OS3G - Open Source, 3rd Generation

A (humble) attempt to publish news from the trenches where Free/Libre/Open-Source Software is brought to the mainstream -- and Francois Letellier's blog, too

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Bright Side of Open Source

Pierre Cros (Entr'ouvert) pointed me to a blog entry from Susan Wu, Chief Marketing Officer of the Apache Software Foundation. Susan addresses the question of how the open source model has been "watered down". Between the lines, you may read that there are two sides: the bright side of open source, with the "true" open source players, and the dark side of it, with bad guys taking advantage of the wave for marketing purposes.

Quoting Gianugo Rabellino from this blog entry: "[...] we’re seeing how the status of Open Source is just too much up for grabs by anyone, and easily circumventable using a few tricks that have become “classic” as in the sentence above. I don’t really have a solution handy: I’ve been thinking about starting a new “movement” under a different umbrella which would encompass Open Source yet augment it with the most prominent value coming from community-based development, but I know this would require quite some effort and a lot of inertia to get the ball rolling."

Right, the term "open source" in its strict meaning only describes a category of licenses (which roughly matches what the FSF calls "free"). But is there more to open source than a legal framework?

As proposed by Business Week, 2005 was probably a turning point for open source. Part of the reasons was that open source players eventually became profitable and the Valley VCs not longer overlooked open source startups. The bottom line is, in the Valley and elsewhere, that any old ISV now is open source in a way or another. This is becoming ridiculous: software vendors all have "their own" open source solutions, different from other -open source- solutions from their competitors. So what's the value of open source here? Is reinvention of the wheel the open source way to go? We all doubt it.

Yet, legally speaking, all players are open source because they distribute software under an open source license.

Form an Apache viewpoint, I can understand that some old timers of free/open source software feel bitter. The Foundation was created with a couple of strict principles in mind, including meritocracy, avoidance of brand fascination, etc. What is remaining of this old meritocratic spirit when software giants buy open source credibility (cf BEA / Beehive), use open source as a dumping strategy (cf IMB-Gluecode / Geronimo - ironically enough, IBM pushes talks calling projects "true open source")? I can understand that some feel bitter.

Yet, one may wonder if open source in general, and Apache in particular would have been so successful without discreet support from the same software giants: code donations from some (Sun / Tomcat), code promotion by others (IBM / httpd), not to mention massive communication about open source from all sides. Biting the hand that's feeding open source...

Gianugo is calling for a new movement. But this movement is already around - and I call it "third generation of open source", just because I failed to find a more appropriate wording.

Third generation of open source is a collective strategy aiming a developing open source software through a collaborative process that encompasses more than just code. Because the world is a-changing, and because the business world now is taking over the open source wave.

Collaboration in an 3G open source organization may not happen at level of single projects - and one may even argue that some projects leaders come from the dark side of open source. But the ultimate goal is to have cross-projects collaboration. To bring back the value of open source at a higher level. And because the parties involved no longer are individuals, but also legal entities, a governance model that goes beyond meritocracy is needed. Such governance should be open and transparent, so that the organization be not used as a smoke screen. The open source world is to face the cold reality that open source now serves commercial interests, and it is the price to pay to become more mature and be ready for the next step: unleashing the value of collaboration at a cross-organization level. Or put in other words: yes, there are ethical reasons for going the free/open source way, but there are also sound economical motivations and, beyond, externalities in term of social welfare that policymakers take into account. The open source picture is becoming global. The genie is out of the bottle.

And it's legitimate that all try to make a living for themselves in this open source world. What's damaging to the open source movement is the propagation of urban legends from the good old days. Not values - legends.


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