Centric CRM and SocialText respond to open source hard line

by CBR Staff Writer| 25 June 2007

The Open Source Initiative's plan to crack down on unapproved use of the term 'open source' appears to be having an impact, with two of the vendors targeted announcing plans to use OSI-approved licenses.

While the non-profit organization does not own the trademark on the term open source, it maintains the Open Source Definition, as well as a list of approved licenses that meet that definition.

Last week the OSI's president, Michael Tiemann, announced plans to crack down on software vendors that claim to be open source without using an OSI-approved license, highlighting the likes of SugarCRM, SplendidCRM, and Centric CRM.

The latter has responded to Tiemann by insisting that as far as it is concerned, it is open source. Our current license is not OSI-approved, nor have we ever claimed it is. But it is open source, wrote Centric CRM executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Michael Harvey, on the company's official forum. Our software is developed and supported by an online community open to all; ships with full source code and grants customers the freedom to modify their software or any part of it for internal use; and is available for unlimited use, free of charge, by anyone who visits our web site.

The Centric Public License is still not compatible with the OSD dues to its restrictions on distribution and modified works, but Harvey said the company is also intending to license more software under licenses approved by the OSI.

The forthcoming Centric Team Elements collaboration software will be released under the Open Software License, OSL 3.0, while the company is also planning to release a Centric CRM software development kit under the GNU LGPL. Additionally the project's Microsoft Outlook plug-in is also being made available under the GNU GPL.

While Centric CRM remains insistent that it is open source even if does not claim to be OSI-approved, enterprise wiki firm SocialText has admitted to not knowing what to call itself in the light of Tiemann's hard line.

Like SugarCRM, SplendidCRM, and Zimbra, the company uses a so-called MPL+Attribution license that is based on the OSI-approved Mozilla Public License but also requires attribution on modifications.

SocialText had asked the OSI to approve its SocialText Public License, as well as the Generic Attribution Provision late last year, but withdrew them from consideration ahead of a recent board meeting in favor of the alternative Common Public Attribution License.

While it [and SugarCRM et al] is waiting for that license to be approved or rejected, the company is looking for an alternative phrase to open source.Technically, I'm not sure what we should call ourselves right now, said CEO Ross Mayfield on his blog. So what I'd like to hear from the community is what we should call ourselves. If the consent of the community isn't open source, but to use a different term, I'll edit our site and wiki appropriately.

SugarCRM also told Computer Business Review in March that it was considering the forthcoming GPL v3 as a licensing option for version 5 of its CRM software, due this summer.

Our View

Reaction from the open source community to the OSI's new tough line has been mixed, with some applauding its attempt to prevent software companies abusing the term open source and others declaring that the company has no mandate to force vendors to give up the term.

While the OSI does not own the trademark for open source and therefore could be seen to lack legal clout, the reaction of SocialText and Centric CRM indicates that it still commands respect, strengthening the view of the open source movement as a meritocracy.

The OSI was formed by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond in 1998 as Netscape published its browser software as free and open source software, and helped to define the playing field for commercial open source vendors.

It has until now leaned on vendors abusing the open source tag by privately encouraging them to adopt an OSI-approved license while pointing out the apparent advantages of open development and distribution models.

In outlining the OSI's new stance of naming and shaming abusers Tiemann insisted that it was important in order to maintain the trust of users by ensuring that they could adopt open source software knowing that it would meet the Open Source Definition.

The potential problem with that it the OSD is in fact an open source definition, rather than the open source definition. There is nothing to stop a company coming up with their own definition, other than the strength of the community turning against them.

That situation is entirely theoretical, however, and it does not appear that the industry is heading for a battle of the meaning of the term open source. Instead, a line is being drawn in the sand to prevent abuse of the term by vendors using licenses even less well-matched to the OSD.

The response of Centric CRM and SocialText indicates that it is not a line those particular vendors are prepared to cross.

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