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Time for a new open source definition?Matthew Aslett, May 11, 2011 @ 12:10 pm ET
Andrew C Oliver recently wrote “I think most know by now that a license is insufficient to make something actually open source.”
What makes this fascinating is that it involves a director of the Open Source Initiative – the stewards of the Open Source Definition – stating that the Open Source Definition is not enough to define software as open source.
There is nothing surprising in this statement for anyone who has been following open source for some time, however. Over recent years we have observed a growing tendency among some open source advocates to define open source beyond the software license.
Another recent example comes from Greylock partner and former Mozilla CEO John Lilly: “The open source world should not let Android redefine it to mean ‘publishes the source code.’ That’s a different thing,” he stated with reference to Andy Rubin’s attempt to explain Android’s openness.
But who is doing the redefining here?
Nothing is black and white when it comes to open source except source code availability and the license: either the source code is available or it isn’t (which means that Honeycomb is not open source), and either the license meets the Open Source Definition, and is approved by the OSI, or it doesn’t.
Everything else – such as the development methodology, the release cycle, copyright ownership, or the associated product licensing and revenue strategy – can be placed somewhere on a spectrum made up of various shades of grey.
It is true to say that the vendors and users adopting software from one end of that spectrum enjoy more of the benefits associated with open source but that doesn’t mean that the software at the other end of the spectrum isn’t open source.
When a person or company ‘publishes the source code’ (using an appropriate license) it *is* open source, and always has been. If that is considered insufficient to make something open source then perhaps the time has for a new open source definition.
UPDATE – Just to be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with the Open Source Definition. What I am suggesting is that if you are trying to define open source using something other than the Open Source Definition, then you need another definition of open source – UPDATE
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