Friday, June 22, 2007

Defining Open Source

In an excellent blog entry yesterday, Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), declared that he will now begin vigorously defending the term/brand “Open Source” as it is defined by the OSI. I think this is great news for the market. Michael decried vendors who, starting in 2006, “claimed that they have every bit as much right to define the term as does the OSI.” I must admit that I count myself among those vendors. As a late entrant into the open source space, I was somewhat na├»ve about the term, and we called EnterpriseDB’s license “commercial open source.” As some of you know, we found that this confused the marketplace, and so we changed it. We are now very clear that the product, EnterpriseDB Advanced Server, is licensed under a closed source license.

So I, for one, support Michael’s proposal to "...all agree--vendors, press, analysts, and others who identify themselves as community members--to use the term 'open source' to refer to software licensed under an OSI-approved license.” We agree, Michael.

Having said that, it’s time to revisit an issue I wrote about on Dave’s and Matt’s blog some time ago: The difference between an Open Source license and an open source company.

As we've just done above, Open Source software is very simple to define. After all, there is a clear standard: An OSI-approved license. GPL software is open source. BSD software is open source. EnterpriseDB Advanced Server is not open source. And so on.

But what is an open source company? (Many of you have seen Allison Randal's thoughts on the matter.) Is it one that only publishes software distributed under OSI-approved licenses? Should SugarCRM really get zero credit for their open source development model, albeit their license is not OSI-approved? Should Red Hat get dinged because they distribute non-open source code? Should EnterpriseDB's be precluded from an affiliation with open source even though its contributions to PostgreSQL exceed all other companies today? This seems unreasonable.

There are many business models around open source, and none of them are better a priori than any others. If a company is deeply involved in developing, contributing to, publishing, and supportin open source software, then it's an open source company. The issue, it seems to me, is simply one of transparency.