The political meaning of open

Open source is not a political issue, but it sometimes plays one on TV.

Bill Gatus of Borg

Open source is not a political issue, but it sometimes plays one on TV. There are times when both sides in open source debates use what sounds like political rhetoric to demonize the other side. Here are some examples, Shai Agassi's "IP Socialism" gaffe, which followed Bill Gates' earlier comment lumping open source advocates and DVD pirates together as "new modern-day sort of communists."

Why does this matter? Because political rhetoric can obscure close business. Words, once abused for political advantage, can be turned on their heads.

An example is Microsoft's claim to be "opening" its Office file formats as OpenXML. In fact, as our UK folks note, it's nothing of the sort. Microsoft wants its file formats recognized as a "standard," which governments and businesses will license. The licenses are free to use, but not truly "open" in that they can't be passed on. And the result would not be interoperability between Office and OpenOffice documents, either.  

Yet look at Reuters' headline on this story. Microsoft to open the standard behind Office.  The word "open" is used in each of the first paragraphs. It certainly reads like an open source story.

But it's not. Microsoft will continue to control OpenXML through patents. And thus, it will indirectly control all the files written with these formats.

Open source really means open control. It means distributed property rights. It means you, the user, the company, the creator of intellectual property, control the tools you used to make what you made, not just the words, pictures, etc.

That point is lost when the rhetoric heats up, but don't you lose sight of it. Don't let politics abuse the word open. Keep it free.