Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Open source movement

The Open Source movement is an offshoot of the free software movement that advocates open-source software as an alternative label for free software, and on pragmatic rather than philosophical grounds.

The movement was founded in 1998 by Hall, Augustin, Raymond, Perens, and others. They were dissatisfied with what they saw as the "confrontational attitude" of the free software movement, and favored advocating free software on the grounds of technical superiority (a claim previously made by Raymond in his essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar.) This was hoped to be a more persuasive argument for businesses.

The group adopted the Open Source Definition for open-source software, based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines. They also established the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as a steward organization for the movement. However, they were unsuccessful in their attempt to secure a trademark for "open source", to act as an imprimatur and to prevent misuse of the term.

The formation of the open source movement saw a large growth in the popularity of Linux and the formation of many "open source-friendly" companies. It also caught the attention of the software industry, leading to a few open source software offerings by established software companies such as Corel (Corel Linux), Sun Microsystems (StarOffice), and IBM (OpenAFS).

Relations with the Free Software Movement

Since its inception, the open source movement has been a matter of controversy within the hacker community.

Stallman, speaking for the Free Software Foundation (FSF), has criticized the motivation of the open source movement. According to him, the pragmatic focus of the movement distracts users from the freedoms offered by free software, blurring the distinction with semi-free or wholly proprietary software.

In practice, the operational definitions of free software and open-source software are the same. The lists of compliant licenses maintained by the FSF and OSI are nearly identical, differing only in corner cases such as the APSL. Adherents of the free software movement and open source movement typically have no difficulty cooperating on software projects.

Open source vs free software thus joins the list of philosophical (and generally harmless) divisions amongst hackers, alongside the editor wars and GNOME vs KDE.

Open Source Culture?

Some in the open source movement have claimed that open source principles can be applied to technical areas other than computer software, such as digital communication protocols and data storage formats or even open source hardware (for instance the Indian development simputer). Bolder claims extend open source ideas to entirely different fields, such as the dissemination of general knowledge.

Proponents of this view have hailed the Open CourseWare project at MIT, Thacker's article on "Open Source DNA", the "Open Source Cultural Database", openwebschool, and the Wikipedia as examples of applying open source outside the realm of computer software. Skeptics have pointed out that the sharing principle predates the open source movement; for example, the free sharing of information has been institutionalized in the scientific enterprise since at least the 19th century. The broader impacts of the open source movement, and the extent of its role in the development of new information sharing procedures, remains to be seen.