The FLOSS-open source argument and Europe

Open source is compromised at birth. How much compromise Europe's procurement policy will allow is the real issue in its current lobbying struggle.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

With Europe heading toward an endorsement of open source in the name of austerity arguments about what kind of open source take on new relevance.

So the FLOSS-open source divide is opening wide again.

Some ZDNet writers are sick of Richard Stallman, but I'm still an admirer, because he continues to stand for FLOSS purity.

Any patent-encumbered technology is not Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), he insists. That includes both Microsoft .Net, and attempts to engineer around it through Mono and dotGNU.

This is a bridge too far for Florian Mueller of FOSSPatents, who says that if RMS (and those who are inside the movement always refer to him by his initials) insists on no patent encumbrance whatsoever then open source will always be left with 20-year old technology.

The stand taken by RMS is an ideological one. And he makes a decent living standing on principle. But open source has to eat. And this is the key difference between the two movements.

Open source takes FLOSS as an ideal, and then compromises as much as is necessary for business to be done. IBM, Google, Microsoft and Oracle are not interested in the principles of FLOSS, but they have all recognized these ideas, each in their own way.

It's the twists they, and every other open source business, brings to the party -- all in the name of self-interest -- that have turned FLOSS into the open source industry.

Yes, it is compromised at birth. Yes, advocates arguing principle can be accused of "trolling" for one vendor or another, because nearly every possible position is supported by some business interest.

But that's open source. It's not FLOSS, and will never be FLOSS. Even when it uses a FLOSS license like the GPL. Once you see profit as a reasonable goal, you do what you have to do to get by.

And it's how much of this Europe's procurement policy will allow that's the real issue in the EU's current lobbying struggle. Must standards be open and patent-free? Must interoperability be guaranteed? How much commercial advantage can be allowed while still protecting a government user base?

My advice to the EU is to do what the vendors do. Do what works best for you, and worry about justifying it later. Choose open source.

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