Response - Do We Need To Redefine Open?

Posted by Dave on 24 August 2014

Tom Hollingsworth wrote a great post on whether or not we need to redefine "Open". My response was too long for a comment, so here it is!

Open Source vs Free Software

The first item is just a point of clarification. While the terms "Open Source" and "Free Software" are often used interchangeably there is a difference.

The two terms describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.

  • Richard Stallman

You can read the full article here but the TL;DR version is that while a high percentage of Open Source software is Free Software, the definition of Open Source is less strict about guaranteeing freedoms.

...with that out of the way, let's move to "open"

On "open" and "openness"

I like the Wikipedia description of "openness":

Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and free unrestricted access to knowledge and information as well as collaborative or cooperative management and decision making rather than a central authority.

It highlights some key terms which our "open" things should be adhering to:

  • Free and Unrestricted Access to Information
  • Transparency
  • Collaborative and/or Cooperative decision making

Aside from the Free Software Foundation, we have the Open Source Initiative, Creative Commons and Open Source Hardware Association that all either create or endorse licenses under which "open" things can be published.

These licenses set expectations on how things can be used including IPR and the right to modify and re-distribute.

I therefore think that "open" is already very well defined and it is a real travesty to see people using it wrong.

The "open" check list

If the answer to any of the the questions is "no", the entity in question is not "open":

  • Are design decisions made by a collaborative/cooperative body and is the decision making process transparent? (if applicable)
    • Calls/Meetings open to the public?
    • Minutes posted in the public domain?
  • Is the entity...
    • For Software, available under an Open Source license?
    • For Creative Works, published under a Creative Commons license?
    • For Standards, in the public domain with royalty-free permissions granted to implementors?
    • For Hardware, Open Source Hardware approved or generally following the principles of "openness"?


My definition of "open" may be a little stricter than some, but I am somewhat of an idealist. Let's stop any pollution of the term by calling out misuse and misrepresentation!

I'd encourage any vendor considering branding their product "open" to find the right forum to participate in, be that OpenStack, OpenDaylight the Open Compute Project or other, and to work on creating something that is truly "open".

Don't deceive your customers with "fauxpenness".


(Everything on this blog is licensed under the CC-BY-NC 4.0 license.... just sayin')