Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What's in a name

There is a wierd little battle developing over the term "open source", between the Open Source Initiative, and a small group of vendors (CRM folks like Sugar et al.) that would like to use the term to describe their products, despite their licenses not being OSI-approved. Slashdot is talking about it, and unsurprisingly, focuses on Michael Tiemann's furious blog posting, which responding to Dana Blankenhorn's post querying how far 'open source CRM' could get from OSI-license terms, included this blast:
..there really is not room in the market for Yet Another Proprietary CRM system....THESE LICENSES ARE NOT OPEN SOURCE LICENSES. This flagrant abuse of labeling is not unlike sweetening a mild abrasive with ethylene glycol and calling the substance Toothpaste. If the market is clamouring for open source CRM solutions, why are some companies delivering open source in name only and not in substance? I think the answer is simple: they think they can get away with it.
Now, the OSI does not have a trademark on the term 'open source', it simply maintains the Open Source Definition, and a list of approved licenses that meet that definition. So, this battle, to say the least, promises to be interesting. Can the OSI pull off this particular kind of policing? (Perhaps it might have been easier if they had stayed with a corporate-unfriendly term like 'free software'? But I digress). The 'problem' is that licenses like the CPL is that as David Richards explains
the CPL limits EXTERNAL redistribution. That's pretty much it. So while our source code is available and is for free, while we allow it to be modified and the modifications licensed however the authors dictate (think BSD), and while it can be freely distributed internally by user organizations, we run afoul of the OSI because we do not allow, without our consent, external redistribution. partners.
And there are other restrictions, all of which fly in the face of the OSI's requirements of leaving certain decisions on modifications to downstream developers.

There is a reason behind RMS's obsession over terminology; it matters.


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