On January 31, the Open Source Initiative announced
expansion of its efforts and the appointment of Russ Nelson as its
president. Mr. Nelson was kind enough to answer a few questions from LWN
on the OSI and where he thinks it is headed. The questions, and his
answers, can be found below. We thank Russ for taking the time to fill us
LWN: So you're the new president of OSI. Why did you take on that role, and
where do you anticipate taking the OSI in the near future?
To Infinity ... and Beyond!
No, wait, that's Bruce Perens' line [Bruce worked for Pixar and is in
the Toy Story credits].
Never before in history have we had a time when one person of ordinary
intelligence can write a program which becomes used by half the
worldwide computer-using population. This creates so many problems
between countries that I really feel they have to be addressed with a
I think that the end goal is an international treaty concerning Open
Source. Just to take one tiny portion of that issue: today somebody
asked us for an "official Spanish version de license MIT". We can't
do that. I mean, we could translate it (or more properly find a
volunteer to translate it and publish it on opensource.org), but the
problem is that almost certainly the author of the MIT-licensed
software didn't give us permission to license his software under the
Spanish-language MIT license.
In many ways, the OSI appears to have fallen from view. Until this news
hit, the most recent item listed on the front page was dated October,
2001. The OSI gets called upon to put its stamp on a license
occasionally; what else does the OSI do now? Is it relevant to the free
software development process, and how?
When were we ever relevant to the free software development process?
We've always been an education/advocacy group. If you're already
convinced that open source is a good thing, what more would we say to
you? Really, the only time somebody inside the open source community
needs to be concerned with us is when they talk to someone outside the
community. If that person needs to be whupped around a little, send
'em to us and we'll give 'em what for.
We continue to do what we've always done: talk to people about open
source. Calm their fears, and renew their hopes.
The press release states that OSI will set out on "the establishment of
principles of Open Source development and best practices" and "the
creation of a registry of software projects that adhere to those
principles." What need is driving the creation of these principles and
the associated registry?
I believe that there is such a thing as an "Open Source effect". That
effect requires more than just a license that complies with the Open
Source Definition (OSD). We need to be more clear about that, because
we sometimes have people who come along and want to create a license
which complies with the letter of the OSD but not the spirit. The
trouble is that the benefits come with the spirit. We need to do a
better job of codifying the spirit.
When you talk about "inclusion of international perspectives and
initiatives related to Open Source," what do you mean?
Working towards the end goal (as above) and adding board members from
outside the US. We're starting to get some non-US, non-Europe (if you
look at the map of locations of Debian developers, there are a LOT of
them in Europe) countries that are signing on to open source in a BIG
way. Take Brazil for example. We need better representation in those
Why does the OSI need *two* legal counselors? What do they do?
Why does a computer need *two* power supplies? We felt that the job
had grown to the point that one sole-proprietor lawyer (Larry Rosen)
couldn't do the job anymore, and Larry's open source practice had
expanded. It's possible that one law-firm lawyer could have brought
in enough resources, but we wanted to share the work. In essence,
Mark is inward-facing and Laura is outward-facing. She has been on
the license-discuss mailing list for years now. She has also started
to help with legally-oriented correspondence. Mark will help us with,
among other things, registering the OSI-Certified mark, and with
overhauling our bylaws.
How will the new OSI board members be selected? In general, how is the
OSI kept accountable to the community it hopes to represent?
We are still a small, self-selecting board. We expect to change that
in some way, but the details are still in the air. Having a larger
board will take us in that direction no matter what.
How do you expect OSI to work with other free software-oriented groups,
such as OSDL and the FSF? Will there be more cooperation in the future?
CAGE MATCH!! BLOOD, GORE, AND DEATH! Er, um, sorry. We had a dinner
last summer with OSDL to talk about license proliferation issues. We
are on cordial relations with the FSF, AND EXPECT TO TAKE THEM OVER
SHORTLY! Sorry, I must apologize for all these capital letters. I
don't know where they're coming from. I'll be in Boston in a couple
of weeks for Linux World. I expect that I'll run into Bradley Kuhn
and HE'LL DIE we'll talk about further ways in which the OSI and FSF
could cooperate. I know of no reason why any animosities between us
cannot be overcome AND CRUSHED LIKE A BUG.
Is there anything else which you would like to communicate to LWN
Is this the point at which I add various mealy-mouthed corporate
I think it's great to be President of the OSI at this point in time.
We've had a strong president in Eric Raymond who took us from nothing
to a highly respected member of the open source community. As
corporations and governments come to be part of the community, we have
to double and redouble our educational and advocacy efforts. We need
to make sure that corporations know how to work with individual
developers, and that governments know how to set the rules so
everybody can work together. And we have to squash software patents,
but that's a different interview.
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