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OSI set to expand open source mission

Defender of the faith on new crusade

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The Open Source Initiative (OSI), defender of the open-source faith, will soon expand its reach, embracing representatives from other open-source groups and the world of business.

The OSI is planning an affiliate scheme, and this will include the Linux Foundation, among others. The affiliate scheme will be finalized and start accepting new members by the time of the O'Reilly Open-Source Convention (OSCON) in late July, the OSI has said.

The organization will begin accepting "for profit" affiliates – a term that covers commercial companies – in time for the Open World Forum in October. A corporate advisory board that allows corporations to join is planned for the end of 2011

OSI also hopes to offer an affiliate program for individuals too. And working groups are on the roadmap, set to arrive in the third quarter of 2011. The plan was outlined at this week's Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in San Francisco, California.

If all goes according to plan, the OSI's workload and staffing needs will expand with the new program, meaning that for the first time, the group will start charging members a subscription in order to fund itself.

The OSI will also create a new board that wil function much like the board of the Apache Software Foundation, overseeing particular open source projects.

In its current form, the OSI is operated by a board of 11 individuals. The group is best known for its work approving licenses for use open-source software.

The group was created 13-years ago by open-source high priests Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens. It was designed to be a steward of open source, a general education and advocacy group. Committed libertarian Eric Raymond laid the foundation the community development model with his 1997 paper The Cathedral and the Bazaar, while Perens authored the original draft of the Open Source Definition.

The group sprang up in the late 1990s, as Linux came to the attention of those outside the core hacker world. Netscape had tapped Raymond to figure out how to open source its browser after it had been comprehensively beaten by Microsoft's Internet Explorer. In 1998, Netscape released its code and created the Mozilla Project.

Speaking at OSBC this week, OSI director Simon Phipps said that the first part of the OSI's mission has been realized, that open-source is now global and dominant. Now, it's time for more sustained advocacy.

"The biggest risk is dilution of the concept by people who don't embrace the ideals behind it," he said. "Open source needs that building of bridges function done more strongly and assertively."

Speaking to The Reg, Phipps said that with links into other groups and participation from a broader number of open-source constituents, the OSI could act as more of a spokesperson on behalf of open source and a point of contact for government agencies like the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ), which may not know who to contact when dealing with issues like regulation and competition.

What happens once the changes are made is unclear. It sounds like the plan is to bring in more people and then see what they'd like to do with the OSI. They might set up specific working groups or lobby in particular areas.

The OSI tried to evolve in 2009, but the affiliate project was killed last year when those involved couldn't agree on new ideas. Apparently, this is one reason why the OSI is bringing on organizations first and individuals later. Organizations may have a better feel for what's needed from the new OSI.

"The first question is to bring stake holders together and change the OSI's role if they want to," Phipps told us. "The OSI's role might change depending on what the new stake holders do." ®

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