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OSCON: Open Source, Open World. What should we discuss there?

In one week the open source community will meet at OSCON. I'll be part of a panel - Open Source, Open World - that will discuss the success and challenges for open source worldwide. Danese Cooper, that is hosting the panel, asked the participants to list a few questions that we should discuss on the panel.

Nnenna Nwakanma has proposed some issues. I also have lots of questions... I don't think all of them are pertinent to the panel, but I think they are relevant to what is happening at OSCON. My main problem is that I'm never able to write something short, so, I'm not sure how many questions I'll be able to write until OSCON starts. But I need to start from somewhere. So, here is my first question.

The Open Source Initiative, OSI: is it relevant worldwide? How?

The OSI was created to certify Open Source Licenses, in order to protect developers from the many ways a license could be created to restrict the software's freedom of access and forking. Although licensing is the main service OSI does for the developer community, the organization also serves as hub around the fundamental work of evangelizing developers - and specially non-developers - on the importance and benefits of open source.

Once the term "open source" became well established by the early work of OSI and others, and when companies, lawyers and governments started to adopt it, it gained a strength of its own. It is not rare to find those that use and even promote open source, and does not know who the OSI is. Worst yet, even those that know OSI have doubts of the role it plays on the open source community.

So, when you expand this to other countries, how is OSI relevant? There is no OSI approved license in Portuguese, Spanish, Indonesian, Hindi or Mandarin. Or rather, in any other language but English. So, one should ask about OSI's most important role - licensing: does the lack of a discussion of licenses in other languages affects the importance of OSI worldwide? What does that means when the discussion leaves the developer and goes to other spheres like Governments and Justice systems? Or when you need to include open source related requirements in national or state laws or international standards? Can you legally refer to OSI's approved list of licenses?

The other fundamental role is a bit less fuzzy: it is clear that OSI's open source evangelism work is very relevant worldwide. The large number of open source user groups and events happening around the globe attest to that. Even when people do not relate to OSI, the term open source is widely known, and used. It is even widely used regardless of the local language (some times translated, but not always). So the question becomes: what else can, or maybe should, OSI do to increase its importance, and to deepen and strengthen the open source movement worldwide? What do developers expect? What could OSI do to help them be more effective in their open source efforts and evangelism? What else could OSI provide?

So, this is the first question I'll take to the panel. Although I do think OSI is very relevant both on the licensing and on the evangelism discussions, I will offer my take there. Here, I'd like to know, how would you answer that? What do you expect from OSI in terms of worldwide work and activities?


Bruno, Thanks for putting up your initial thoughts. Your questions and discussions raise some key questions for OSI. In its first 10 years, the OSI has played a central role in approval of open source licenses (some folks may think too many licenses but there is strength in diversity too). I think the OSI can do a lot more. It can do more towards active promotion of open source and awareness of related issues worldwide. It can do more for open source developers, and for open source projects. It can highlight on larger issues that affect open source currently such as impact of software patents, adoption of open standards, software-as-a-service vs. software-as-open-source. The panel discussion at OSCON next week on "Open Source, Open World" would be fruitful if we can take discussions of what and how the OSI can do more from the community's feedback and translate that into concrete action items and projects for each region. I invite the audience and well-wishers of open source to participate actively (online and in person at the OSCON session on July 24) to make positive suggestions and work with the OSI to help it move towards a more democratic, more active, member driven organization representing the voices and interests of the worldwide open source community. Cheers, Alolita Board member, OSI

There is no doubt that the relevance of OSI evangelism is worldwide. I may risk complicating the panel because instead of coming up with answers, I may actually come up with more questions than answers. Stuff like - how many people in Asia and Africa know of OSI? How come there is not a license in a language other than English? Does the OSI have an internationlisation Policy? Is the present structure capable of maintaining a global pressure? How many non-English speakers can get information from the OSI site? Is there a sort of collaboration going on between the OSI and the global world of developers? Is OSI in anyway supporting developers? Just beginning to think...

The reason that licenses are written in English is largely because English is the language of computer programmers, and the licenses are targetted, not at courts or judges, but at programmers. A license is two things: a declaration of legal intention, and a flag around which to rally the troops. Thus it's only of legal importance that licenses are only in English. My perception (I may be wrong, of course) is that we in the geek / programming community have learned to be accepting of poor English because 1) most of us are poor English speakers anyway, and 2) because criticizing people's English skills is a dead end discussion. It's like whinging about somebody's use of vi or emacs: "Grow up, get over it" is the proper response. So, I hope that nobody feels held back by not being a great speaker of English. God knows that I'm a poor perl programmer, but that doesn't stop me from using it. Same for English as a language.