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Open Source Initiative

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Open Source Initiative
FormationFebruary 8, 1998 (26 years ago) (1998-02-08)
TypeStandards organization[1]
Area served
Executive Director
Stefano Maffulli (September 2021 – present)
US$209,500 (2019)[3]
US$209,500 (2019)[4]

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is the steward of the Open Source Definition, the most widely used standard for open-source software.

Founded in 1998, the Open Source Initiative coined the term open source in opposition to the free software movement. While free software is the same thing as open-source software, OSI preferred to make a pragmatic and business-friendly case for open-source software.

For most of its existence, the OSI's activities have been focused on the definition and certifying software licenses as compliant with it. OSI originally had a closed organizational model, but began to switch towards a membership organization in the 2010s to raise more money and expand its activities.


In 1998, Netscape released the open-source Navigator browser.[5] On 8 February,[6] Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens founded the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and coined the term open source to refer to what had previously been called free software.[5][7] The OSI prefers the label "open source" to "free software" because the latter term has undesirable ideological and political freight, and it wants to focus on the pragmatic and business-friendly arguments for open-source software.[1] OSI defines open source as a "development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in".[8] Perens drafted a set of open-source guidelines,[9] which were adopted by the OSI as the Open Source Definition.[1][10]

In January 2020, Perens left OSI over controversy regarding a new license (the Cryptographic Autonomy License), which had been proposed for the OSI's approval.[11] Raymond was banned from the OSI mailing list in March 2020.[12]

In 2022, OSI began work on an Open Source AI Definition, inviting dozens of researchers and corporate representatives to make a draft. Even companies with accessible code often do not release the data set used to train the model and impose usage restrictions on what can be done with the trained model. Maffulli said a new definition was necessary because artificial intelligence "is different from regular software and forces all stakeholders to review how the Open Source principles apply to this space".[13][14]


The OSI is a California public-benefit nonprofit corporation, with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.[7] It adopted a closed rather than membership-driven organizational model in order to build consensus around its definition. All authority is vested in its Board of Directors, and future boards are appointed by the current board. This governance model has hampered OSI's efforts to achieve other goals not related to the definition. Unlike other free and open-source organizations, it does not develop software, which means that volunteer efforts have been directed elsewhere.[1]

In 2008, the OSI attempted to reform its governance, inviting fifty people onto a private mailing list, but this attempt led to no publicly available result.[1] In 2012, the organization again tried to transition towards a membership-based structure, creating affiliate and individual memberships without any formal say over the organization. A plan for corporate membership was also announced, but has not materialized as of 2022. The motivation for adopting a membership-based structure is to obtain greater financial resources, enabling full-time positions to increase the organization's effectiveness.[1][15]

In March 2021, the OSI organization held a vote for executive director among its members, but the results were annulled because the election was hacked.[6] The election was re-run and Stefano Maffulli appointed its first executive director in September 2021.[16]

Open Source Definition[edit]

The Open Source Definition is the most widely accepted standard for open-source software.[17][18] Providing access to the source code is not enough for software to be considered "open-source": it must also allow modification and redistribution under the same terms and all uses, including commercial use.[19] The Open Source Definition requires that ten criteria be met for a license to be approved.[20][1] It allows both copyleft—where redistribution and derivative works must be released under a free license—and permissive licenses—where derivative works can be released under any license.[1][21][22] Software licenses covered by the Open Source Definition also meet the Free Software Definition and vice versa. Both the Free Software Foundation and the OSI share the goal of supporting free and open-source software.[1]

License approval process[edit]

The OSI approves certain licenses as compatible with the definition, and maintains a list of compliant licenses. New licenses have to submit a formal proposal explaining the rationale for the license, comparison with existing approved licenses, and any legal analysis. The proposal is discussed on the OSI mailing list for at least 30 days before being brought to a vote and approved or rejected by the OSI board. Although the OSI has made an effort to have a transparent process, the approval process has been a source of controversy.[23]

Seven approved licenses are particularly recommended by the OSI as "popular, widely used, or having strong communities":[23]

  1. Apache License 2.0
  2. BSD 3-Clause and BSD 2-Clause Licenses
  3. All versions of the GPL
  4. All versions of the LGPL
  5. MIT License
  6. Mozilla Public License 2.0
  7. Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL)
  8. Eclipse Public License version 2.0


As a campaign of sorts, "open source" was launched in 1998 by Christine Peterson, Jon "maddog" Hall, Larry Augustin, Eric S. Raymond, Bruce Perens, and others.[24][25]

