Opening Up the Open-Source List

Critics sound off on my list of open-source business influencers.

I put out a list of open-source business influencers recently, knowing full well that it would cause some controversy. Few lists can be all-encompassing, and somebody is bound to feel slighted. You receive an award and go to thank the folks who helped you along the way with your project and you're bound to leave somebody out.

Well, I put together a list of people who've had some influence over the process of putting open-source software into business. Right away, folks started expressing their displeasure about who was and was not on the list.

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The top name that people said should have been on the list was Richard Matthew Stallman, also known as RMS. Stallman is known for starting the whole free-software movement. However, the key words on this list are "open source" and "business." I didn't want to disrespect Stallman's views by adding his name to the list. There's no question that RMS' influence was integral to the movement that led to what many call open-source software, but it's just as clear that he wants no part of the term or the movement.

I've talked to colleagues who have interviewed Stallman, and they recount his open hostility to the term "open source."

In an interview from 2006 with a former colleague of mine, Stallman said: "We don't do open source. It's free software. I'm not in favor of open source. I have never, never ... open source is the name of a group, and we don't support that."

Further into the interview he added: "I've never been in favor of open source. I don't support them. I don't care. I don't want to do an interview that uses that term. It's a campaign that doesn't reflect our values. It's a question about freedom. They never said they wanted to campaign for freedom, so who knows what they'll do. I'm an advocate for free software, and it's not the same philosophy as open source. They adopted a variant of our criteria for free software; we didn't design the GPL to be an open-source license. I've never been in favor of open source because of the way people avoid talking about ethical and human aspects rights of software. People who don't want to think about those issues might do things that don't campaign for freedom."

Other folks were upset about the placement of the names on the list. It was not a ranking. There was really no prudent way for me to say one person was more important to the business of open-source software than another. The slide show is titled "15 Open-Source Business Influencers;" it's not called "top" influencers or "most" influential.

However, if you want to go there, one way of doing any type of quantifiable ranking would be to look at how much business folks have generated using open-source software-who has made the most money. With that as a criterion, former Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik deserves to be on the list. An oversight. A representative from IBM probably belongs on there, too (and there are many others you could say belong).

Others argue that Marc Fleury should not be on the list. He most certainly does (though he's not so thrilled his name appears a little further down on the list). He coined the term "professional open source" and was vocal and bodacious about his capitalist leanings. In addition, he made some serious coin for himself, his team and his investors.

That's business. There are all these conferences cropping up about the business aspects of open-source software: EclipseCon, the Open Source Business Conference and Linux/Open Source on Wall Street, to name a few. I just put together a list of folks who have had some influence in promoting the use of open-source software in the business world. I wasn't trying to step on any toes; my feet are too small for that.