OSI’s Journey on FLOSS Weekly

This week’s FLOSS Weekly was a little unusual, as instead of a software project it featured the Open Source Initiative and introduced new President Josh Simmons. With new host Doc Searls and with Simon to provide context, it may well be an interesting show for OSI supporters.

It also addressed the issue of viral licensing. No, not the GPL – calling that “viral” has always been an ugly slur by software strip-miners. It’s actually proprietary software licensing, with its opaque terms, invasive requirements and withheld freedoms, that is better described as “viral”. You’ll need to jump in to the show to hear more.

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!

On Microsoft’s Journey

Nearly a decade on from my original journey model, how far has Microsoft really come? Are they now aligned with their peers?

A decade ago, I wrote about the journey corporations take as they move from treating open source as a threat to embracing software freedom as a corporate philosophy within their business strategy. It wasn’t a perfect model, but it had plenty of resonance for me and many others at the time. The steps were:

  1. Open source as enemy – Attacking and ridiculing the idea of software freedom.
  2. Damage containment – Framing isolated actions as proof of support for the idea while diminishing other projects.
  3. Embrace and extend – Framing larger strategies as proof of embrace while mapping the semantics to deal with inconvenient dissonance.
  4. A change of executive direction – new leadership or direction results in executive air-cover.
  5. Exploratory opening – As business units adapt models, practical barriers to community are removed.
  6. General opening – Projects are expected to switch to open source, exceptions need justifying.
  7. Embrace of software freedom – software freedom is a core company philosophy expressed in all actions.

At the time in 2011, Microsoft was still mostly in stage 1 of the model, with a few groups at stages 2 and 3 and constant turnover of the person hired to be the front-person for open source. It even extended to standards – I had watched as Microsoft, unable to see how to embrace ODF and win through collaboration, instead burned the reputation of ECMA and ISO forcing through OOXML and creating an eternal maintenance burden for themselves.

Over the following decade, they have gradually progressed along the line to embracing software freedom, reaching a bold stage 4 when Satya Nadella was appointed and stage 5 with the partnership with Red Hat. With the acquisition of Github they seemed likely to have reached stage 6, especially when they joined OIN as I’d long proposed, but for me the final confirmation was the comment by Microsoft president Brad Smith:

“Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century, and I can say that about me personally,”

Brad Smith, cited by The Verge

Of course, the reality is not the words spoken at media-friendly events but the actions taken in private (as I am currently finding with big players in the mobile industry). In many ways, Microsoft was the most direct and honest of the big technology-sector players a decade ago. IBM was busy monetising software patents in private while lauding openness and sharing in public; Oracle was declaring its commitment to openness and even taking the word for the name of its developer conference while doubling down on lock-in.

Microsoft just stuck to the obvious truth that they hated Linux — and by association the whole open source movement — and said it openly. Behind the scenes, all the tech businesses were taking what they could, contributing what they had to and attacking what they couldn’t, but Microsoft was honest about it. That honesty bought them deep hatred from some advocates that even today is unquenchable despite the growing evidence it’s residual bigotry. My concern for those who say they still can’t trust Microsoft now is more that they believe that can trust its peers.

So does this change mean they have really progressed to stage 6? Yes, I think it does, even if there are residual pockets of the old Microsoft. The reality of their cloud strategy and the market it addresses has made the softer tactics of adoption, engagement and collaboration outweigh fierce closed competitive brilliance and embrace-extend-extinguish as their weapons of choice.

Speaking to friends who now find themselves at Microsoft and at Github, it’s clear that today’s Microsoft is not the same company that used to burn out a new open source front-man every two years. This Microsoft wants to collaborate, to lead as a member rather than as an entryist, to do it right rather than just make it look OK. The new blood in Azure and Github has been given permission to tell the old guard to make the new strategy succeed or be wound up, and it’s working. Looks like it’s so effective that IBM wants to copy it.

So why have I not ranked them at stage 7 yet? I’m still not convinced they are there. The test for stage 7 is whether a company picks winning strategies that advance the liberties of others, even if they are not the biggest wins. Given two open source strategies, one that embodies software freedom for others and one that makes Microsoft apparently win more, I wait to be convinced they would stand up for the liberties of others over advantaging Microsoft. Maybe it’s already happening and I just haven’t noticed – do tell me! I am pretty sure an opportunity will come along soon if it isn’t.

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How Do VCs View Open Source?

 

“People who believe that Apache is a competitor, OSI approves licenses that permit monopolization, Red Hat is a business that’s succeeded through artificial scarcity, and open source communities with diverse agendas are “broken” are not the people you want in your new open source business.”

Meshed Insights Ltd

The sort of alpha personalities who invest venture capital are good at sounding plausible and authoritative. It’s not until they veer into an area where you’ve got a high degree of expertise that you realise how they really view the world. An article in TechCrunch gave a window into the world of two high-flyers; the former CEO of MongoDB and the former managing director of Intel Capital. Both could be expected to have a good understanding of open source, and both now have executive roles at a major VC, Battery Partners.

What’s visible through that window is disappointing to say the least. Riven with serious factual errors that are probably the expression of the authors’ worldview, it’s clear that these VCs don’t see open source the same way the open source community does. Read more on InfoWorld.

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Roman Canaries

Still as relevant today as when I wrote it over a decade ago.

The Blog Formerly Known As SunMink

DFIR Meeting

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a large and distinguished international audience in Rome, DFIR, considering the creation of a “Bill of Rights” for the Internet as a part of the ongoing IGF process. Many presenters spoke about privacy, about access to knowledge, about the need to build on the well-established corpus of wisdom in existing statements on human rights. Listening through the morning, it became apparent that most people were taking for granted the technical basis on which the Internet was created.

