Digital First Aid

The Digital First Aid Kit is a project from Digital Defenders in partnership with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation providing advice concerning a variety of different digital emergencies. Covering everything from establishing trust through to handling account hijackings and DDoS attacks, the web page provides a comprehensive introduction to digital security issues for the uninitiated. For the less technical reader, this is a great resource for  clarifying some of the complex technical language surrounding digital security. Perhaps you know someone who would benefit from reading it? For a fuller overview, check out Alexandra’s ComputerWorldUK site review.

Welcome to the Open Source Golden Age

Perhaps it seems like open source has stopped being relevant in the GitHub era? People just “do” open source without needing to get involved with all that messing around with licenses? Certainly that’s the view Matt Asay put forward in his recent InfoWorld blog, closing his thoughts with the following summary:

we find ourselves today… in the midst of the post-open source revolution, a revolution in which software matters more than ever, but its licensing matters less and less.

Nothing could be further from the truth; open source’s predominance today shows us that it is in fact enjoying a golden age of success. If it seems like much of  the furore and debate around software freedom has gone quiet of late, it’s not because the issue of licensing has become irrelevant, but because the solutions we’ve decided on and used have proven to be effective.

To the extent that GitHub gets used as a storage space for code, its likely that it will continue to have a high number of unlicensed projects kept there. In actual fact, failure to specify a license carries its own legal consequences, open to abuse when entered in to out of ignorance. For effective developer collaboration for commercial purposes however, choosing the right license creates a low-friction environment where permission to innovate is given in advance.  Read Simon’s full response to Asay’s post in his latest Infoworld Article.

Non-profit status denied; moving on

Recent news that Yorba was denied non-profit status by the IRS adds weight to the observation that the American government appears to be rethinking it’s position on the role of open source software. When viewed alongside March’s denial of non-profit status to the OpenStack Foundation, the decision looks even more like a deliberate change in direction.

Whilst non-profit status has been bestowed on open source software foundations before now, it seems that due to the prevalence of the open source method and the “software freedom” concept, the IRS has come to regard them as normal and now requires that communities demonstrate even more justification before they can enjoy non-profit status.

At first glance this might seem like grim news for open source foundations, but is it? Perhaps what’s really valuable is not simply having the status of a non-profit, but having the shared rules within an open source community which protect it from troublemakers and which are usually formulated as part of the process of becoming a non-profit.

If the main benefit to non-profit status is actually just as a sign that a community has maturely considered the rules by which it which protects community member rights, creates a permissionless environment and ensures best practice governance, perhaps there are other ways we can achieve the same ends.

For more detail, read Simon’s full InfoWorld article.

Heartbleed and Lessons Learned

HeartbleedWe’ve had some time for the shock of the Heartbleed announcement to sink in and there’s a lot to consider. While the first impressions might be about the serious, exploitable bug and the repercussions of its abuse, the incident casts light on both the value and risks of open source. Continue reading

Steering Where You Look

When I learned to drive, my instructor told me “you steer where you look” — in other words, wherever you focus your attention becomes your destination, so keep your eyes on the road ahead and don’t worry about the stores at the roadside (or even too much about the kerb and the parked vehicles).

The same principle seems applicable in other contexts. We’re moving away from a hierarchical, post-industrial society and evolving into a meshed society of peers, interacting in variable roles on their own terms. That’s challenging established institutions, but sadly they have frequently “steered where they looked” and made the wrong choices. Continue reading

Was OpenSSL’s licensing responsible for the neglect that led to Heartbleed?

Addressing the question of why the OpenSSL project received such low levels of participation pre-Heartbleed, David A. Wheeler, an expert in government use of open source, suggests that it could be down to the choice of license. Within a longer work discussing many of the technical issues involved in addressing Heartbleed, Wheeler wrote:

I suspect that more code review and contributions would occur if OpenSSL used a standard widely used license 

Could it be that potential community members were put off engaging with OpenSSL simply on account of the licensing decision? Continue reading

New OSI Directors

The announcement of the new board at the Open Source Initiative reflects its international and diverse character as well as the introduction of strong community skills. OSI was founded in 1998-9 as a non-profit organisation with the aim of supporting and promoting the open source movement, in part by  maintaining a concrete definition of open source, along with a list of licenses which line up with that definition.

The gradual change to a member selected board is part of a broader restructuring move, also involving the appointment of a general manager and the expansion of community activities (such as fostering of closer ties with the Free Software Foundation). The board is made up of members selected by both individual members and OSI “Affiliate” members, non-profit open source-related organisations which select directors to serve for three year terms.

To find out more about OSI and to hear about some of the individuals now making their mark in the OSI board of directors, read Simon’s full article on ComputerWorldUK.