Robin: I am Robin Miller -- “Roblimo” on Slashdot -- and we are here today with Simon Phipps who is a honcho with the Open Source Initiative (OSI). So Simon, what is OSI up to these days?
Simon: Well, OSI has been running now for what 12,13,14, nearly 15 years. And in that time, it has actually done remarkably well. It has been able to establish OSI licenses as the way that most governments around the world decide that something actually is free and open source software. It has been able to establish the term open source as a desirable brand for businesses. It has been able to get inside the heads of developers all over the world as something that they want associated with their software. And having done all of those things, achieved all of those goals, OSI got a bit quiet. It really focused in on licenses that were no longer really the most important thing in free software. And over the last three years, the board of directors has been trying to work out how to fix that. How to make OSI something that deserves to continue to live. Because it has to. It is mentioned in the procurement rules of governments all around the world, that the list of licenses that OSI maintains is the gold standard for free and open source licensing that is referenced by all sorts of entities the biggest and most evil corporations would like to capture and be able to gain. So we can’t let OSI die. But on the other hand, it has been looking a lot like it already did for quite a long time.
Robin: I see this as being important, it is still you have to be on open source for it. You need an OSI approved license right?
Simon: Absolutely. So we can’t really let the organization that defines what an OSI approved license means fall out of maintenance. Fall into the hands of people who are paid by corporations to make sure that nothing bad happens. And to make sure that maybe there is an extra clause in the open source definition that means that open core for open source is okay. It doesn’t get inserted. We don’t let any of that stuff happen. To stop that stuff from happening, we need to make sure that OSI stays alive, stays relevant, people want to stay involved in it. So over the last three years, that is what we’ve been doing. We have been trying to work out, how could we make sure that OSI is something that people want to continue to exist.
Robin: Well I thought everybody did want it to continue to exist. Don’t you still have patrons or corporate sponsors?
Simon: It has been thin on the ground for a long time.
Simon: Yeah, it has. Really, OSI for quite a long time has been a group of very devoted individuals a group of ten or eleven very devoted individuals who make up the board, and a very small amount of funding coming in from a variety of corporations. So when I was in Sun Microsystems, we used to be a patron. And there are a couple of other corporations that continue to make anonymous donations but really there isn’t a lot of money coming in. There aren’t a lot of corporate patrons. But that all changed last year when we started the membership program to switch OSI from being a board organization only to being a member organization.
Robin: So what you are telling me is that anybody who is reading this, anybody who is seeing this on Slashdot can join and support OSI now.
Simon: Absolutely. We turned the switch on last summer to allow individuals to become members of OSI, and you can go to opensource.org/join and sign up as an OSI member right now.
Robin: And how much does that cost?
Simon: It costs forty bucks at the moment, 40 US dollars. At the moment, that is a straight donation to help us get our act together. Over 2013, we will be putting programs in place that deliver member benefits that hopefully will get somebody in place to make sure those benefits get delivered and to facilitate the work of things like license approval, advocacy, of making sure open source continues to meanwhat everyone in the world thinks it ought to mean.
Robin: I can’t object to that. I am not wearing one of my two Open Source Initiative t-shirts today. I am sporting a plain grey one.
Simon: Actually I am. I have my OSI t-shirt on today. The kind of stuff that we are doing, we are making sure that we are still approving licenses.
Simon: We have kind of reduced the number of licenses that are getting approved because over the last few years, we introduced an extra rule that said licenses that are proposed for approval shouldn’t duplicate existing licenses, and that has made the number of licenses approved tail right down. Then we’ve also got a group who are doing FLOSS Competence Centers around the world. So there is a network of free and open source competence centers around the world.
Robin: I don’t know anything. I don’t know about that. Tell me about those.
Simon: So in a variety of places, in universities, in some European countries, like government sponsored there are groups of people who spend their time making sure they know what an open source project looks like. What good governance is. How to contribute. How to use Github. How to make sure you structure your code for collaboration. And they take those skills and they help businesses and governments, the good open source citizens. And there is a network of these organizations all around the world that provide the skills that particularly governments and educational establishments need to do open source properly. And we host a network of those FLOSS competence centers.
Robin: Do I find that from the opensource.org site?
Simon: Yes. On the opensource.org site there is an education subcommittee and FLOSS CC, the FLOSS competence centers are part of that.
Robin: Okay. We will put in a link to that in the text accompanying this video so people can find it.
