Software freedom is important to as an idea, but it also creates all the value of open source for business and should be jealously guarded by OSPOs.
In talking about open source, I and others routinely use the expression “software freedom” to refer to the set of rights upon which the open source phenomenon is based. It arises as a synonym for “free software”, an unfortunately ambiguous term that leads people hearing it for the first time to conclude all the primary attributes of open source software relate to money — price, cost-of-ownership, license fee and so on.
“Software freedom” puts the focus in the right place — on the essential liberties required to benefit from the software. One problem with this alternative term is we are becoming accustomed to hearing discussions of “freedom” be limited to activist or political contexts, and consequently regard the term “software freedom” with caution. But a focus on software freedom isn’t just for the revolutionaries.
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).
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:
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?”
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. Continue reading →
In these days of code that no single mind can grasp, it’s hard to see how software freedom is present when there’s no realistic community access to source code.
In the early days of Free Software, it was a safe assumption that anyone using a computer had coding skills of some sort — even if only for shell scripts. As a consequence, many advocates of Free Software, despite a strong focus on user freedoms, had a high tolerance for software that made source available under free terms without providing other access to the project, especially in the days when that meant tapes by mail. Continue reading →
“Does OSD 6 mean I can’t include a clause in a new open source license that prohibits hacking?”
Yes, you are correct – that’s called a “field of use restriction” (FoU) and copyright licenses that contain field of use restrictions are not approved as open source. Open source licenses are for guaranteeing software freedom, nothing more or less. Continue reading →
A key value of open source is the ability to switch to a different supplier if your first becomes unavailable or unattractive. Forgerock is apparently withdrawing that value, on which it relied itself for its inception.
After leaving Sun I was pleased that a group of former employees and partners chose to start a new company. Their idea was to pick up the Sun identity management software Oracle was abandoning and continue to sustain and evolve it. Open source made this possible. Continue reading →
Whilst many may long for a truly open source OS that meets all of their needs, the reality has always been that compromise has a role to play whenever it comes to picking your operating system. Despite the availability and increasing ease of installation of purer open source systems, there remains a trade-off to be made. Systems with a high level of software freedom and an intuitively usable interface seem to require high levels of maintenance to keep them alive. Where a system with high software freedom’s been designed to require less maintenance, the usability seems to suffer. Of course, this triangle has a third point to it too: where a system is both easy to use and maintaining it doesn’t consume too much of your time, it’s software freedom that takes the hit.
What sort of system you choose should depend on which of those three factors you prioritise. Read the details about this theory, along with some pointers for recognising systems that value software freedom in Simon’s InfoWorld Article.