Should we celebrate the anniversary of open source?

Tomorrow here in Portland at OSCON, OSI will be celebrating 20 years of open source. I’ve had a few comments along the lines of “I’ve was saying ‘open source’ before 1998 so why bother with this 20 year celebration?”

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That’s entirely possible. The phrase is reputed to have been used descriptively about free software — especially under non-copyleft licenses — from at least 1996 when it appeared in a press release. Given its appropriateness there’s a good chance it was in use earlier, although I’ve not found any reliable citations to support that. It was also in use in another field well before then, to describe military or diplomatic intelligence obtained by studying non-classified sources.

But there’s no doubt that the gathering at VA Linux where a group of key figures adopted Christine Peterson’s suggestion and decided to use the term to label a marketing programme for free software was a crucial moment. From that point onward, people who wanted to promote software freedom in business or wanted to identify their own approach to doing business with free software had a collectively-agreed term. It’s much easier to make a thing real if you have a word for it.

From that moment it became easy to talk about open source projects, open source business models, the benefits of open source and so on. Yes, people could talk about free software in the same way, but many of us found setting a “price frame” at the start of a discussion an unhelpful distraction requiring justification — “you mean you just want to give it away?” This arose because of the strength for native English speakers of the notion of zero cost associated with the word “free” and the need to dive into discussions about freedom in order to counter it.

The formation of OSI also changed things. By defining open source in reference to a definition of how to identify licenses that deliver the right to use, study, improve and share code, developers were empowered to use open source software without needing to seek further advice. By making a talking point of the methodology enabled by software freedom, open source enabled business adoption in a way that a frame based on promoting liberty would possibly derail. Together, this convergence of meaning made open source a lightning rod for change and an idea that could be spread outside a bubble of like minds. That’s not to say open source lacked a philosophical base; rather, that base became a foundation rather than the lead talking point.

Open source did not emerge from a void. It was consciously a marketing programme for the already-15-year-old idea of free software and arose in the context of both the GNU Project and the BSD community and their history (stretching back to the late 70s). We chose to reflect this in the agenda for our celebration track at OSCON.

But that doesn’t mean its inception is irrelevant. The consensus to define open source at the VA Linux meeting and the subsequent formation of OSI and acceptance of the Open Source Definition changed the phrase from descriptive to a term of art accepted globally. It created a movement and a market and consequently spread software freedom far beyond anyone’s expectations. That has to be worth celebrating.

 

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FLOSS Weekly 488: Keycloak

Simon co-hosted this week’s show, which looked at a very interesting identity management system called Keycloak that puts commercial-strength federated authentication, authorisation and identity management within the reach of every developer. It’s written in Java, backed by Red Hat and has a large and active community.

 

 

Welcoming Software Heritage

Coade Stone is a fantastic artificial rock whose creation process was lost for more than a century because it was kept secret, although it has recently been reverse engineered.

Comments delivered at the opening of Software Heritage at UNESCO:

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to bring greetings from the Open Source Initiative, the global charity promoting open source and acting as steward of the open source definition and the list of approved licenses.  Continue reading

FLOSS Weekly 484: The Lounge

After the Pidgin show a while back, Simon stepped in at 11:59 for Randal again, hosting an interesting show about a pure community project that makes a web-hosted IRC client called The Lounge. If you need a web client where you can maintain ongoing IRC sessions, this open source, self-hosted alternative to IRCCloud and others may be the answer. It’s written in Javascript, runs in Node and there’s a ready-to-use Docker container available.

Going With The Grain

If you’re managing community or developer relationships for your employer, a crucial principle is to “go with the grain” of the community — promote and embrace the freedoms it needs and the expectations it cherishes — rather than take actions that result in easily-anticipated opposition.

More at https://devrel.net/community/going-with-the-grain

FOSDEM: How the humble FAQ got Java Open Source

Rich Sands and I gave a new talk in the Community Devroom at FOSDEM. We explained how important the OpenJDK FAQ had been to Sun’s ability to release the Java platform as Open Source, and explained (using an FAQ of course!) how to use the same approach in other projects.

There’s more to say on the subject (we originally created a 40 minute talk before we found we only had 15 minutes, hence the slight over-run) so hopefully OSCON will accept the proposal we run the whole thing there.

FOSDEM: The Third Decade of Open Source

This weekend I spoke at FOSDEM in Brussels to deliver the opening conference keynote. My subject was “The Third Decade of Open Source” and as OSI President I summed up the main events of the last 20 years, some of the key facts behind them and then offered five trends that will shape the next decade.