An explanation of the difficulty of solving license proliferation in one sentence

Rick Moen rick at
Mon Mar 14 19:01:33 UTC 2005

Quoting Forrest J. Cavalier III (mibsoft at

> My original point is that I trust OSI to "act for the benefit of open
> source" by certifying licenses.  I do not trust it with any other
> task or advocacy.  Here's why....

There's at least one other task that's quite crucial, and discussing it
can quite handily serves as a means of wrestling this mailing list back
from its recent everyone-gets-to-veto-his-personal-OSI-pet-peeve trend,
to the present topic of licence proliferation:  I refer to serving as a
primary information source on the nature and utility of open source.

It's worthwhile, occasionally, attempting to see the site, especially
its front page, with fresh eyes -- as if you were new to the subject.
I'll attempt to do that, below.

> To be sure, the individual volunteers behind OSI have success with
> advocacy and influence, but those successes are outside OSI.
> The face that puts on open source is childish.  The
> website design is adequate, the content is not. 

Looking at the Web site, one most prominently finds the
OSD, the (extremely long, alphabetical) list of approved licences,
information on the certification mark, "software products" testimonials,
and a set of news items.  The sub-page about "O.S. for Customers,
Business, and Programmers" is somewhat buried among other things in the
main navbar:  Suggestion to Steve Mallett:  That is unfortunate, and it
would be really nice if the three main "Case for Open Source" essays
linked from the subpage got _much_
more emphasis on the front page:  I personally think they're some of the
most effective parts of the site.  They should be made very easy and
quick to find, and prominent.

The linked "Open Source Licenses" page is, I think, quite intimately
linked to OSI's current headache of gratuitous licence submissions
(i.e., licences that exist for reasons of corporate vanity without
bringing anything substantively new to the table):  It gives little
guidance in licence selection, and through error of omission creates to
some degree that OSI's task in life is to give branding approval to 
all OSD-conformant submissions, however pointless and frivolous.

Since busy people will tend to skim-read the top-line, navbar, and
top-left text of pages and eschew long explanations, if OSI wishes to 
encourage use of major licences absent arrival of licence sporting
signficant improvements -- as seems to be the case -- then it should
make that point prominently and briefly.  

The top left of that page, instead of highlighting a licence list
resembling the tenant directory in a skyscraper lobby, might well be
headlined with brief recommendations, and a link to rationales and
further details.

> The Halloween documents posted at OSI are unprofessional and never
> belonged there.  Now that ESR is off the board, maybe they will come
> down and show up on his personal website where they belong.

Fortunately, notwithstanding the distressing example of a Board member
suffering a public badmouthing campaign (largely by anonymous
semi-literates) over one of his personal essays elsewhere, OSI is not
yet a peeve-ocracy -- and Eric Raymond _remains_ on the Board, where he
belongs.  Eric is, among other things, co-author with Catherine Olanich
Raymond of the recent "Licensing HOWTO", one of the best things to come
out of OSI in eight years.

I'll note in passing that your term, "unprofessional", is yet another of
those lovely weasel-words that people chiefly use to undermine whatever
is on one's personal peeve list, without the vexing and tiring
requirement to actually substantiate one's views.  And I think we need
not waste further time on it.

> I'm wary that OSI should attempt anything except approve licenses
> according to the existing OSD.

By a probably deeply meaningless coincidence, I'm _wary_ of this exact
viewpoint, which strikes me as having created the problem we're
allegedly discussing.

Except you aren't discussing it, apparently because licence
proliferation is fine by you.  Noted; duly disregarded.

Rick Moen                                    Frater Magnus vos spectat.
rick at

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