In a (large) video meeting at virtual FOSDEM, someone joked that maybe this will finally be the “year of the Linux desktop”. One of the oldest jokes in the community. Everyone sniggered. But the joke’s on them: it already happened, like a thief in the night.
While we were all waiting for the open source community to topple Microsoft’s desktop monopoly by replacing the locally-installed operating system, we missed the real revolution. Sure, there’s still plenty of money in both operating systems and in desktop apps. Microsoft (and indeed Apple) will be milking that legacy monopoly for a good while even if they have started hollowing out themselves — on Linux. It’s certainly been the target of competitive attention from open source software from the beginning; indeed, the open source productivity suite family now epitomised by LibreOffice has over its long history done an effective job in opening up that part of Microsoft’s monopoly (even if mostly by triggering the creation of ODF).
All open source licenses are permissive. They give you permission in advance to use the software for any purpose, to improve the software any way you wish and to share the software with whoever you want. They are the opposite of proprietary licenses, which place restrictions on each of these freedoms. Any license with restrictions would not be considered OSD compliant.
All open source licenses include conditions. Some relate to attribution. Some relate to reciprocal licensing. None of them restrict how you can use, improve and share the software, although you must comply with the conditions in order to do so. Some people consider some conditions so onerous they rise to the level of restrictions, but the consensus of the community has been they are wrong.
Today’s licensing games are thus mainly about testing where the accumulated burden of conditions is effectively a restriction – “constructive restriction”. There’s certainly a line where that would become true – for example, where the conditions associated with deploying the software as a cloud service are so hard to comply with that the software is effectively unusable in that field of use.
The OSD doesn’t include much to help with this so it’s contentious every time and sometimes leads to sophistry. This is probably the area where the Open Source Initiative needs to do the most work to modernise the license approval process.
Since the news of Citrix’s recent shake up around its CloudStack business, some have been inclined to predict a host of negative consequences for the Apache project moving into the future. At the other end of the spectrum, Giles Sirett a PMC member in the Apache CloudStack project, claims “they [Citrix] have no ‘role.’ CloudStack is driven mainly by its users.”
To see a change in focus at Citrix as an ending point for CloudStack is to disregard the fact that CloudStack is a user-driven community which brilliantly models what Apache does best: providing a neutral space where many users of a code base can come together to quietly and effectively collaborate. Simply donating the original code to open source, doesn’t mean that Citrix has control over the project as it is today. With it’s impressive user list, CloudStack will continue to thrive whatever Citrix’s involvement.