Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is Open a dirty word now ?

Open technologies gained a lot of momentum in the past couple of years, but what became of the term Open ? Does it still hold and mean the same values it did previously ? Were the purists speaking about differences between Open and Free right ?

If you're reading this blog you're probably aware that I'm fairly fond of FOSS, both as a concept and a business model. Undoubtedly, open technologies made huge inroads in various industries - servers in the IT industry, various OSes in the telecoms industry, etc. However, there is a disturbing tendency going on in the world of Open. Meaning that Open implies Free less and less. You might be surprised at this point - what ? How can you be Open and not Free ? Well, if you look at the 'classic' FOSS definition on Wikipedia, you'll see Open Source is defined as "An open source license is a copyright license for computer software that makes the source code available for everyone to use." - this is the type of open we all cherish and love. But let's take a look at who sports the Open sticker nowadays ? The 500lbs gorilla is of course the Open Handset Alliance, and the Android Open Source project. Despite the lot of "Open" in the names, in the open is not where development happens, and lately even the source availability became selective. Another infamous example is the Open Screen Project run by Adobe intended to bring Flash related technologies for everybody - but in fact being nothing more than another industry alliance to try and grab market share from competitors, Open Source and values not accounting for much. There are other organizations that also ride the Open moniker - let's take for example the Open Design Alliance - a nonprofit organization that focuses on development of CAD-related libraries... However, open here means pay for the binaries, and pay (a lot - 25K$) to see the sources, unless a board of members deems you worthy. Not the type of open libraries you were expecting, right ? That's where the problem lies - Open is more and more a sinonym for the "For Sale" sticker, and the term "Alliance" is becoming a marketing lingo equivalent of "Cartel". This problem was recognized fairly early on by OSI and hence the term OSI approved Open Source license, but if the term Open becomes diluted enough, will it even mean anything except for marketing purposes and a counter-term for "exclusive technology" ? Will the O in FOSS become meaningless ? To be honest, the term Open was used long before Free, before the software industry, and it meant "public", mostly in the context of standards. However, now even that, decades old meaning is losing it's value. Today's Open is far too open unrelated to Free or even Public.

What's the takeaway, you might ask ? Be careful of how you yourself use the term, and be vary of supporting any project or (especially big business) initiative just because it uses the word "open". Support the values, and projects that promote those values, not the names.

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