Perens campaigns to protect open source

The Open Source Initiative's founder is standing for election to the movement's board in a bid to tackle 'over-representation of vendors'
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

Bruce Perens, who coined the term "open source", is campaigning to get onto the board of the body he founded, the Open Source Initiative, in order, he says, to protect the movement from domination by vendors.

Perens co-founded the Open Source Initiative (OSI) 10 years ago and co-wrote the definition of open source that it uses to certify open-source software licences. He says the initiative is now too representative of vendors and likely to act in their interests rather than those of ordinary developers and users. "The board is self-electing, and I'm told I don't have a chance unless I can show community support for my candidacy," says Perens on a campaign site.

"One problem I'd like to help solve is the over-representation of vendors, particularly the kind that have an open-source product as their profit-centre rather than part of operations," says Perens. "The vast majority of open-source developers, paid or volunteer, are not in that sort of business, yet vendors tend to dominate the leadership of organisations like OSI and conferences about open source in business, to the point that many people have been led to believe that they are the most important participants."

He is not anti-vendor, he says, having "built several of them", and is currently acting as chief executive of a "stealth-mode" startup called Kiloboot, but says "vendor-domination of open source inevitably dilutes the rights of everyone else". Perens warns that a vendor-dominated OSI board might be tempted to offer a seat to Microsoft, and promises to fight that, as well as "vendor excesses".

He also wants OSI to rein in the needless multiplication of open-source licences. "My own work in this area shows that only four licences, all compatible with each other, can satisfy all common business and non-business purposes of open-source development," he says. "Three of these licences have essentially the same text, and the fourth is very short. Life would be easier if more projects used them."

The campaign may be "painful", warns Perens, saying: "I'm sure this campaign will inspire ad hominem material about me on the net", from people who oppose his stance against vendor excesses.

So far there is no evident anti-Perens backlash. "He is starting an important discussion," said Linux kernel developer Alan Cox, who points to similar discussions about vendor influence in the Linux Foundation . "I think it is important both to have a balance and also to ensure that the different groups within the community are not only properly represented but also work together where there are conflicts." There are many potential community candidates, says Cox, who is not endorsing any specific people.

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