New OSI President Steps Down

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-03-04

New OSI President Steps Down

The open-source world was caught by surprise this week when Russ Nelson, the newly elected president of the Open Source Initiative, resigned his office retroactively to Feb. 23.

The OSI (Open Source Initiative) is the body that approves open-source licenses. Nelson, a founding member of the nonprofit group and president of Crynwr Software, a high-end e-mail system design company based on open-source software, was named president on Feb. 1.

He took the place of Eric Raymond, a co-founder of the OSI, who had been president since the organizations founding.

In his Weblog, Nelson said, "Im resigning from the presidency of the Open Source Initiative, effective last Wednesday (2/23). I have waited to make this announcement because it is not easy to admit inadequacy publicly."

"I have no trouble telling people that I am a poor swimmer, but that is of no matter to me since I dont care about swimming. I care very much that OSI have a good president. I dont like politics, and its become evident in recent weeks that OSIs role has rapidly become much more political," Nelson wrote.

"I am not ready for the position of president; certainly not by training and perhaps not even by temperament. The entire board is unanimous in agreeing that we need a president with more political savvy than I," he continued.

Some members of the open-source community had wanted him out of the position because what of what has been described as "his racism and fringe economic theories (that) were endangering the mission of the OSI."

Click here to read more about the OSIs announcement that it would be led by Russ Nelson.

These people pointed at his economic comments and, in particular, his blog entry, titled "Blacks are Lazy," as examples of why Nelson could not serve as president.

Nelson subsequently sought to explain himself in an essay titled "Blacks are Not Lazy."

Raymond, now the OSIs president emeritus, said, "The people who called Russ a racist should be deeply ashamed of themselves. The rants against him were ugly and ignorant, ignoring what he actually wrote and substituting the ranters own preoccupations."

Larry Rosen, former general counsel for the OSI, agreed. "I dont believe that Russ is a racist. I think it was an unfortunate choice of words."

"The people who knew Russ as a Quaker, a pacifist and a gentleman, and no racist, but nevertheless pressured OSI to do the responsible thing and fire him in order to avoid political damage should be equally ashamed," Raymond said. "Abetting somebody elses witch hunt is no less disgusting than starting your own."

"Personally, I wanted to fight this on principle," Raymond said. "Russ resigned the presidency rather than get OSI into that fight, and the board quite properly respected his wishes in the matter. That sacrifice makes me angrier at the fools and thugs who pulled him down."

Next Page: The rumor mill grinds.

The rumor mill grinds

There have also been rumors that the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) was not comfortable working with the OSI with Nelson at its head.

In a recent interview, Stuart Cohen, OSDLs CEO, said, "Theyve [the OSI] got to act in a mature, professional, responsible way."

On Friday, Cohen said to, "Weve had several conversations with OSI about license proliferation. The idea was to get the users, vendors and development communities to get together to work on this problem and reduce the number of licenses."

"When Raymond stepped down and Russ came in, we had no problem with this," Cohen said. Then, "We found out about the contents [of Nelsons blog] and we found both the contents and that it was being written about all over Slashdot and various blogs discomforting." "A bunch of developers also asked us if we were aware of these developments. So, I sent notes to several of OSI board members and asked if they were aware of these issues. They said that they were and that they were dealing with it," said Cohen.

Nelson, before he resigned, wrote in an OSI discussion list, in connection with the controversy, that the "best way to calm a tempest in a teapot is to get rid of the teapot. No teapot, no tempest," indicating that he was considering resigning as early as Feb. 10.

To take his place, the OSI board has appointed Michael Tiemann, Red Hat Inc.s VP of open-source affairs, as interim president.

Tiemann had been OSIs VP immediately prior to his elevation to president.

One of the OSIs objectives when Nelson became president was to expand its board to nine members.

A Red Hat spokesperson said that Tiemanns "primary focus is to grow the board," rather than set new policies.

After this is done, the OSIs newly expanded board will select a full-term president.

It is only then that the group will focus its efforts on working with the community to evaluate the OSD licensing process.

Nelson will continue to serve on the OSIs board and licensing committee.

"OSIs mission is very important to me," Nelson said in a statement. "My hope is that the community can continue its focus on working together to advance the integration of open-source software into the wider society."

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