Why We Still Need OSI


In the comments to yesterday's blog posting about WebM's problems (and elsewhere), an old refrain from a historic rivalry reared its head.

For reasons best left to the reader to uncover, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) has often been at loggerheads with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and particularly with its more excitable supporters.

In the words of one trollish commentator:

The (Free Software) world doesn't need a worthless ORG like the OSI.

I beg to differ. I have been (and in plenty of ways still am) a critic of OSI, as well as a firm supporter and advocate of the FSF. I believe OSI should be a member organisation with a representative leadership.

I believe it should strive for the inclusion to its community critics, ending the perceived divide. Most of all, I believe that its stewardship role for pragmatic software freedom should be broader than just licence approvals.

But the OSI still plays a very important and relevant role in the world of software freedom. Some points:

  • Many government and business policies around the world point to OSI when defining what is acceptable as “open source”. The OSD remains the “gold standard” and we all have much to lose if it is subverted.
  • There is still a substantial authority connected with the organisation when the time comes for an abuser to be challenged to back down from describing their freedom-impaired activity as “open source”. That's why every freedom-promoting activity needs to take the time to gain approval for new licences.
  • Licence approvals have become a much more onerous process, with the emphasis on avoiding creation of new licences, updating old or flawed ones and encouraging the retirement of redundant ones. It would be great to see the stewards of some of the (in retrospect) incorrectly approved licences ask for their retirement.

There’s no question that the “open source” concept and brand remain powerful forces for positive change. That green logo carries weight, which is why so many companies want to call themselves or their products and initiatives "open source".

It's worth defending so that when they do, it means something.

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