Simon joined Doc Searls to host episode 622 of FLOSS Weekly featuring Keith Packard, one of the key figures of the open source software movement. They talked about Keith’s involvement in the X System and Freedesktop.org and strayed into related topics including the many projects Keith has helped and his interest in rocketry!
One significant discussion considered the thread joining the fork of XFree86, the recent vote to change the board of Nominet in the UK and the controversy over the reinstatement of Richard M Stallman to the board of the Free Software Foundation this week. Each represents a significant entity to the open movement which has leadership that was established as a “club” between activists and failed to progress into a well-governed organisation representing and controlled by the community.
Is that single-company-controlled project actually open source in the sense of delivering software freedoms to you or just about delivering prospective customers to its host company? Here are 7 tests.
I frequently sum up the nature of open source licensing as granting permission in advance to developers or users to use, improve and share the software for any purpose. But the “Permission In Advance” lens has uses beyond just the rights to copyrights and patents granted in an OSI-approved license.
In my consulting engagements, I use a “thinking tool” to help clients work through their proposals for new open source community activities. Evaluating a project’s licensing, patent, and community management strategy — both to join it and to host it — should begin with the question: “How confident are community members that they have permission in advance to do whatever they need to succeed?” The more reasons for confidence, the larger the community.
Here are some of the questions community members will be asking, perhaps silently, about single-company open source projects and their own agency as a member of the community:
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 2019-20.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.
Facebook’s BSD+Patent license combo fails not because of the license itself but because it ignores the deeper nature of open source.
In July 2017, the Apache Software Foundation effectively banned the license combination Facebook has been applying to all the projects it has been releasing as open source. They are using the 3-clause BSD license (BSD-3), a widely-used OSI-approved non-reciprocal license, combined with a broad, non-reciprocal patent grant but with equally broad termination rules to frustrate aggressors. Continue reading →
Should you donate money to the open source projects you use? Or is there a better way to help?
Your business most likely depends on open source software. But are you playing your part to make sure it will still be there in the future? For that to happen, the projects where it is both maintained and improved need to flourish.Continue reading →
Even near-perfect governance like Apache’s can get gamed by a determined and well-resourced player. What lessons can we learn from their experience?
I’ve previously written about the fact the Apache Software Foundation offers an exemplar of large-scale open source governance. Even with those supreme qualities, things can still go wrong. Apache offers some of the best protections for open source contributors but its mature rules can be manipulated by skilled politicians and/or determined agendas. What can we learn from their experience? Continue reading →
At FOSDEM 2017, Simon gave a well-attended talk explaining many of the things that could go wrong for a company trying to engage a large open source project over legal or governance issues. Based loosely on a mailing list thread at the Apache Software Foundation, the talk highlighted seven things to avoid and gave ideas on how to do so.
Including design and UX in a true community project is a challenging matter of balance because of the motivational model behind open source projects.
According to The Cathedral and the Bazaar, the key motivation for participants in open source projects is “scratching their own itch.” One consequence of this is co-ordination of contributions to support user-centric design is inherently an optional extra in a true open source project with multiple independent participants. We all wish there was a way to get genuine user experience quality as a key dynamic of open source projects. But there are two big reasons that is challenging. Continue reading →
Starting a large-scale open source project? The Apache Software Foundation is the benchmark against which you will be measured.
We’re now well beyond the point where open source has “won”. We’re seeing the open source idea starting to mature beyond even adolescence into adulthood. As it does so, our understanding and expectations of open source communities need to expand. Continue reading →