September 2007

In his book Foresight and Understanding: An Inquiry into the Aims of Science (ISBN 0-313-23345-4), Stephen Toulmin wrote "Definitions are like belts. The shorter they are, the more elastic they need to be. A short belt reveals nothing about its wearer: by stretching, it can be made to fit almost anybody."

Keep in mind the nature of elasticity while reading through this issue of the OSBR. The theme this month is "Defining Open Source"; however, you'll find that the articles build upon and extend both the Open Source Definition or OSD and the Free Software Definition. This stretching in order to fit almost anybody is bound to make the open source purist uncomfortable; it is our intent to provoke thought and we look forward to receiving and publishing reader feedback.

Russ Nelson of the Open Source Initiative provides a historical perspective on the creation of the OSD and some hints towards its future direction. Tony Bailetti and Peter Hoddinott take a more radical yet practical approach on the meaning of "open" and "source" and how "open source" differs from "open code". Patrick McNamara of the Open Hardware Foundation provides a compelling comparison of how "open source" as it applies to software can also be applied to hardware. Monica Mora provides insight into the Open Education Resources movement which is applying open source software methodology to the collaborative creation and distribution of knowledge content. Finally, no discussion on open source can be considered complete without some insight into the communities which create open source assets. Nelson Ko provides tips for business to benefit from interacting with open source communities while avoiding culture clash.As a business person you may be thinking "why should I care about the semantics of a definition or what the term "open source" is being applied to? Let the open source people fight it out amongst themselves while I concentrate on the business of making money." That would be good advice if the following was not true: what is commonly thought of as open source left the realm of the philosopher and the hobbyist programmer several years ago.

Further, movements which are largely still being defined are gaining momentum and are changing the rules of economics for government, academia, and the enterprise. The astute within the open source and business communities already recognize this and are positioning themselves to benefit from the new definitions. The better question to ask yourself is "once the new paradigm has been established, will my organization emerge as passive observer or as active participant?"

Dru Lavigne,


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