Enterprise Unix Roundup: Changing of the Guard at OSI

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Feb 3, 2005


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A change in leadership at the OSI comes as a potential disconnect between community goals, and the letter of Sun's license comes into contrast. If you're looking for a versatile editor for your keychain distro or rescue floppy, e3 might fit the bill.

Michael Hall

Amy Newman

We've complained in the past about the tired old "Is Linux ready for the enterprise?" hook tech writers like to hang their stories on. Our pique hasn't stopped people from continuing to use it, so we're rethinking our snippiness about that particular question.

After all, one of the disorienting things about open source software for many is the distinct lack of a corporate headquarters with a big sign somewhere in the Valley. Open source organization has taken shape, with some notable exceptions, less as headquarters and offices, and more as assorted rallying points: mailing lists, open source projects, and Web sites.

One rallying point has long been the Open Source Initiative (OSI), which served as a home base of sorts for the very people who coined the term "open source." The founders included Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond, who this week stepped down from his post as president, saying little more than "One of the natural growth passages of a successful institution is outgrowing the need for its founders to be running things."

Launched in 1998, the OSI attempted to secure the rights to "open source" as a trademark, which would have given the organization some measure of veto power over attempts to dilute the phrase into the corporate feel-good buzzword du jour. Though it failed in that effort, it did establish the "OSI certified" mark, taking advantage of the authority it held with many open source enthusiasts to establish itself as an arbiter of what is and isn't truly "open source" through its Open Source Definition.

If an open source license can be certified as open source but the licensee not only manages to isolate itself from sharing anything with the likes of the Linux kernel project and reserves the right to sue its nearby neighbors, it doesn't bode well for the community credibility of the organization that blessed the license.

The fact that Sun saw the need to get the OSI's approval for its newest open source license ought to indicate a certain measure of success on the organization's part, six years down the road. But that success hasn't been without some problems, including assorted fallings out between founders Raymond and Perens, scuffles over the organization's authority, and what could be considered a fixation with Microsoft that's less about doing what the OSI does well, and more about killing Bill. Figuratively, of course.

But beyond that, there's also a question of whether there isn't some dissonance between licenses that literally fit the open source definition, and the actual license they grant companies to claim status as champions of open source.

No sooner had the press conference for Sun's OpenSolaris launch ended than doubts began to circulate among open source advocates about just how expansive its grant of rights to 1,600 Solaris-related patents has been. And one of the people who most adamantly refused to embrace open source as a rallying phrase, the Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman, stepped forward to cast doubt on whether Sun had announced anything at all:

Reading the announcement clearly, I think that it doesn't announce anything at all. It simply describes, in a different and grandiose way, the previously announced release of the Solaris source code as free software under Sun's idiosyncratic license, the CDDL. Outside Solaris, few or no free software packages use that license — and Sun has not said it won't sue us for implementing the same techniques in our own free software.

Stallman hit on a matter that could diminish the OSI's authority among free and open source software advocates: If an open source license can be certified as open source but the licensee not only manages to isolate itself from sharing anything with the likes of the Linux kernel project and reserves the right to sue its nearby neighbors, it doesn't bode well for the community credibility of the organization that blessed the license.

And what about Eric Raymond? Besides being an OSI "president emeritus," he hasn't made much of his plans for the future. We hear Sun's looking for some board members. Maybe they'll forget that whole Java thing.

In Other News

» Customer win for Red Hat this week: On Wednesday, it revealed the U.S. Department of Energy Labs will be deploying Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). RHEL installed in DoE National Laboratories and Technology Centers across the United States. That same day, Red Hat also announced the opening of a new government business unit.

» Unisys' ES7000 customers now have a new Linux option. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 is now certified on the Unisys ES7000 server line for both 32- and 64-bit configurations of four to 32 processors. This makes Unisys the only vendor with the certification for both architectures. Unisys is no stranger to offering Linux. Support for Red Hat Linux AS has been available on the ES7000 server line since August 2004.

Unisys also announced it has signed a multiyear agreement with JBoss for production-level support.

» Sun finally delivered on the grid utility computing offering that was much touted (and much ado about nothing) last year. The $1-per-hour-per-CPU option was rolled out at Sun's Network Computing '05 event in Santa Clara, Calif. Sun also announced its storage utility is available for rent $1 per GB per month as well as a number of software subscriptions.

» The Illinois-based Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) began shipping version 0.5.5 of its open-source BSD-licensed operating system software this week. The software turns old, inexpensive PCs into the backbone of a mesh network by simply burning it to a disc, then booting up the computer. Target audience includes from developing nations as well as full-fledged municipal WLANs.

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