Open Source Debate
Last month we published an article by Eric Raymond on Netscape's decision to release the source code for their web browser. A lot has happened since Eric's article, and that lot is what I wish to talk about this month.
As part of Eric's article, he introduced a new phrase for talking about software such as Netscape Navigator as well as other software where the source code is freely available. The phrase is Open Source.
The idea for a new name and the choice of that name has been an ongoing debate and, at this writing, continues. The confusion is associated with the term Free Software. Free has many different meanings. In particular, free can refer to price or to freedom. While freedom is the issue that we are attempting to address, there has continued to be confusion.
Rather than attempting to define what we mean by free, the introduction of a new term seemed in order. With the new term comes the opportunity to define it.
Bruce Perens (of Software in the Public Interest) and I decided that a web site with a repository of information on Open Source was the best approach. That web site is at http://www.opensource.org/ and includes the definition of Open Source and extensive resources to get others on the Open Source bandwagon.
By the time you read this magazine, the source code for Netscape Communicator 5.0 Standard Edition should be available. Netscape announced they would release this code on March 31, 1998.
Netscape released a preliminary version of their license agreement (Netscape Public License) for public comment. That comment period ran through March 11.
Netscape put the proposed license on the Web along with a FAQ and annotations. The ongoing saga of this license is available on the Web at http://www.mozilla.org/. I'm not a lawyer but what I see of the license makes sense. It isn't a GPL and it isn't a BSD license, but that is because neither makes sense for Netscape.
One thing in the license I found interesting is they have elected to keep the name Netscape for branded products and allow the use of Mozilla for derived works. This makes sense to me. When I was talking to Eric Raymond before he met with Netscape, I brought up the concern that a bad port or modification of a Netscape product could reflect poorly on all Netscape products. The decision to use a different name offers the needed freedom, yet allows the consumer to differentiate between a Netscape product and a derived product.
Netscape is not the only commercial vendor in the Open Source camp; there are others.
One hardware vendor who got into this camp before it even existed is Cyclades. Cyclades was the first communications board manufacturer to embrace Linux. They have always made the source code available for their drivers and their sales growth in the Linux and BSD markets has supported their decision to release source code for their drivers.
Another long-term vendor in this community is Cygnus Solutions. They offer commercial support for open source software and continue to grow and evolve with the community.
Of course, all the Linux vendors are there by default as well as the Apache web server and the Perl programming language. Vendors who elect to get involved with these products become part of the Open source vendor base.
I have already mentioned the Open Source and Mozilla web sites. As always, we put late-breaking Linux news up on the Linux Resources web site, http://www.linuxresources.com/.