Simon: So we are doing those things. We do spend some time also making sure that the voice of open source is heard when things are about to happen in politics in various countries. So we have been speaking up against the SOPA and PIPA bills in the US. We have been speaking up against ACTA the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement in Europe. We’ve also been intervening with the antitrust authorities over software patent acquisitions. We intervened over the acquisition of Novell’s patent portfolio by a group of corporations around about 18 months ago. So we do those sorts of targeted activities. And then on top of those things, we are trying now to put together direct member programs; so we are building this new scheme at the moment to allow members to directly engage around the world with OSI’s resources and backing.
Robin: And so I can say when I email I won’t say the names of my Florida senators, one is a good guy, one’s not so good, if I email them I can say, “and the OSI believes”
Simon: So to be able to do that, what you would do in the scheme that we will be launching a bit later this year, you would get a group of friends who understand the issue together and you’d make a proposal to the board to form a working group. And once you’ve had that working group chartered you will be able to speak in OSI’s name, spend OSI’s money, use OSI’s resources to achieve the objectives you put in the charter for a limited period up until the date you told us you didn’t need that authority anymore.
Robin: Okay. So you are going more grassroots you are telling me.
Simon: Absolutely. So we’ve created three member categories over the last year. The one we started first which was last spring northern hemisphere time, was the affiliates category. And we had organizations like Debian, Mozilla, Creative Commons and Wikimedia all join as affiliates. Then in the summer, northern hemisphere time, we started an individual member scheme that allows individual open source activists and supporters like you and me to join as individuals. And just in the last few weeks, we have been putting the finishing touches to a corporate membership scheme to allow corporations basically to provide money to help those first two categories do open source advocacy work around the world.
Robin: Well, is this something that is let’s say cost effective or inexpensive enough for my friend Frank with his little Linux Penguin consultants business in Fort Myers, Florida? Will Frank be able to afford to join as a company?
Simon: That is certainly the goal. The goal is to have a tiered dues structure. That means that regardless of the size of your business, you will be able to afford to join in a cost effective way. If you are an organization like a big multinational corporation, that is going to be maybe as much as a six-figure sum of money, and if you are a mom and pop corner computer grocer, that is going to be a three figure sum of money.
Robin: I don’t think mom works in his company. It’s just pop. But they are out there.
Simon: Honestly, he is probably better off being an individual member, because the corporate member scheme is more about corporations giving their support to the movement. And the people who actually have an influence on the world will be the individual and the affiliate members. Because the affiliates are the open source makers like Debian or like Mozilla and the open source deployers like Wikimedia, like Creative Commons. Those are the organizations that I think will be in the working groups, making cool stuff happen.
Robin: Okay, and it sounds great. It is obviously a long way since it was Eric Raymond, Larry Augustin and a few other people, coming up with this idea of open source.
Simon: Well all those folks, many of those folks are still on the board mailing lists, still guiding what’s going on. We’ve got a great big cloud of wisdom around the board, so we are not on our own thinking about these things; so the roots go all the way back. But I’d say OSI has evolved a lot since the days of the meetings in 1998 that made the whole thing happen.
Robin: Yes. So let me ask something about Simon. What do you do yourself besides OSI? Tell me about you.
Simon: What do I do? Well, one way of putting it is that I am an independent consultant which of course is another word for unemployed. What I do with most of my time is volunteer for a group of nonprofits, for OSI, I am also on the board of the Open Rights Group here in the UK which is the UK’s answer to EFF. And I also support organizations like Open Source for America where I am on the advisory board. I then try and keep the wolf from the door by writing articles for IDG, I have a column in Infoworld every Friday called Open Sources, and I have a column in ComputerWorld UK which doesn’t really have a name apart from ‘Simon Says’ where I write about anything. And then I do conference speaking. And occasionally, there are organizations that want me to come and consult for them. So I do consulting on open source policy and practice and helping you either as a community to make sure that your corporate side is well adjusted and deployed or as a corporation make sure that your community side is well adjusted and deployed.
Robin: So as a direct plug, I could say, "I’ve known this guy for many years, and if you need somebody to help your company make sure that your open source governance is correct, and you are doing the right thing, you cannot beat Simon Phipps." Can I say that?
Simon: I would very much welcome you saying that actually. That would be great if you could. Thanks, Rob.
Robin: I am not going to say he is the only person about whom we could say that, but he is definitely one of the staunch people, and we’ve known each other for what 15 years I think something like that
Simon: Many many years.
Robin: A long time, and in that open source context back when it was free software before open source.
Simon: Well, you know, I was chatting with someone about this history the other day, a lot of people forget that in parallel with the free software whatever happened, there were also the first startups happening with this free software down the BSD family of things.
Simon: People often forget that there were two parallel threads that really OSI tied those threads together in many ways. Rather than it being an 'us and them' sort of thing, it was always like OSI was the pragmatic wing of the free software movement rather than as a separate competing entity.