Simon Phipps has begun a conversation designed ultimately “to devise some sort of a Software Freedom Definition which articulates a holistic vision of software freedom against which businesses can be benchmarked.”
At the same time, if I am honest, I am in two minds about whether this is a valuable exercise, and I think it is worth considering why we should want to do this, as well as how. The question, to me, is: should the OSI (or any other body for that matter) be approving open source development and business strategies?
Any attempt to approve certain business practices is, by definition, also going to involve disapproving of certain business practices. I would question whether doing so is counter to one of the reasons for the creation of the open source movement – specifically, as Eric Raymond explained there was: “a pragmatic interest in converting these people [corporate types] rather than thumbing our noses at them”. To put it another way, the plan to approve certain business practices is, ‘a bit free software’ for my liking (and that, I am aware, is precisely the point for some involved in this – returning the conversation to software freedom). I would agree with Jason Perlow, who wrote this week, that the open source movement should “continue as a culture of inclusion and.. not be the arbiter of behavior or demonize those who cannot yet or refuse to join us”.
The open source movement is made up of many differing views and debates about freedom and openness are an important part of a lively ecosystem. At the same time, these debates are confusing for outsiders and do not present a good image of open source, especially when they result in ad hominem attacks and name calling. If these debates are inevitable, then I believe that it is better that they are focused and have a chance of generating in a meaningful result. The conversation that Simon is starting would appear to offer both that focus, and have a chance of producing a meaningful result (although it will not be easy – the phrase ‘can of worms’ springs to mind). Also, from a purely selfish practical perspective, sometimes in the course of our CAOS research we do want to draw a line around which vendors we want to consider “open source vendors” for particular research (such as measuring venture capital investment in open source vendors). I would much rather we were able to use scorecard that had been agreed industry-wide than our own definition.
Clearly, since I have expressed our willingness to help this scorecard process the positive aspects of this exercise outweigh the negative aspects in my mind. However I do think it is important to approach this effort in a spirit of inclusion, rather than exclusion, and to make an effort to explain why the approved business practices are seen as beneficial in terms of both software freedom and commercial interests.