Last Word on Fauxpen Source (well, this week)

As usual, my friend Carlo (I have never met him but I am increasingly thinking of him as my friend) has made another excellent post, this one about this week’s bruhaha about fauxpen source. My friend Ben has also chimed in, and both of them add a lot more to the discussion than I did.

There were some people in the debate who once again felt that the issue of defining “open source” had been settled long ago, or that it wasn’t important. My first post on the issue was a satire based around the fact that the US government has started looking into using and/or requiring open source software solutions, but since those of us in the “industry” can’t define it it is doubtful the government will, and one can expect every single company that does business with them to rush to call themselves “open source software vendors” and to even further dilute the meaning.

So despite what my detractors say, it is important to define what is “open source” and what is an “open source vendor”.

Part of me wishes that the OSI had been granted a trademark on the term. It affects me personally when I present at trade shows and a potential client asks me “Yeah, you’re open source, but how much is your ‘enterprise’ version?” and I have to explain that OpenNMS is 100% open and free, and the only version we have is the enterprise version.

I love the term “open source” because it is divorced of the free-love, hippie, help-thy-neighbor aspects of free software. This doesn’t make open source software non-free, but it provides a starting point where I, as a businessman, can go to a client and they understand that there are real costs involved. I can then go on to show them that, especially over time, truly free and open source software provides a great value, even if it is not free as in “without cost”.

I am a pragmatist, and I believe that if a proprietary solution provides the best value, go for it. One of my smaller customers recently switched to Solarwinds‘ Orion, and I thought it was a good decision for them. OpenNMS was designed for the enterprise, and while it works very well in smaller environments, it is focused on being powerful and flexible at, unfortunately, the cost of being easy to use for some. However, the ease of use shortcomings are much easier to fix than issues of stability and scale, and OpenNMS is a seriously stable and scalable framework.

I expect the debate on what is open source and what is an open source vendor to continue, if not heat up, in the near future. While I sometimes feel I am the only one out there who cares, this week I’ve come a across a few others who also find it important, and I think our numbers are far greater than most people imagine.