This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.
Richard Stallman is the man I admire most in the free software world. Nobody else has so clearly articulated, so beautifully argued for the freedom to change your own software and the freedom to share it. I’m absolutely convinced it is free source, not “open” source, which is at the heart of the innovation that will carry free software to ubiquity. Developers are inspired and motivated to climb in and make Gnome or KDE better *because* they have the right to do so, and they know their work will form part of something big and beautiful.
But my voice is only one of many, and I recognise in this world that there are lots of reasonable, rational positions which are different but still, for some people, appropriate. Thus I think it’s normal that we have the BSD-style licences as well as the GPL family of licences, and it’s also normal that there be a few licences in the mix from companies like Microsoft – witness their “Shared Source” initiative.
The result of those reasonable-but-slightly-different positions has been a plethora of licences, most of which fall into a few broad categories, and a few of which are… thpethial. The diversity of them adds nothing to our cause. If anything it makes it harder to build cohesion in our world, and harder to reap the benefits of both collaboration and competition. There are two major desktop environments in Linux partly *because* of these differences.
So what can be done? Well, I turn for inspiration to the work of the Creative Commons. They’ve seen this problem coming a long way off, and realised that it is better to create a clear “licence space” which covers the various permutations and combinations that will come to exist anyway. Hence we have the various options of the CC licences, which allow organisations to specify their INTENT using a few, high level ideas. And as far as I can see we have neatly sidestepped the potential fragmentation or balkanisation of the open content licence space.
By being willing to represent the whole movement, and not just one square on the board, the Creative Commons has saved us from a very messy death by a thousand paper cuts. It is reasonable for me to dream of whole swathes of compatibly licenced educational content, from hundreds of different owners, being combined to create new works of breathtaking scale.
Here’s the hard edge. The OSI needs to decide if it wants to continue to be a driver of fragmentation, or if it wants to lead towards unification and integration. The FSF, much as I am happy to wave their flag, will always remain aligned with a single-minded set of values, and that’s the right place for them to be. They are not an appropriate forum for talk of the whole movement. OSI, on the other hand, while they have much to earn back in the way of credibility with the free software camp, might just be able to pull this off.