Subject: Re: "open source" -- new term for libre software
From: "Adam J. Richter" <>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 00:09:07 -0800

I have gotten email from Bruce Perens of Debian saying "here is the
definition rewritten for Open Source from the Debian document", with
a copy of the proposed "Open Source Definition."  It is basically
"The Debian Free Software Guidelines" with some name changes, but
actually has some new requirements in the section named "Source Code." 
Otherwise, the two documents appear to be the same.  Since I am unclear
whether the proposed Open Source Definition that I saw is a draft
or final version, I will refer to the Debian Free Software Guidelines
wherever both documents are the same.

Some software that could pass the Debian Free Software Guidelines does
not really qualify as free software, in my opinion.  For example,
the DFSG only requires that the software be freely redistributable
"as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing
programs from several different sources."  So, one can restrict
or even completely forbid the distribution of a particular software
component by itself.  In the age of CDROM and DVD, this may not seem
very important, but it can be significant for software that is
designed to occupy close to all of the storage medium and is only
useful that way, such as boot ROM's or game cartridges.

The set of software that passes the DFSG does not guarantee
the "stand on each other's shoulders" capability that a critereon
like "not more restrictive than the GPL" does.  That is, you do not
necessarily have the legal right to comingle any two works that pass
DFSG to produce a derivative work, since it is possible to have two
copying conditions that pass DFSG but that are mutually exclusive.
For example, DFSG allows a requirement that source code only be
distributed as the official version plus separate diffs.  It would be
illegal to distribute a derivative work combining two such programs,
or one such a program and, say, code from a GPL'ed compression library.

The restriction that source code be distributed as official
versions + diffs makes it difficult to replace the maintainer of
a program unwillingly.  Such software eventually loses its development
momentum.  For example, we would not have {Free,Open,Net}BSD today
if 386BSD had had such a restriction.

Interestingly, not all GPL'ed code passes the proposed Open Source
Definition, because the OSD adds a requirement that the source code
be available for free download.  I like this new requirement, by the
way, although I wish the proposed OSD did not use the term "the
internet", which will probably date it.

None of this makes DFSG or OSD bad, per se.  I think that just about any
copying conditions that pass OSD are altruistic.  However, passing OSD does
not necessarily mean that a piece of software has copying conditions
that make it part of this incredibly efficient free software paradigm
that has basically solved the software recycling problem.

So, I have no problem with encouraging developers to make their copying
conditions pass the DFSG or the version of the OSD that I saw, as long
as that encouragement is not considered to be in lieu of encouragement
for making the copying conditions free in the GNU sense.

Adam J. Richter     __     ______________   4880 Stevens Creek Blvd, Suite 205     \ /                  San Jose, California 95129-1034
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