Essence of open source

Glass with engraved OSI logo containing distilled spirits

We’ve been trying to distil a succinct phrase that captures the generally-accepted core understanding of “open source software”. The best so far is:

Open source software is software which people everywhere are able to use, improve and share in any form and for any purpose without essential ex ante or post hoc negotiation with rights holders.

Obviously the use of an OSI-approved license guarantees that. How could we make the phrase shorter, clearer or more accurate?

Update on June 25:

This phrase seems to capture a lot of what we’re after:

It’s “open” if the work product can be used, improved and shared, for any purpose, without undue obstruction or required negotiation.

This has the advantage of not attempting to redefine any of {Open Source, Open Data, Open Hardware, Open Silicon} while also conveying the key attributes each of them must have before anyone should consider them open.

More improvements invited!

Update on July 8:

Deleted “undue” as discussed as I couldn’t think of any applicable “due” obstruction. So we have:

It’s “open” if the work product can be used, improved and shared, for any purpose without obstruction or required negotiation.

That’s now worked well in several places so we may have it here!

5 thoughts on “Essence of open source

  1. May I assume there is some ironic geopolitical reference to you putting Open Source on Easter Island, a perceived source of mystery, superstition and — some say — cannibalism? 🙂

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  2. Dump the last phrase as it is stilted and also the meaning of “licensed”. Put the people first, not the software. Order the verbs by how many people they empower. Dump “form” – doesn’t add to the meaning, and isn’t actually true, as OSS only really gives people license over the source code. How about this: “All people are explicitly licensed to use, share, and improve Open Source software for any purpose.” If you don’t like “licensed” by itself, change “licensed” to “granted rights under license”. I think that doesn’t really help, but “licensed” surely needs less explanation than “essential ex post… holders”. 😏

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    • The last phrase is essential though. There are folk around who want to leave room for rights negotiation around “open source” code. The reality is it’s not the license that unlocks the open source network effect so much as the confidence the license is sufficient.

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  3. How about:

    “Open source is software or media which people everywhere are able to use, improve and share in any form and for any purpose without requiring negotiation with the original creator.”

    Removes some of the legal language (I’d expect that the typical reader would not know what ex ante or post hoc means without looking it up), adds a note about content above and beyond source code (though I could understand removing that to keep is simple)

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