Is "Open Source" Now Completely Meaningless?

Nat is building the OSCON schedule, and asks: Is “Open Source” Now Completely Meaningless? From the post:

I’ve found some very strange companies claiming to be open source.

Can you really call yourself open source if you haven’t opened the source? I don’t think so. There’s a flood of “open source” companies selling things that work on open source but which aren’t open source themselves. I think these are proprietary products, not open source. That’s been the attitude that helped me select talks for OSCON–I only want open source products talked about. My rule of thumb is that the audience should be able to download, compile, and use the software that is talked about.

He then goes into what are definitely some edge boundary cases, of which EnterpriseDB is a good example. I agree with his conclusion that in the end EnterpriseDB and companies like that are good for Open Source and should be included in an event like OSCON. A lot of it comes down to intent. You see, being “Open Source” is the in thing right now. That means some companies are using Open Source as a dumping ground. Donating old code is fine, if there is some real value and a chance that a legitimate project might thrive around the code. Donating old code because it is completely useless and you just want to get into this Open Source thing, that’s not. It’s easy to tell the difference. At this point, we even have some companies simply lying or using the words Open Source arbitrarily. Open Source means slightly different things to different people to be sure, but twisting the definition way out of whack to suit you is not something you should do. You end up with situations like this. Now intent is something that is hard to ascertain in some situations, but I can’t think of a better yardstick. You’ll always have the idealists who think something is or isn’t acceptable vs. the pragmatists. Free Software vs. Open Source isn’t going away soon. We’re all in the same larger camp though, and intent is one of the few things I can see us all agreeing on.

–jeremy

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