Will Simon Phipps Energize OSI?

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 11, 2010

Former Sun chief open source officer Simon Phipps is joining the Open Source Initiative (OSI) board effective April 1st. Let's hope Phipps can shake the organization up a bit.

I'd hazard a guess that many newcomers to the open source community are partially or even wholly unaware of the OSI and what it's meant to do, because the OSI has not been a terribly dynamic organization over the past few years. The OSI is considered the steward of the Open Source Definition (OSD), and is the body that approves new open source licenses. But its influence has been considerably on the wane for some time now.

The last time OSI was called on to defend what open source means, some questioned whether the organization even had standing to weigh in. As Jon Corbet of LWN wrote in 2007:

OSI holds no trademarks which can be used to discourage unwanted uses of the "open source" term. In fact, the OSI has accomplished discouragingly little over the past several years. Nothing has been done to make the OSI a more community-oriented operation; the OSI board of directors elects itself and answers to nobody. About the only visible activities at the OSI are a multi-year process to try to reduce the number of approved licenses and the occasional approval of a new license. The OSI has not "gone wrong" - it has not started approving licenses that the community would disagree with. But it is widely seen as dormant and irrelevant to anything of interest that the community is doing.

OSI has been talking about being a more member-based organization for years upon years with little effect. This goes back at least as far as 2005, and the board has been making vague noises about becoming "member based," and struggling with definitions for membership, but failing to actually drive anything to completion. As OSI board member Ken Coar states on the OSI forums, the OSI has consisted "solely of its board of directors" which serve as a self-perpetuating body. The OSI Board chooses the members of the OSI Board, which even Coar admits is not "a terribly representative model."

But it seems Phipps, who is quick to defend OSI as "important and relevant", also sees that it's "time for change."

OSI needs to move from a "supreme court" model to a member-based model. I'd like to see activities promoting software freedom around the world both encouraged and represented by OSI — education, policy development and perhaps organisational support for open source projects. And if there was any way at all to be a more uniting force or have a scorecard — well, I can dream!

My goal as a Director will be to facilitate that change, a change that is already well under way following recent face-to-face discussions and the great work that Andrew Oliver and Danese Cooper have already put in. Expect to hear more on this subject as the year progresses.

It would be a wonderful thing indeed if OSI could move away from its "supreme court" model and become more active and more representative of the community it's supposed to represent.

The scorecard idea is one Phipps wrote about last year as a way to benchmark businesses as "open source." Instead of relying on a single item (using an open source license), companies would be scored on their governance practices, who controls copyright for projects, and so on. Then businesses would receive a rating rather than a binary declaration of being "open source" simply for using OSI-compliant licenses.

The scorecard might be a bit much to accomplish in the first year, but I sincerely hope that Phipps can do something to shake the OSI out of its somnambulance.