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No Respect for Windows Open Source

It's hard being an open source project on the Microsoft platform. Because no matter how hard you try to exemplify true open source ideals, you will not get any respect from the non-Microsoft community.

On its own, DotNetNuke is as pure an Open Source project as it gets. All of its 150,000 lines of source code are publicly available. It has a standard BSD license which allows for the maximum flexibility in both commercial and non-commercial applications. It is financially independent - not funded or tainted by third party influence. It has an active community ecosystem including users, developers, administrators, resellers, and designers. But for some reason, the fact that DotNetNuke runs on the proprietary Windows operating system makes it somehow unworthy or inapplicable in the eyes of some people.

There is no doubt that the "Open Source" term coined by Eric Raymond ( founder of the Open Source Initiative ) has been subjected to a lot of interpretation in recent years. Since the term is descriptive, it could not be protected by a trademark; therefore, companies and organizations are free to leverage the term in their marketing propaganda to further their own interests. As a result, "Open Source" has started to lose some of its idealistive values. These values are best summed up by the Open Source Definition's ( OSD ) 10 Commandments:

1. Free Redistribution
2. Source Code
3. Derived Works
4. Integrity of The Author's Source Code
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
7. Distribution of License
8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product
9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software
10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

If you take the time to review the OSD, you will soon realize that many of the so-called industry leaders in the Open Source movement are actually violating the values upon which it was founded. In many cases these are monopolistic corporations who are simply using Open Source as a marketing tool to increase their profits. Companies who use “hybrid” business models which involve selling closed source applications that run on top of open source code ( ie. VA Software, Gluecode, EnterpriseDB ). Or companies who release an open source "loss leader" application with hopes to upsell these users into their commercial offering. This paradigm has been well covered in many industry publications in recent months. But there is another type of Open Source interpretation issue as well - and from a group you would not expect.

Devout believers in the Open Source movement tend to be absolute in their views regarding the preservation of open source ideals. This is definitely an admirable quality as it attempts to defend what the Open Source corporations are trying to destroy. However, as is the case with many political topics, there is a tendency to gravitate towards extremism.

There are Open Source zealots who believe that unless an application is part of a stack which includes 100% Open Source services and components, that it can not claim to be Open Source. This "stack" typically includes an Open Source operating system at its foundation ( ie. Linux ), an Open Source web server ( ie. Apache ), an Open Source database ( ie. mySQL ), and an Open Source application layer ( ie. PHP, Perl, Python ) - sometimes referred to as "LAMP" for simplicity. It is these folks who disrespect an Open Source project like DotNetNuke because it is not part of a fully Open Source stack ( at this point in time DotNetNuke runs on ASP.NET, a services layer which is only available for the Windows platform - a situation which the Mono project is trying to address ).

But does this "stack" argument actually make any sense? In the true sense of the OSD, it certainly does not. Each application is supposed to be judged independently based on its own licensing scheme. And no where does it say that you are restricted from combining Open Source components with proprietary ones ( isn't freedom the fundamental principle anyways ) to produce a comprehensive solution. In fact, the only thing which the "stack" concept seems to support is a notion that there is an 11th unwritten Commandment:

11. Must Run On Linux

( Which is obviously contrary to some of the other principles in the OSD )

 The whole notion of Linux being synonymous with Open Source has definitely become entrenched in many people's minds. So much so, that the leading industry publications on the Open Source movement are actually Linux branded ( ie. LINUX Magazine - Open Source, Open Standards ). And many Open Source directories, portals, and news sites will not permit Open Source projects unless they run on Linux. Linux is certainly a magnificant and successful Open Source project in it's own right. But it's really sad that its own marketing impact has managed to overshadow the ideals of the political movement upon which it was founded.

The unfortunate reality is that some of the passionate people who consistently stand on their soapbox and preach about software freedom and the detriments of being locked into a proprietary platform have in fact, lost touch with the fundamentals of their political roots. If objectivity was an absolute requirement, then the only criteria upon which an Open Source project would be judged is the set of values outlined in the OSD. However, we live in a subjective world where it is much more newsworthy to pit one software platform against another - regardless of whether it taints the interpretation of the Open Source movement in general.

The consequence is that Open Source software for the Windows platform will never be able to participate in this arena until there are some major changes in perception. This could happen in a couple of ways. Either the Open Source community could admit the fact that some Windows Open Source projects conform to the OSD ideals and should be accepted as legitimate and valued citizens. Or the Windows Open Source movement could continue cultivating and strengthening its own independent ecosystem which further fragments the general Open Source community. Of the two options, the former certainly seems like a much better alternative. Unfortunately, instigating change at this level requires commitment from many diverse stakeholder groups.


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