Thus in my speech I decided to take the opposite approach, taking as given the obvious need to establish human rights of privacy, access, free speech and non-discrimination and look at the technical foundations. The Internet exists because of three realities – informally constituted but still consistently real. We have to remember the heritage of the net if we are to protect higher-order rights…

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OSI Board Evolution

I spent last week in New York at the annual new-inductees face-to-face Board meeting of the Open Source Initiative Board (pictured below – Christine Hall is also a member but was unable to join us).  Having spent the last 11 years working on refactoring OSI for a new generation, I had advised the Board in advance that I intended to step down as President to make way for fresh blood. The Board elected Molly de Blanc as the new President and Josh Simmons as Vice President, with Hong Phuc Dang bravely volunteering to be CFO. I agreed to serve as Board Secretary until someone else feels ready to play that role – no later than next April when my term ends.

OSI Board 2019.jpg

OSI Board 2019-20.  Standing: Simon Phipps, Elana Hashman, Pamela Chestek, Molly de Blanc, Faidon Liambotis, Chris Lamb, Hong Phuc Dang, Patrick Masson. Kneeling: Carol Smith, Josh Simmons.

The OSI I’m handing over to the new Board is very different to the one I first attended in 2008 (as an observer – I wasn’t invited to join until 2010). It is now elected rather than selected (albeit via an indirect mechanism to make California regulation easier to manage). The electors are over 60 affiliate organisations representing the majority of the world’s core open source developers and an ever growing community of individual members. OSI now has a viable income arising largely from a diverse range of around 30 sponsors. It now has a staff, including a full-time General Manager (Patrick Masson, far right). It now has maintained systems for managing donations, lists and outreach. And there’s more been achieved – those are just stand-outs.

All together that means OSI has a proven foundation for the new Board to build upon. Already built on that foundation there are a postgraduate curriculum, a programme to advocate open source in the world of standards, a programme to equip schools with recycled PCs, working relationships with peer organisations like FSF and FSFE and more. There are many people responsible for all this change, too many to name here, and I thank them all.

People always look forward rather than back and there are still plenty of issues to deal with which are the new Board’s focus. We are already working to improve the license review process, for example.  But I’m really pleased with what we have all achieved over the last decade at OSI and am thrilled that there’s an energetic, more diverse and younger crew taking over.

Consul Democracy Foundation

The west is in a state of crisis due to the capture of the mechanisms of democracy by special interests. It’s time for change, and that change may well involve a shift from consultative or representative democracy to participatory democracy of some form. To support participatory democracy it’s essential to have enabling software that’s accessible to all citizens and transparent in its operation. I find it hard to imagine achieving that without open source.

Fortunately there is an excellent open source, free software project to support participatory democracy – the Consul Project. It provides tools for every function that a local participatory democracy initiative might need, including collaboratively devising legislation. The project is widely used around the world and is currently hosted by Madrid City Council.

Last week in Amsterdam, a broad range of democracy and rights organisations from around the world formed the Consul Democracy Foundation to act as the new home for the Consul Project. I was honoured to participate in founding the organisation as a representative of OSI. Consul is “the most complete citizen participation tool for an open, transparent and democratic government” and is open source, free software under the AGPL.

Screenshot 2019-03-26 at 14.50.49

 

FOSS vs FRAND is a collision of worldviews

Of late there have been a number of interventions sponsored by the world’s largest and most profitable tech patent holders to muddy the waters about open source and FRAND licensing of patents in standards by arguing contentious minutiae like the intent of the authors of the BSD license. This is happening because of the clash of industries I wrote about in 2016, with companies fundamentally based on extracting patent royalties unable to imagine any other way of doing business so mistaking the issue of FRAND as being about license compliance rather than as it being an obstacle to the very purpose of open source in commercial software — collaboration with others.

I found an amazing number of experienced and expert colleagues across industries failing to grasp this fundamental, so I’ve written a paper 🗎 about it. Published today by Open Forum Europe, it explains why compliance legalities are the wrong lens for studying the issue and introduces terms for exploring why representatives from different industry background fail to understand each other despite apparently using the same terminology (spoiler: they mean different things by the same words).

Many thanks to the colleagues who have made valuable suggestions that have improved the clarity of the document, and to the various patrons who have contributed to covering my time. Get in touch if you’d like me to come to your event or company and talk about these things.

Software As Cultural Artefact

You may recall I attended a meeting in Paris last November where we worked on a statement about the cultural value of software. I am delighted to say it has now published both a call for action by UNESCO and a report explaining in more depth.

This is the first work of public policy of which I’m aware that explicitly recognises “that the source code of software used for the implementation of laws and regulations defines the experience of the law by citizens.” That important statement forms the anchor for much change in global legislation relating to digital rights, and as a UNESCO Call it will be considered by each and every future UNESCO policy and consequently by national policy of UNESCO members. Notably, it calls on all to “enable effective independent auditing of software source code used to make decisions that may affect fundamental rights of human beings and where possible ensure it is made available under an open source license.”

Software embodies the procedures by which the citizen engages with the state, through which the citizen and the market interact and in which citizens engage each other and enjoy cultural and leisure pursuits. Our ability to see society in action and guarantee the democracy that sustains it is increasingly dependent on our ability to review the software by which it is enabled at every level. When we have no right of review – let alone a right to directly participate in maintaining the software –  we have lack the most import of the checks and balances of a 21st century democracy.

The Paris Call identifies software as a primary cultural artefact, requiring public access, demanding preservation and deserving cultivation. It sets a benchmark for the treatment of software as modern treasure. Now its the turn of the framers of wider policy to take that into account.