re: Commercial Open Source Software (COSS) Glossary VIEW POST


There's a bunch of open source software that doesn't meet the OSI definition, though. Just saying that's how you're going to use it doesn't help, because it's not enforceable.


Thank you for your comment! Your perspective is one of the core reasons why we decided to put this glossary together, because there's a lot of confusion around what is "open source" from a legal/licensing angle and what is "open source" from a marketing angle. There are quite a few non-open source projects that are portrayed as "open source" still because they used to be open source until a licensing change that makes it them not so. The definition reflected here is along the legal/licensing angle as enshrined and indeed still enforced by the OSI.

This distinction is important for developers for two reasons:

  1. if you are using a given open source project, especially inside a company for say your employer, whether the project is/isn't "open source" based on its licensing directly impacts how you can use the project, and may even trigger a discussion with your legal/compliance department (no one likes that!). Certain organizations now have dedicated "open source programs" that deal directly with this type of issues. See a list of such companies on the TOGO Group website.

  2. if you want to commercialize an open source project, either by building a commercial open source software company around the project or provide service/support around it, whether project is definitionally "open source" from the legal/licensing angle directly impacts how/if/how widely the project will be adopted, which impacts the future potential of your company.

To be clear: this is not to say non-open-source or formally open source projects are lesser technologies. They aren't. They should be used for their proper use case just like anything else. But a project that's no longer "open source" definitionally speaking but still called "open source" when being marketed publicly might cause unpleasant surprises for developers who use them, and we want to help them steer clear of that as much as possible.


One someone was talking about on here recently was Kirby which is open source but the license is restrictive, and you're not allowed to deploy it anywhere without paying. It's not something that used to be open source and then changed, this is their model.

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