open source is not just OSI + FSF

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From: Roy T. Fielding (
Date: Tue May 08 2001 - 12:31:49 PDT

I am getting annoyed by this thread. I've been developing open-source
software for a long time. I am even occasionally called some kind of
leader in the "open-source movement". But you won't find me quoted in
any of the places where you see Richard Stallman and Bruce Perens and
Eric Raymond. Why is that? It is because when I do talk to the press,
I rarely say anything "interesting", and I try not to speak on behalf
of other open-source developers (not even for the Apache developers).
This post, for example, reflects my own opinions and not that of the ASF.

What I mean by "interesting" are the things that will usually get a
person quoted by the press: fanatical generalizations, bold-faced lies,
presumptious prophesies, and an unusual sex life. When I talk to the
press, I talk about why I participate in an open-source project, my
opinion about why others participate (usually with examples), and a
description of the process that allows us to each do our own thing while
contributing to the common good. That is informative, but it doesn't
make good copy.

I do call it open-source software. No, Open Source is not and has never
been trademarked. The reason that the OSI trademark attempt failed is
because the physical reality of "open source" predates the OSI by a
substantial amount, and combining two common English words together is
not a basis for proprietary claims to their combined meaning. For example,
the Debian free software guidelines do not cover all of what I call
open source, and thus the OSI adoption of them as the open source definition
never made sense to me, nor to the public. The notion that an open source
developer cannot collect a fee for redistribution of their work doesn't fit
into the English definition of "open source" -- that is "free beer" source,
something which was important for Debian and the other package distros
but not for the developers.

Is it confusing that I call something open source that doesn't fit the
mantra of the OSI? Yes, but I am the one doing the work and I have been
doing it far longer than the OSI. It's not my fault they chose two common
words as a replacement for "free software" and then defined it as being
"free beer software". If anything, it is the FSF's fault for co-opting
the other common words "free software" to mean "liberated software".
Maybe if these folks would stop co-opting the English language in order
to service their own marketing agenda I'd have a bit more respect for the
ideals they associate with those terms.

Dave, you seem to be stuck on the notion that open source software means
either the marketing of OSI or the religion of the FSF. It has never
meant that. The FSF was founded by Richard Stallman and exists as an
entity to foster and promote his beliefs. The OSI was founded by a
few people mostly to give a central marketing point to what Eric Raymond
and Bruce Perens occasionally agreed upon as "good open source".
These people act as individuals -- at no time whatsoever were they selected
by the open source community (which itself is misnamed because actual
open source development consists of many separate communities with a
few overlapping members). Aside from the projects for which copyright
was specifically donated to the FSF, none of these people represent the
open source movement. They are simply the ones who, for whatever reasons,
actively market themselves and their ideas to the press in order to
portray them in the same way that commercial businesses actively market
their own ideas to the press.

So, in the future, if you feel compelled to bemoan the claims of the FSF
or the OSI, I'd really prefer that you mention them by name instead of
lumping it all into one category. A substantial number of open source
projects match neither the FSF goals nor the OSI definition, and most of
the projects don't care about either group. Most of the open source
projects consist of developers from both commercial and non-commercial
interests. Open source is not about giving away all your intellectual
property for free, even though most such projects don't charge people
for using the software. Open source is a barter economy of ideas and
knowledge in which the actual finished and released product is secondary
to the value obtained simply by participating in the community.

The Apache Software Foundation builds and supports virtual communities that
collaborate in order to produce and maintain software systems. Community.
Collaboration. Software. I suppose that I could start calling it open
collaborative software development instead of open source, but I'm far
too busy to waste that much time typing.


Roy T. Fielding, Chief Scientist, eBuilt, Inc.
                 2652 McGaw Avenue
                 Irvine, CA 92614-5840 fax:+1.949.609.0001
                 ( <>

                 Chairman, The Apache Software Foundation
                 ( <>

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