The group adopted the Open Source Definition for open-source software, based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines. They also established the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as a steward organization for the movement. However, they were unsuccessful in their attempt to secure a trademark for 'open source' to control the use of the term.[26] In 2008, in an apparent effort to reform governance of the organization, the OSI Board invited 50 individuals to join a "Charter Members" group; by 26 July 2008, 42 of the original invitees had accepted the invitations. The full membership of the Charter Members has never been publicly revealed, and the Charter Members group communicated by way of a closed-subscription mailing list, "osi-discuss", with non-public archives.[27]

In 2012, under the leadership of OSI director and then-president Simon Phipps, the OSI began transitioning towards a membership-based governance structure. The OSI initiated an Affiliate Membership program for "government-recognized non-profit charitable and not-for-profit industry associations and academic institutions anywhere in the world".[28] Subsequently, the OSI announced an Individual Membership program[29] and listed a number of Corporate Sponsors.[30]

On November 8, 2013, OSI appointed Patrick Masson as its general manager.[31] From August 2020 to September 2021, Deb Nicholson was the interim general manager.[32] Under the direction of Deborah Nicholson, the interim manager, the voting and election was held with results and then halted and set for re-election due to vulnerabilities in the election process. "This week we found a vulnerability in our voting processes that was exploited and had an impact on the outcome of the recent Board Election."[33] No election results or further updates are posted as of June 2021.[citation needed]

In January 2020, founder Bruce Perens left OSI over controversy regarding a new license (the Cryptographic Autonomy License), which had been proposed for the OSI's approval.[34] Later, in August 2020, Perens elaborated on his concerns: "We created a tower of babel of licenses. We did not design-in license compliance, and we have a tremendous noncompliance problem that isn't getting better. We can't afford to sue our copyright infringers."[35]

Eric S. Raymond, another co-founder of the OSI, was later banned from the OSI mailing list in March 2020.[36]

In November 2020 the board of directors announced a search for an executive director[37] which was concluded in September 2021 with the appointment of Stefano Maffulli. At the same time, the role of president of the board was abandoned in favor of chair of the board.

Relationship with the free software movement[edit]

Both the modern free software movement and the Open Source Initiative were born from a common history of Unix, Internet free software, and the hacker culture, but their basic goals and philosophy differ, the free software movement being more focused on the ethics of software, and their open source counterparts being more focused on practical benefits. The Open Source Initiative chose the term "open source", in founding member Michael Tiemann's words, to "dump the moralizing and confrontational attitude that had been associated with 'free software'" and instead promote open source ideas on "pragmatic, business-case grounds".[38]

As early as 1999, OSI co-founder Perens objected to the "schism" that was developing between supporters of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the OSI because of their disparate approaches. Perens had hoped the OSI would merely serve as an "introduction" to FSF principles for "non-hackers."[39] Richard Stallman of FSF has sharply criticized the OSI for its pragmatic focus and for ignoring what he considers the central "ethical imperative" and emphasis on "freedom" underlying free software as he defines it.[40] Nevertheless, Stallman has described his free software movement and the Open Source Initiative as separate camps within the same broad free-software community and acknowledged that despite philosophical differences, proponents of open source and free software "often work together on practical projects."[40]

On March 23, 2021, in response to Richard Stallman's reappointment to the Board of the Free Software Foundation, the OSI released a statement calling upon the FSF to "hold Stallman responsible for past behavior, remove him from the organization's leadership and work to address the harm he caused to all those he has excluded: those he considers less worthy, and those he has hurt with his words and actions." The OSI also stated that they would not participate in any events that include Stallman and "cannot collaborate with the Free Software Foundation until Stallman is removed from the organization's leadership."[41]

Board members[edit]

As of February 2024, the Open Source Initiative Board of Directors is:[42]

