Last week Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative, wrote a blog post saying that the OSI is going to start being more vocal about software vendors claiming to be open source but were not using an OSI approved license. As a refresher, OSI is the organization that approves open source licenses and has a well recognized definition of for an open source license. They also make the claim to own the trademark ‘open source’.
My initial reaction was ‘Great, it is about time’. IMHO, we need a strong organization that protects the term ‘open source’. We need to protect against the watering down of the open source term and I think the OSI is the best organization to lead this effort. However, I was quite surprised by the negative reaction in some of the comments on Michael’s blog and on slashdot. Cote also did an interesting post pointing out that all might not be so happy with Michael’s position.
It seems to me that the OSI might have a perception issue. As Michael admitted they have been taking a quiet approach to enforcing the open source brand, so some might not be aware of the OSI’s good work. So this got me thinking about what does the OSI need to do to become more relevant in a word of public enforcement of the open source term. Let me offer up some unsolicited suggestions:
1) If you are going to be public, be VERY public. Start a public web site that lists organizations that are promoting themselves as being open source but are not using an OSI approved license. Make sure this web site is accessible from the OSI home page.
2) Be better at getting others to promote the OSI brand. I did a quick look at the web sites of organizations that have OSI-approved licenses. Apache, Eclipse, Free Software Foundation, Mozilla – none of them make it obvious that they use an OSI approved licensed.
3) Start educating people on the OSI open source definition. I am willing to bet that most people in the software industry can not name more than two characteristics of the OSI open source definition. You need to start changing this and make it relevant to people.
4) Be consistent and be ruthless. Start a campaign to correct people that misuse the term open source. Start with the press and analyst community. This doesn’t have to be done in a negative way but make sure they know you exist and the reason for OSI.
5) Be more inclusive. There are a lot of constituents that have a vested interest in preserving the integrity of the open source brand. Find a way for them to participate as equal members in the OSI. I am glad to see that they are already starting to think about this.
I am glad Michael is taking the OSI down a new path and I agree with him that ‘enough is enough’. We need a strong open source brand and I hope the OSI is up to the task. However, to be successful the OSI is going to have to become a lot more relevant to the greater software industry. I hope they succeed.