, he asserts that none of the companies I mentioned are in fact open source, because their licenses don't conform to OSI definitions. I knew that, and so I tried to play it a bit cagey:

Then there’s open source, the only way in which CRM start-ups can elbow their way into the market today. SugarCRM, SplendidCRM and now Centric have proven there’s a place in the market for this (if you read your license carefully).

This was too cagey for Mr. Tiemann, who (sort of) ripped me a new one:

It is logical precisely because there really is not room in the market for Yet Another Proprietary CRM system. It is fallacious because THESE LICENSES ARE NOT OPEN SOURCE LICENSES. This flagrant abuse of labeling is not unlike sweetening a mild abrasive with ethylene glycol and calling the substance Toothpaste.

There's good news here. Mr. Tiemann promised that the OSI would police its definitions more closely, and more loudly, from now on. There's also snark here. One commenter quickly noted that RedHat sells SugarCRM.

The question is, should we throw those the OSI deems malefactors off my open source beat?[poll id=44]

Topic: Open Source

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  • Props, Dana

    I don't read Tiemann's piece as "ripping you a new one" at all. Seems to me he's giving you credit for pointing out a problem. Put another way, you're the messenger.

    On the other hand, "aggressive defense" with no teeth is very quickly identified as a bluff, just as Microsoft has been caught bluffing with their "aggressive defense" of vapor patents (anyone remember Senator Joseph McCarthy and his "I have here in my hand?")

    If the OSI doesn't have a trademark on "Open Source" to defend, they may still be able to get one. If not, it's all hot air and the term is headed into the dustbin as meaningless.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Good points

      I do try for modesty in my writing, and usually it is deserved. As to the OSI's rights, that's a good point and we'll just have to see what happens.
    • It is important for Open Source to mean something.

      Just like when you buy Swiss Cheese at the store, you expect minimum standards.
  • What right does OSI have to define OS?

    Do they have a trademark on the term? If it truly is open, then it seems to me it is open to be defined rather loosely.

    Certainly, the OSI can define it on their terms and then rate the various companies as to how well they conform to their definition but others are free to do the same.
    • You offer an interesting question

      If they don't have the trademark to open source, perhaps the OSI could then trademark the term "genuine open source" or "real open source" and set its benchmarks there. "Honest open source" perhaps?

      Under the law, I think you offer an excellent point, Otaddy. But is this entirely a legal question? Or is it, perhaps, a marketing question?

      Anyone want to offer on that?
      • I like the marketing angle

        Let's face it: the nuances of "Free Software" vs. "Open Source Software" vs. "Sort of Open Source Software" are lost on most non-techies and even many tech-savvy people. I think the average Joe would view any software license where the source code is readily and freely available as "open source" - simply because the word "open" is the opposite of the word "closed." It is easy to think in either-or terminology: if I can't see the source code then it's closed, just like I can't see the text of a book whose cover is closed. However, if I can see the source code then it's like an open book. Average Joes (and middle managers!) like simple definitions.

        Of course, we all know that "open source" means a lot more than "you can see the source code." If I may offer my two cents, I'd suggest that the OSI embrace the various levels of openness in the OSS movement instead of getting bent out of shape over the "misleading" CRM licenses Dana mentioned.

        I'm no marketing expert, so I'll leave the details to those who have the skills. I'll just offer a simple idea: green, yellow, red. (Alternatively you could use platinum, gold, silver, bronze, etc. if you want more levels.) A simple example:
        Green = "True" open source licensed software (GPL,BSD,MPL,APL,etc.)
        Yellow = "Limited" open source licensed software, like the CRM examples
        Red = Non-open source, proprietary or closed source software.

        It seems to me that it makes sense to borrow an idiom from every day life. A traffic light idiom works very well for OSS proponents since green means go, yellow means caution, and red means stop. (Kinda freakish how well that fits, eh? :)

        This is just an idea to kick around, perhaps to spark a more fruitful discussion. I'm looking forward to hearing other suggestions.

  • Do you really think:


    Do you really think
  • Dana do you really think this is open source


    Do you really think:

    You may use, copy, modify, and make derivative works from the code for internal
    use only.

    You may not redistribute the code, and you may not sublicense copies or
    derivatives of the code, either as software or as a service.

    is open source by even a "common sense" definition? Set OSI, the coiners of the phrase "open source" aside, set the "open source definition" aside. Does the above read "open source"?

  • Not very nuanced

    The Centric CRM prohibits distributing changed versions. Its license meets the definition of "shared source" ala Microsoft but isn't open source by any stretch of the imagination. Forget the OSI or the more minor transgressions. This fundamentally isn't *open* at all, it is "shared" between a vendor and a customer. It is not really any different from what Microsoft does with its various product addons and "research" examples. In fact Microsoft has some licenses that would even meet the open source definition though it uses them rarely if ever. In the case of centric it is outright fraud to advertise as "open source".