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Open source group to streamline licenses

Group promises to streamline open source licenses over time. More than 50 open source licenses are available to developers -- and some say that's too many.

Place too much luggage on a plane and it won't fly. File too many people into an elevator and it might not go up. But if an organization that grants open source software licenses gives out too many approvals, will quality suffer?

Open Source Initiative president Eric Raymond said in the future there will be fewer licenses, but one industry analyst believes licenses help organizations optimize their open source goals.

We are working on some way to use existing licenses instead of writing new ones, and this will require OSI to rework things internally.
Eric Raymond,
presidentOpen Source Initiative

Currently, OSI, a nonprofit consortium that administers open source licenses, has approved more than 50 under which developers can release their code.

According to the OSI Web site, the group provides a standard for the open source community so that developers can be sure their software conforms to the true definition of open source.

Raymond said his organization is aware of the growing number of licenses, and it will take some work within OSI to address the problem.

"There are really too many licenses … we are working on some way to use existing licenses instead of writing new ones, and this will require OSI to rework things internally," Raymond said.

At this time, Raymond could not give a timetable for when the specifics of the internal changes would be available.

He said OSI has been aware of the potential problem for a "couple of years," but things are not that serious right now. It's not a problem because fewer than half a dozen of the licenses are of any real significance for developers.

Raymond said the bigger issue now is that developers are not sure of software rights, and that the licenses currently available have become confusing.

"For a couple of years, we were not too restrictive of what was accepted because the open source community was still in the exploratory phase," Raymond said.

But now is the time to be a "bit more careful," he added, because some of the approved licenses and those coming in for approval are beginning to become very duplicative of one another.

Dan Kusnetzky, a vice president of system software at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., offered a different opinion on how a larger number of licenses would affect developers.


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"While it is somewhat confusing, who is to say that a certain number of open source licenses is too much?" Kusnetzky said. "Each license makes source code available, making it possible for organizations to see how a software product works."

Those organizations would then have, in many cases, the opportunity to modify the source to better match their own requirements, he said. They would also be able to see how a product will work so they can optimize how they will use it themselves.

Kusnetzky offered a word of caution to those same organizations, however, saying that they should carefully review the restrictions before making a specific open source product a part of their day-to-day operations.

"Some licenses grant the organization a great deal of freedom, others are very restrictive," he said.

With OSI still undecided on how it's going to proceed, it would appear as though the licensing debate will continue into the months ahead.

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