RealTime IT News

OSI Tackles License 'Explosion'

UPDATED: The Open Source Initiative (OSI) board of directors is holding a meeting with stakeholders Wednesday to crack down on the proliferation of open source licenses, said Eric S. Raymond, the organization's co-founder and president emeritus.

The goal of the meeting, which will take place at the Open Source Business Conference this week in San Francisco, is to come to terms with both the number of corporate vanity licenses forwarded by the business world and the outdated open source licenses championed by independent developers, said Raymond.

The OSI is a non-profit organization that certifies open source licenses abiding by the 10 criteria of the Open Source Definition for use in the community; currently, there are 58 approved licenses that range from the venerable GPL to the RealNetworks Public Source License.

"Quite honestly, my hope is that if we piss off everybody at once we won't piss everybody off so much that they leave," Raymond said. "I think it will eventually work out because everybody involved with the problem realizes a common material explosion of different licenses isn't in anyone's interests.

"It hurts the developers; it hurts the corporate types. The only people who really benefit are the lawyers who are writing the licenses."

Raymond, who in February stepped down from the organization he helped found, wouldn't specify the changes the OSI wants to adopt in regards to their licensing requirements. He did say the board of directors has spent the past couple months editing the changes under proposal.

In attendance, he said, will be the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) and some major project leaders. The OSI board will introduce a number of measures it feels will address the problem and if there is agreement from those attending, they plan to move forward and adopt the measures. If those attending don't like the measures, Raymond said, they need to make some suggestions.

"I do think we'll walk out of there with an action plan, and I think it will be pretty similar to the draft that we have written," he said. "But we need people to look at it, smell it, and make their suggestions for improvement and feel, genuinely, like they were part of the process."

Diane Peters, OSDL general counsel, confirmed the organization's presence at the Wednesday meeting, saying the debate over open source license proliferation is one of the most important issues of 2005. The organization, she said, is looking forward to assisting the OSI in their efforts to resolve the problem.

Officials at the OSDL would like to see the OSI reduce the number of new licenses approved, as well as weed out some of the existing licenses. As it stands right now, Peters said, there are too many open source licenses approved by the OSI. A desirable outcome, she said, would be one wherein the next year or two there is only the upcoming GPL 3.0 and a handful of other licenses.

To what extent the OSDL will endeavor to assist the OSI for the latter remains to be seen, as the chairman of the OSDL board of directors, Ross Mauri, is a general manager at IBM .

IBM itself has two OSI-approved licenses, the IBM Public License and Common Public License. Computer Associates also has a board member at OSDL and holds the OSI-approved Computer Associates Trusted Open Source License.

"Our board is behind this issue 100 percent, and so to the extent there are acceptable alternatives to their having to create a particular license for a particular need [the OSDL board is] supportive of that," Peters said.

The increased use of tailored open source licenses has caused concern in the community, particularly among companies looking at implementing open source software into their businesses.

What started out as the "classic" licenses of the GPL, Lesser GPL, BSD and MIT has spawned a host of intermediate licenses that, while not a bad idea at the time, doesn't work anymore, Raymond said.

Each license, he said, accumulates its own base of developers but is shunned by other developers who will look for a more open license to develop their software tools. Corporations, on the other hand, look at the proliferation of open source licenses as a headache for their lawyers who must review every software license before they can adopt it within the enterprise.

"That's a very reasonable concern," Raymond said. "It's not something that an individual developer feels is a lot of pressure, because they're only dealing with their little patch of code, but corporations have significant deployment problems."

Last week, Intel became the first OSI-approved licenser to ask to be removed from the master list of open source licenses. Officials at the company said their Intel Open Source License, a derivative of the BSD license, saw little pickup among developers outside the corporate walls in the five years it's been available.