Past board members include:[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gardler, Ross; Walli, Stephen R (2022). "Evolving Perspective on Community and Governance". Open Source Law, Policy and Practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 47–48, 52. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198862345.003.0002. ISBN 978-0-19-886234-5.
  2. ^ "Charity Navigator - Unrated Profile for Open Source Initiative". Archived from the original on 2019-05-12.
  3. ^ "Charity Navigator - Unrated Profile for Open Source Initiative". Archived from the original on 2019-05-12.
  4. ^ "Charity Navigator - Unrated Profile for Open Source Initiative". Archived from the original on 2019-05-12.
  5. ^ a b "The Ins and Outs of Open Source" Kalina, Ira; Czyzycki, Alice.  Consulting to Management; Washington Vol. 16, Iss. 3, (Sep 2005): 41-46.
  6. ^ a b Vaughan-Nichols, Steven (March 24, 2021). "Open Source Initiative election hacked". ZDNET. Retrieved 19 May 2024.
  7. ^ a b Boehm, Mirko; Eisape, Davis (2021). "Standard setting organizations and open source communities: Partners or competitors?". First Monday. doi:10.5210/fm.v26i7.10806. ISSN 1396-0466.
  8. ^ Hahn, Erin N. "An Overview of Open-Source Software Licenses and the Value of Open-Source Software to Public Health Initiatives" (PDF). Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest: 692.
  9. ^ Overly, Michael R. (2003). The Open Source Handbook. Pike & Fischer. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-937275-12-2.
  10. ^ Katz, Andrew (2022). "Everything Open". Open Source Law, Policy and Practice. Oxford University Press. p. 521. ISBN 978-0-19-260687-7.
  11. ^ "OSI co-founder leaves initiative over new license".
  12. ^ "Co-founder of OSI Banned from Mailing Lists".
  13. ^ Claburn, Thomas (16 May 2024). "Open Source Initiative tries to define Open Source AI". www.theregister.com. Retrieved 18 May 2024.
  14. ^ Gent, Ed (March 25, 2024). "The tech industry can't agree on what open-source AI means. That's a problem". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 18 May 2024.
  15. ^ Vaughan-Nichols, Steven (18 July 2012). "New life for the Open Source Initiative". ZDNET. Retrieved 19 May 2024.
  16. ^ Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J. "The Open Source Initiative names Stefano Maffulli as its first Executive Director". ZDNet. Retrieved 2021-09-20.
  17. ^ Mertic, John (2023). Open Source Projects - Beyond Code: A blueprint for scalable and sustainable open source projects. Packt Publishing Ltd. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-83763-385-2.
  18. ^ De Maria, Carmelo; Díaz Lantada, Andrés; Di Pietro, Licia; Ravizza, Alice; Ahluwalia, Arti (2022). "Open-Source Medical Devices: Concept, Trends, and Challenges Toward Equitable Healthcare Technology". Engineering Open-Source Medical Devices. Cham: Springer International Publishing. p. 4. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-79363-0_1. ISBN 978-3-030-79362-3.
  19. ^ Greenleaf, Graham; Lindsay, David (2018). Public Rights: Copyright's Public Domains. Cambridge University Press. p. 485. ISBN 978-1-107-13406-5.
  20. ^ Erlich, Zippy (2007). "Open Source Software". Handbook of Research on Open Source Software. IGI Global. pp. 187–188. ISBN 978-1591409991.
  21. ^ Meeker, Heather J. (2008). The Open Source Alternative: Understanding Risks and Leveraging Opportunities. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-0-470-25581-0.
  22. ^ Laurent, Andrew M. St (2004). Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing: Guide to Navigating Licensing Issues in Existing & New Software. O'Reilly Media, Inc. pp. 9–11. ISBN 978-0-596-55395-1.
  23. ^ a b Smith, P McCoy (2022). "Copyright, Contract, and Licensing in Open Source". Open Source Law, Policy and Practice. Oxford University PressOxford. pp. 108–111. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198862345.003.0003. ISBN 978-0-19-886234-5.
  24. ^ "History of the OSI".
  25. ^ "A Look Back at 10 Years of OSI". Archived from the original on 2018-04-29.
  26. ^ http://www.opensource.org/pressreleases/certified-open-source.php Announcement of losing 'open source' trademark
  27. ^ "OSI Charter Member Discuss List". Archived from the original on 2013-04-21. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
  28. ^ "Become an OSI Affiliate". 22 May 2012.
  29. ^ "OSI Announces Individual Membership".
  30. ^ "OSI Corporate Sponsors". 23 July 2023.
  31. ^ "OSI Names New General Manager". LWN. 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  32. ^ "Deb Nicholson to Join Open Source Initiative as Interim General Manager". Software Freedom Conservancy. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  33. ^ "OSI election update".
  34. ^ "OSI co-founder leaves initiative over new license".
  35. ^ Perens, Bruce (2020-08-24). "What comes after Open Source?". DebConf20. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  36. ^ "Co-founder of OSI Banned from Mailing Lists".
  37. ^ "OSI Seeks to Hire Executive Director | Open Source Initiative". opensource.org. 19 November 2020. Retrieved 2021-09-20.
  38. ^ Tiemann, Michael (2006-09-19). "History of the OSI". Open Source Initiative. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  39. ^ "It's Time to Talk About Free Software Again". 2014-11-19. Archived from the original on 2014-07-16. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
  40. ^ a b Stallman, Richard (2009-04-21). "Why 'Open Source' Misses the Point of Free Software". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  41. ^ "OSI Response to RMS's reappointment to the Board of the Free Software Foundation | Open Source Initiative". opensource.org. 23 March 2021. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  42. ^ "Current composition of OSI board of directors". Open Source Initiative. 20 September 2022.
  43. ^ "OSI Emeritus Members | Open Source Initiative". Open Source Initiative. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  44. ^ "2009 OSI Board Elections held in April". Archived from the original on 2022-04-07. Retrieved 2009-05-23.

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