compatibility and the OSD

Ian Lance Taylor ian at
Thu Sep 23 23:52:16 UTC 2004

Bob Scheifler <Bob.Scheifler at Sun.COM> writes:

> Thanks, but such responses miss my purpose (which I may well have
> stated badly). I wasn't looking for individual opinions about
> what open source is or isn't, or personal restatements of what
> the OSD intends to say. I wanted to understand the factual/logic
> arguments, based on what the OSD actually says, or failing that
> how it is officially interpreted. You may well think me misguided,
> but for me it's valuable information. Not that the other arguments
> aren't also useful, but for my needs they don't suffice.

The OSD is, obviously, not a computer program or a technical
specification.  It's intended to be a statement which is as precise as
possible in plain English about what open source software is.  But the
OSD is not itself the definition of open source software.  The
definition of open source software, insofar as it has a definition at
all, is software which uses one of the approved open source licenses.
And which licenses are open source is determined by a vote of the
board of the OSI.

If somebody crafts a license which complies with the OSD but which
does not appear to be open source in the view of the majority of the
board members, then the likely result is not that the license will be
approved, but that the OSD will be modified to exclude the license.

In short, while it would be nice to think that one can discount
individual opinions and focus on the text of the OSD, in fact one can
not.  If you want to understand what open source is, it is actually
more useful to try to grasp people's sense of what it is, than it is
to try to parse the OSD.  That is, "I know it when I see it."

I understand that this probably does not suit your purposes
particularly well.  I apologize for the complexities of the real

I do agree with Rick that the best way to find out whether a license
is open source is to post that license here and see what people say.
Or if you want to avoid the potential for public embarassment, I would
expect that you can find individual members of this mailing list who
would be willing to give you their personal opinions privately.


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