When someone new to open source does a web search for “open source licenses”, the first page that comes up1 is opensource.org/licenses – making it one of the most important resources for newcomers to open source.2
Despite that, until today, all that a newbie would get when going to that page was two links: one to the list of approved licenses alphabetically, and another by category. This is obviously not ideal – it provides the newcomer with information useful only to an expert, so they lose; and OSI misses an opportunity to educate and inform, so we lose.
Because of this, in the middle of last year I sent an email to license-discuss proposing a revision to the page, and followed up several times in the second half of the year. Yesterday, I took the revision live.
Here is what the revision does, in a nutshell:
- gives context: what is an open source license? what does OSI-approved mean? These give a newcomer to the list a fighting chance of figuring out what the lists mean.
- provides a less-overwhelming list of licenses: using the “popular, widely used, or have strong communities” list created by the 2006 Proliferation Report, it gives people pointers to several useful licenses immediately, while still providing access to the full lists.
- works with OSI’s other resources: The new page links to OSI’s excellent FAQ and the annotated Open Source Definition, among other things. Again, these provide context, and help the page serve as a gateway for others.
- is progress: OSI can be, and often should be, a very change-averse organization. But it is nice to score a small win here and there- I hope this will be the first of many while I chair the license committee.
And what it doesn’t do:
- change the world: I’m blogging about this because it’s significant. But I also want to be clear that it is only a small win, and hopefully one that in 2-3 years OSI will look back on and have a good chuckle about.
- change, update or revise the license categories: The original license proliferation committee license categories, from 2006, have been useful to many people, and were instrumental in slowing the pace of license proliferation. So they make sense to use as the (relatively neutral) basis for the list that is now prominent on /licenses/. But they’re showing their age- notably by including CDDL in “popular/widely used” but in other ways as well (primarily, by not categorizing a variety of new licenses). OSI’s licensing committee (aka the license-discuss list, with input from others) will be gradually investigating how to address this over the course of the next year or so. This process has already started, somewhat, with my calls for quantitative criteria for license analysis. I intend to continue to push the list (including hopefully new members!) to think through the issue and its implications.
If you’re interested in helping out with future changes, please join the list.
- other than an ad for opensource.com, interestingly [↩]
- Interesting research question/bleg: for a reasonably comprehensive set of important “open source + foo” terms, like collaboration, licensing, etc., where do search results point at? How many go to opensource.org? .com? other sites? Is there a tool that will do this sort of analysis automatically? [↩]