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    I think a lot of people get caught in a trap when they start thinking about “open source” definitions, and this essay was no exception: it’s very hard to avoid falling into the moral/political/philosophical approach of the Free Software movement, yet rejecting the moral/political/philosophical approach in favor of what’s practical and useful is probably the simplest way to describe the difference between the Free Software and the Open Source camps.

    And so any argument that’s based on an idea of principles and values is one that’s going to struggle to work. If you want to start moralizing, you more or less need to adopt the Free Software side of things and be done with it. And then you don’t worry about things like “source available” licenses, because you have an easy answer: the manifesto says that’s not Free Software and is therefore to be shunned. If you want to talk about “source available” licenses as related to Open Source, though, you have to shift to an Open Source context, where your analysis is based on practical utility rather than on rigid adherence to a set of moral commandments.

    So consider the current trend of “open source” projects which really just wanted to be “open source” as a way to score free labor for their SaaS product, proceeded to get their butts kicked by cloud providers, and decided to go to whatever label eventually gets agreed on for these look-but-don’t-touch licenses that are designed to forbid you from competing with the original authors’ startup (yes, I know the exact terms don’t say that, but the clear intent and practical effect is to ensure that only the original authors could run a successful SaaS business around the software). From a practical perspective, these licenses are just a failure, and I’ve already made clear why: the goal isn’t to harness diverse and disparate contributors to build something more useful than any one of them would have achieved alone. The goal is to turn “contributors” into, effectively, unpaid interns.

    Actual Open Source projects let me treat my contribution as a transaction with benefits for both of us: the project gets something (most often, improved code), and I get something (most often, the ability to build/expand my business, or leverage my familiarity with and contributions to the project into future employment at businesses which use it). Everybody wins. It’s practical. “Source available” licenses are one-way streets: the company gets all the real benefit, and I get at best “exposure” that won’t pay my bills and in fact may decrease my employability (since companies may not want to risk a lawsuit if they hire me and then on the job I accidentally use forbidden knowledge gleaned from a “source available” project). Impractical!

    These are the kinds of terms that discussions of Open Source (as distinct from Free Software) need to be framew in if they’re going to be productive at all.

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      Actual Open Source projects let me treat my contribution as a transaction with benefits for both of us: the project gets something (most often, improved code), and I get something (most often, the ability to build/expand my business, or leverage my familiarity with and contributions to the project into future employment at businesses which use it). Everybody wins. It’s practical.

      You get software you can use as a starting point, but you don’t get anything back in return for your contribution. The whole thing is predicated on good will: the creators of the open-source thing assume (a subset of) users will contribute back, and contributors assume the thing they’re contributing to will stay open. Are those safe assumptions?

      I don’t know if there’s a better answer, but… well, if faith worked we wouldn’t need contracts.

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        The whole thing is predicated on good will: the creators of the open-source thing assume (a subset of) users will contribute back, and contributors assume the thing they’re contributing to will stay open. Are those safe assumptions?

        It’s certainly a counterintuitive result – as you note, generally there’s an assumption that we have to force people to cooperate and share, and that’s also the approach that the Free Software side takes with copyleft licenses – but empirical evidence suggests enough people do so, for reasons that range from altruistic to cynically pragmatic, to produce impressive results.

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      I think this i silly. Yes, most of the code currently running is not OSS. However, of this closed source, I’d estimate 90% of it is only being run by organisations that already have the source, either because they wrote it for themselves, or their parent company did so. There’s no benefits to spinning wheels on the idea that most software should be “source available” because it already is so, to everybody that has skin in the game. And there’s almost zero benefit to be gained by the general public in getting access to that kind of code either. It’s held up by internal folklore, gaffa tape, and custom build systems that forked off something you recognise ten years ago.

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        I think it is in my interest to know what companies do with my data, and more generally with the data of their users using my financial support. I’m just as interested in this as I am in the downstream supply chain impacts of any of the products I consume.

        It really seems like a failure of the free software movement to try to badly to some kind of moral philosophy of code instead of pointing out distinct harms of various nonfree ecosystems.

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          I agree with you, but just because something is in your interest doesn’t necessarily mean you’re entitled to it.

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            I was only responding to you saying there would not be a public benefit. I don’t really care what people are ‘entitled’ to have - if it would be better for everyone to have it, that’s what we should strive for.

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              Fair enough, I get you now. Although I’m not sure how useful it would be, without the insider knowledge of how the various mechanisms are connected, which is one of the things that isn’t necessarily in the source so much, these days.

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                Yeah, I’m pretty excited by Apple’s privacy labels. They seem pretty coarse grained, but a step in the direction of including with software some useful high level information about what it’s doing on the backend.

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        Source-available is fine as far as it goes, not a bad first step, so long as it isn’t marketed as “open source”. Attempts to water down the definition of FOSS are what I and many others in the community find deeply upsetting, and a threat to having genuine FOSS in the future.