Tarus Balog of OpenNMS wrote an interesting post today on the similarities between the four freedoms of Free Software and the Open Source Definition, essentially making the point that “open source software is also free software”.
I would agree with Tarus’s assessment about the way in which the four freedoms and the OSD overlap (in fact I will be using the four freedoms to explain the difference between open source and proprietary software next week) but I cannot agree with his suggestion that vendors with hybrid licensing models (or “fauxpen source” vendors as he puts it) should not be able to call themselves “open source vendors”.
Tarus has included a syllogism to explain his reasoning:
Open source is free software.
Commercially licensed software is not free.
Therefore, if your business (main revenue source) is selling commercial software, you are not open source.
I can understand the reasoning that companies like JasperSoft or GroundWork that rely on commercially-licensed editions of their software to generate their revenue should not be able to declare that software “open source”. Clearly it is not.
But those vendors also produce and support open source (free) editions of their software, so therefore they can claim to be open source vendors.
The OSD refers to the software, not the vendor or the business strategy, so while the OSD can be used to determine whether a software product is open source, it cannot be used to determine whether a business strategy is that of an “open source vendor”.
As I previously noted, “given there is no official definition for what makes a company (as opposed to a product) ‘open source’ that is a matter of personal opinion.”
Even if the OSI did want to police the use of open source in such a manner, it would be impossible without an enforceable trademark for the term “open source”, which would appear to be unlikely.
My problem with Tarus’s argument then is not that it is flawed – I think he makes a valid case – but that he is trying to use a screwdriver to crack a nut. It could be done in theory, but it’s not exactly practical. Even if you accept that the industry needs an open source definition for business and development models, the OSD is not that definition.
Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be the basis for one.