About a week ago I wrote a blog entry entitled “What is open source anyway?” which got some strong responses. I’d like to take a moment to clarify a few points in I made, and respond to some specific points. I suspect that most of the issues are primarily noise-on-the-line (or noise-in-the-writing) rather than genuine disagreements between me and those that have responded.
First off, I work for OSS Watch, which already has a position on what open source is:
Open source software is always software that has been released under a licence that has been certified by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).
I thought it was clear from the context that when I said “WIX is not a good fit with our Utopian view of open source” I was talking about the strawman definition of open source listed at the start of the blog entry. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough, maybe I was misusing this rhetorical device.
Rob Mensching of the WIX project wrote a healthy rebuttal which makes several key points:
1. That the non-applicative and emotionally loaded Utopian definition of open source with which I opened the post is completely unsuitable.
As pointed out by both my co-worker Ross and Rob, the OSI definition is the only widely accepted definition of open source for organisations such as my OSS Watch, Rob’s Microsoft, and indeed almost all organisations, excepting those whose purpose is to promulgate a particular view on software or licensing. I completely agree.
2. That I was unjust in singling out WIX as an example of open source which fit the Utopian definition of open source very poorly and when I did single out WIX my characterisation was unfair.
I picked WIX because of the close connection to Microsoft, and because Microsoft is commonly seen to be standing in opposition to open source, a notion I was trying to disabuse readers of. Maybe I could have been clearer on that point. I’ll admit that I was previously unaware of the two non-Microsoft contributors too WIX that Rob points out. I’m not sure of Rob’s employment conditions, but certainly under common employment conditions, any time that he writes code is company time unless negotiated otherwise, I know it is under my employment conditions, making all WIX his works “on company time.”
3. That it was unfair in saying that WIX does not support open standards because there are no open-standards in the software packaging world.
POSIX (also known as IEEE 1003 and ISO/IEC 9945) is a systems standard supported by Solaris, OpenVMS, some of the BSD family, AIX, UnixWare, some of the Microsoft Windows family (Windows NT, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, etc) and MacOS X.
Installers built on POSIX are called “shar files” and in theory install on all these systems. Just last week I installed StarSuite from Sun, there was a single download for “Linux” (or, more exactly, one for English marked Linux) it just worked, and was picked up by my Ubuntu menus just file. In the past I’ve used shar files which happily compile code from source and install it too (Standard ANSI C is included in POSIX). I’ll admit that it doesn’t give the polished look-and-feel that Microsoft Windows users may be used to. Predating GUIs, it’s a command line-driven approach.
The Linux family of operating systems is not technically compliant with POSIX, opting for the Linux Standards Base (LSB) compliance instead. LSB specifies a much wider range of behaviour than POSIX and appears to be on-track to become a strict superset of POSIX. Any LSB compliant system can install .rpm packages, provided the packages are built to be LSB compilant. Without diving into it, the StarSuiteshar file I installed may have assumed an LSB system as well as a POSIX system, I’m not sure.
In short, there are open standards which apply to installers across operating systems.
The point I was trying to convey with my initial post was the only really effective definition of open source is in terms of license, and the only standard we have for measuring licences (or the only standard I have, since I’m not a lawyer) is the list of OSI certified licenses. Maybe I should have said it more directly.