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Open Source Software Up the Stack

Dennis Byron

There's also a battle brewing for the words, "Open Source"-Part I

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One of my recent posts was about a battle for the soul of open source. Perhaps related, there is also a battle in progress at the Open Source Initiative (OSI) web site but this battle is simply about the words, "Open Source."

According to a multiple-month license-discuss spat at the OSI web site, Microsoft is using the words "open source" occassionally to mean making source code available. Sam Ramji, a leading open source software (OSS) supporter at Microsoft and others are defending Microsoft (or at least trying to understand the other side's complaint). Michael Tiemann, the president of the OSI, has weighed in angrily against Microsoft, part of a recent pattern in which he has linked Microsoft to the Jim-Crow-law era in the U.S and WWII-era fascists.

I think in all cases where this open source definition issue has come up vis a vis Microsoft, it has related to some kind of Microsoft-based academic or medical code. The OSI members are not actually in agreement that Microsoft is doing anything wrong but the allegation is that the Microsoft code does not meet the OSI's definition of OSS because the code cannot be used in a commercial project. And Microsoft allegedly obfuscates that point on its web site. This concept of commercial vs. non-commercial is at the heart of the Microsoft vs. free-software movement patent dispute as well.

As I see it, in OSI's definition, there can be no restrictions on redistribution other than the restrictions on any downstream OSS being used. And I guess one of those restrictions cannot be "no commercial use." But this is a word battle only a lawyer can understand. We will be talking to Mark Radcliffe in an upcoming podcast so we will ask him about it. Mark is general counsel at OSI, an intellectual property attorney at DLA Piper in the Bay area, and the writer of a real good blog on all these sorts of thing.

I'll also follow up on the conclusion of this spat on the OSI site after the name calling dies down. But you can follow the discussion yourself as described here.

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Nah, even us non-lawyers can understand this.

One of the things in the Open Source Definition is that a license cannot discriminate against any field of endeavor. This includes commercial use. Thus, any license that does not permit commercial use cannot be compatible with the Open Source Definition and is therefore not Open Source (as defined by the OSI).

Dennis Byron’s blog on open source software: A longtime market research analyst follows what “the movement? means to business integration—in applications, infrastructure, as services, as architecture and as functionality.

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