Home What’s This I Hear About Proprietary Open Source?

What’s This I Hear About Proprietary Open Source?

Correct me if I’m wrong, folks: The whole concept of open source software implies a certain business relationship between all of its participants. By definition, not by presumption, all parties in the development process agree that all of their intellectual products are both sharable and shared with the rest of the world.

Nothing that is used in an open source product should be proprietary, or for the exclusive benefit of any one party for any length of time. And no part of an open source product will have been taken from someone else who did not intend to share it, or who did not license it to be shared.

At least that’s what I thought. Doesn’t this sound right to you?

So will someone please explain how the revelation a few days ago that Google’s official strategy for developing the so-called open source software named Android “not… in the open” and to only distribute code “after innovation is complete,” was taken out of context? I come from Earth, so I may be new to this system and I may still talk funny. But I thought that “open” was a binary state. If you’re not open, there’s a word for that and it means “opposite of open.”

What attempts at explanation I’m seeing so far boil down to the following:

1. Google was always open about being closed, so this isn’t news. In other words, Android developers are perfectly happy with the fact that they’re seeing the products of Google’s innovation once it pops out of the labs all toasty and hot. (Id Software does something similar, releasing the source code to old versions of the Quake engine after the new engine is generally released. I’ve read where this distribution system apparently “jives with the open source ethos.”) Now, I used to think open source development was about development, meaning that the folks who used the code were the innovators and not the consumers. Again, perhaps something got lost in the translation, after the long journey from Earth to wherever this is.

2. The guy who made the discovery is biased. Oh, give me a break. If he had been Charles Manson, would the photocopy of the slide from the Google presentation have read any differently? This is the same kind of argument I got from the folks who complained when I cited Groklaw’s excellent work on the SCO trial. It’s an attempt to deflect the argument rather than face it.

3. The official definition of open source is all about distribution, not development. Really? That’s your defense now? That’s like saying a company is open because it’s transparent. Just because you can see what a company is doing, doesn’t make it right. Or put another way, if this were about Microsoft, it would be wrong.

I don’t believe in proprietary open source (POS). I’m afraid some open source proponents do only because the side with the winning hand plays for their team.

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