Dave Burke makes the interesting
claim that Community Server is an open source
Whether this is true or not of course depends on your definition of the
term Open Source. Here is Dave’s definition.
To talk about Community Server and Open Source we should start with a
baseline definition of an Open Source application: All of the source
code is available. For free.
But is that all there is to Open Source, access to the code? Is mere
access to the code the fairy dust that has inspired such a passionate
movement in the software community?
Certainly the term Open Source has had a history of ambiguity, so that
definition might contain some validity. But I do not think that is the
commonly agreed upon minimal criteria for something to be considered
Open source isn’t just about whether the source code is available, it
is all about the license to the source code.
My favorite definition of open source software is The Open Source
(or OSD for short) on the Open Source
The definition starts with the following introduction and then lists
serveral criteria for open source software.
Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code. The
distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the
The first criteria listed is Free Redistribution which states…
The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away
the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution
containing programs from several different sources. The license shall
not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
Contrast this to the Community Server license agreement 2.0 which
3g. Distribution. You may not distribute this product, or any
portion thereof, or any derived work thereof, to anyone outside your
organization. You are not allowed to combine or distribute the
Software with other software that is licensed under terms that seek to
require that the Software (or any intellectual propertyin it) be
provided in source code form, licensed to others to allow the creation
or distribution of derivative works, or distributed without charge.
For many people, the terms of the Community Server license might not be
a problem. They are not terribly restrictive. If you plan to use
Community Server under the community
your only requirement is to display the Powered By Community Server
logo on every page of the site that uses Community Server.
However for many others, these terms are restrictive enough. For
example, suppose you don’t like the way development is progressing on
Community Server. You cannot fork the code base and start a new
project based on the source code. Although a fork may seem like a bad
thing, Karl Fogel points out in his book “Producing Open Source
Software - How to Run a Successful Free Software
Project that the threat of a fork is
what keeps the leader(s) of an open source project from being
tyrannical. It is this threat of a fork that motivates and requires open
source projects to be well run.
Not every open source license is created equal as I pointed out in my
guide to Open Source Software
For example, under the BSD
which Subtext is licensed, you and I are free to create a commercial
derivative version of Subtext and keep your changes to the code closed
source and proprietary. That’s right. If you wanted to (and had the
ability to), you could package up the Subtext source code in its
entirety and start selling it as a packaged product.
Note that you can’t turn around and claim that you have the copyright to
the Subtext code. You would only have copyright to your changes to the
code. Pretty much the only restriction is that the original license must
be retained with with the code, but it does not have to be publicly
visible in your site (such as in an about box).
In contrast, with a GPL
project, you could start selling it, but you couldn’t keep your changes
closed source without violating the terms of the license.
In the end, I think we need to agree on a term for unique products such
as Community Server in which the source code is freely available, but
does not fit the definition of an open source product. I suggest the
term Source Available.
Please do not misconstrue this as an attack on Community
Server or its licensing. I have met
Watermasysk and Rob
Howard and they are both
very smart and capable leaders of a strong company. Community Server is
a great product and deserves the recognition it gets. I am not a zealot
and have no beef with closed source products. Certainly my livelihood
depends on many such products.
At the same time, I am passionate about Open Source software and it is
important to me to help keep the distinctions clear and educate others
on what open source software is and the value it provides.