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Your Chance To Change OSI

When I said recently that we still need the Open Source Initiative (OSI), it started a flood of comment. There's no doubt that we need OSI - but we need a better OSI. The one we have now is just too small to be effective and too mired in past successes; a renaissance is needed. You can help.

Yesterday and Today

OSI was formed in 1998 to solve a pressing problem. The founders embraced the ideals of software freedom, but saw that businesses - being non-persons - lacked any way to embrace a philosophical principle. To advance software freedom, it needed to be pragmatically "projected" onto the surface of the computer industry of 1998, creating rules that could be followed without demanding ideological "purity". The result was a focus on a certain kind of advocacy, plus an enormously valuable effort to analyse, categorise and selectively endorse copyright licenses. OSI was the pragmatic projection of software freedom onto the computer industry of 1998.

But in 2010, the industry has changed. It's due in no small part to the effects of software freedom on technology and innovation, with the pragmatic liberties it guarantees seeding today's key trends. It's also in part due to the attempted corruption of open standards and the policies that rely on them, which has allowed proprietary software an undeserved ascendancy. So while new businesses are able to be formed with philosophical and ethical principles embedded in their DNA, existing ones still can't "embrace software freedom" since that's a capability only of intelligent individuals.

Today we have a mature understanding of open source issues and licensing that means the advocacy initiatives of 1999 are less necessary and the license approval role has changed. The growth of cloud computing - even with open APIs and open data - means that liberty assurance mechanisms based only on source code are inadequate to identify the presence of software freedom. And the maturity of the open source market means the 'games' that existing corporations play on the market are sophisticated enough to use open source as a corporate weapon instead of as a path to liberty.

Re-projection

We need to repeat the exercise of projecting software freedom onto its surface, reinventing OSI to steward the resulting activities. That may well mean:

  • addressing today's trends, such as open data and open cloud computing;
  • increasing consumer awareness of open source and the four freedoms (beyond the code and the geeks);
  • educating the next generation of computer science graduates (many of whom think open source or free software just mean "Linux");
  • dealing with the engagement of powerful industry corporations such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle and SAP;
  • expanding resources for government and NGOs to adopt and institute open source programs;
  • sustaining license review activities, which remain a key function for OSI (but now with an emphasis on avoiding new licenses unless they are essential).

However OSI is formed with a board which is the de facto entire volunteer base. There is also a "chicken and the egg" problem that there is no clear door into OSI so there is no one to form an electorate and there is no "new blood". OSI has been trying to fix this but it requires work. The first attempt the Board made involved inviting 50 people to discuss the problem in an online forum last year. This didn't devise a new governing membership body, but did work through all of the possible ways OSI could be governed and more effective.

Change Inevitable

Change is now inevitable because the board recently passed rules imposing term limits to make room for new blood. A significant number of long-term Board members retire this year and next. So it's vital that a plan for OSI's future be devised. As I have said before, I'm convinced that future has to be membership-based, with a Board that represents people working on grass-roots software freedom matters.

Which is where you come in. Plenty of people spent time here and on Slashdot throwing rocks at OSI - many deserved - but there's an opportunity to join in to fix things. At the last Board meeting I was asked to get a group together to draw up a new, member-led governance charter for OSI. We've got a good idea of the outline thanks to the earlier work, but there need to be smart, informed people with a heart for software freedom from around the world involved to draft and write the details. Is that you?

We are also keen to see more people involved in other aspects of OSI. If you have experience with writing charters, administering servers, web design, trademark policy or any other aspect of the renewal of OSI, then please write to me, webmink at opensource dot org, or contact the OSI Board.

I'm sure the criticism of OSI will continue, but there's an opportunity to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Will you take it?

[First published by ComputerWorldUK on June 14, 2010]

Comments

I love this direction and would be happy to help in any way I can. There is a lot I think the OSI can do- I'd love to see more efforts to make open source "friendly", similar to how the creative commons has handled their licenses and advocacy. I've also love to see more work between the "development" and "creative" communities- I can't tell you how many applications would be fantastic if their UI was improved, or how often I hear designers complain about implementing designs for their favorite open source software. I'm excited to see the OSI looking at itself critically but eagerly, as I think there is still a ton of good that can come from this organization.

I agree with the greater emphasis on freedom. The benefits of hindsight show to me how the OSI, whilst it had laudable goals, actually allowed the rights of users to be subverted. This is a key business and societal advantage of using free software. The difficulty will be in reviewing and removing the licences that have favoured vendor control over user rights. I think this is urgently required and it may be that the OSI retires or recategorises those sort of licences. If this work is going to take place I would be happy to provide a perspective from New Zealand.

I think it's terrific that the OSI is once again looking to be the leading voice for the open source movement that it should be. Some people want to move community developed software forward, while others want to hold it back. I've always viewed the OSI as being on the side of pragmatism and progress, and I'm interested in helping in any way I can. I'll be in touch, Simon.

Welcome back. I'm eager to see the changes.. and the *new* OSI. So what help do you need? I mean, besides the high level stuff - you need cash, code, people to contribute on committees?

I'm glad to hear that change is welcome in the Open Source community, and especially in the OSI. It has seemed to me that while there's plenty of impressive new projects coming out, all that you'll find out about without digging through SourceForge or similar sites is the same stuff that's been popular since the turn of the century. I just hope that this isn't just the illusion of change, but real change. As for my personal recommendations, I would begin with trying to change the public image of Open Source. Right now the image is essentially, "it's for geeks," and to some even "it's socialist/communist," which is quite irritating to me as a member of the U.S. armed forces. Another thing we could use is real publicity. I'm not talking about Google making Youtube videos of their own projects, but real publicity for the Open Source movement in general. I think this will draw in tons of new blood, including those that aren't computer scientists. If only computer scientists are interested in Open Source, then the scale will always be weighted in favor of the proprietary vendors who advertise on television. Why would we want people who aren't computer scientists? Once you've got a rough but complete product, the people who will provide the real polishing are not the developers, not other scientists, and not large businesses; but the common consumer. I cannot stress this enough. The last thing that should be done is to make a deal with as many PC vendors, like Dell and Gateway, to get them to sell fully open-source PCs at a reduced price to anyone wanting it, just as simply as they sell Windows PCs. This will help to open up more to the common consumers, too.

I feel forming local communities could be a good way to promote open source. I recently formed www.opensourceohio.net The concept is to give persons in the field of software development and project management an opportunity to get involved in actual projects being sponsored by corporations. They would work with a team to deliver an open source application that would become part of the software library and freely available for private and public use. Being an open source community this would of course be on a volunteer basis, however it would be a great opportunity to have real world experience and at the same time get exposure to executives at local companies. I currently have several projects ready to go and am meeting with the career counselors at colleges in Dayton, and Cincinnati. There will be an article published in a local business paper on this community this week.