One More License Down, Fifty More to Go

Opinion: Sun killed off its unnecessary open-source license. Now will others please join them?

A few months back, the Open Source Initiative announced that it was going to start cutting back on the number of open-source licenses.

OK, I agree. Boy, do I agree. So when do we start tossing out these losers?

Back in April, the OSI recognized that "License proliferation has become a significant barrier to open-source deployment."

You can say that again. Im sure there are some IP (intellectual property) lawyers out there who are also open-source programmers.

Somehow, though, I dont think that all six of them are capable of keeping Linux, Apache, OpenSolaris, Mozilla and JBoss up to date all by themselves.

The OSI really, really needs to get on with the work of deprecating useless open-source licenses.

Its a good first step that companies are finally realizing that theres no point in keeping around vanity open-source licenses. So theyre killing them off.

Intel did it when it deep-sixed the Intel Open Source License, (aka BSD License with Export Notice).

And, much more recently, Sun did us all a favor by putting a stake in the heart of SISSL Sun Industry Standard Source License.

Unlike Intels license, which was little used, SISSL was actually an important license. It was one of the two licenses which covered the popular office suite.

Are you listening Computer Associates, IBM, Lucent and Nokia?

Still, even if these, and all the other companies with vanity licenses, killed their licenses off, were still left with several dozen licenses.

At least one organization, the Jabber Software Foundation, the people behind the popular Jabber, aka XMPP Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol IM (instant messaging), standard has asked that its Jabber Open Software License no longer be recommended for use.

Bless them.

At most, I think we need half-a-dozen licenses. My list, not that anyone is likely to give a whoop, is GPL, LGPL, BSD, MIT and Mozilla.

If pressed, Id allow Mozilla license variants like Suns CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License). I may not like the CDDL because it is incompatible with the GPL, but Im willing to put up with it.

But the rest? Give me a break.

And, OSI, would you help me get that break by getting on with combing through these licenses?

Yes, there was some turmoil over the OSI president who resigned his office, but that was six months ago.

Then, CA (Computer Associates) came up with its own Template License plan for open-source licenses. Thankfully, since I think that was a wrong-headed approach, the Template License plan seems to have gone nowhere.

That, was about five months ago.

So, not to be crass, but what has the OSI done for us lately?

I could understand not actually killing licenses yet. People do tend to get upset at that kind of thing.

But, back in April, the OSI folks were talking about "a public-comment process to include community stakeholders in grading licenses" and having "a series of public discussions on specific issues in the construction of licenses."

OK, there have been a few public OSI meetings. Well, at least one that I know of was supposed to happen at OSCon in early August.

I havent heard a squeak about the meeting so Im not even sure if anyone actually showed up.

The OSI has set up a license proliferation committee to work on these issues, but progress has been, well, slow.

For the good of all of us who care about open source, and the licensing which both enables it to exist, but has been crippling it lately, I really, really hope that we can start seeing some real progress.


Please? Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at


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