Memo to self:..."Don't piss off your friends un-necessarily!"
A couple of week s ago OSI released a document about License Proliferation. The thrash on License-Discuss has ranged from support to confusion to fear and loathing. There has been speculation about what we meant by "assymetrical" in describing the Mozilla Public License model. There have been outraged calls for OSI Board to apologize to the Mozilla community for saying "Mozilla is a failed experiment"...and of course assertions that OSI has declared war on corporate licensing, or on Mozilla or on CDDL or on everyone!
Okay, so first of all, I'm a Pacificist. I've never declared war on anyone, nor can I imagine myself declaring war. Try to remember this is software, not ethnic cleansing....
Second, I am a dolt; for not realizing that the Mozilla community would be upset by the sentence that has been parsed out of the document as the unfortunate headline "Mozilla is a failed experiment"...yes, the OSI Board should have caught the fact that we didn't refer explicitly to the licensing model. It would have been easy to avoid bad feelings. Especially since so many of us are great fans of Mozilla.org. I love Firefox. Some of my best friends are Mozilla committers or advisory board members. To quote the immortal Homer Simpson...Doh!
In fact, I'm one of the people who has consistently said that Mozilla the project is not a failed experiment. I remember having that debate back in 1999 when Jamie Zawinski left in a huff. Many Sun execs concluded back then that Mozilla was "over" and but I maintained and espoused a belief that Mozilla might surprise everyone someday.
So why the picking on Mozilla? From my point of view, OSI Board was just trying to point out in the document we released that the actual Mozilla license (the MPL) represents an important historical tradeoff on the part of OSI between the desire to build a deep repository of reuseable code and the desire to welcome corporations into the open source movement. We made that tradeoff despite our first goal to help promote recombinable open source code repositories. Moreover we wanted to point out that the MPL has caused some problems in today's Open Source ecosystem. These problems are not manifested within the Mozilla project. That's because Mozilla has successfully built a large and useful code repository under its project banner which is recombinant with itself. The problem is not with Mozilla project nor with Mozilla community.
The problem lies in two aspects of the MPL model when it is used outside of the Mozilla community: First that the license was not drafted for reuse and so encourages license proliferation by essentially requiring it...Second that the license explicitly builds a fence around its covered code which many read as a prohibition of code recombination outside of a single project umbrella. The result of this second aspect is that no single re-user of the MPL model has achieved a deep and recombinant codebase, and the Mozilla community itself eventually added the LGPL to its licensing strategy so that their code could recombine to the GPL community on some basis.
As many have pointed out within this debate, the GPL isn't particularly recombinant except with itself either, although the GPL is so widely employed (and doesn't require re-drafting to employ) that in essence there is a deep olympic-sized pool (or perhaps a small sea by now) of code that can be freely recombined under GPL. OSI acknowledges this goodness. But many corporate interests prefer the Mozilla model, at least as they are establishing communities, because (to paraphrase my former Sun colleague, Claire Giordano) ..."It fit our needs best".
So, what to do? Some members of OSI would like to deprecate the MPL model. I personally would prefer to see it fixed for reuse (as I've said before). What I specifically don't want to see happen is for the Mozilla folks to take our analysis of the problem as an attack. It's a statement. We all need to think about the issue of recombination of code vs. diversity of choice in F/OSS licensing. I remain hopeful that the tradeoff can still result in positive outcomes.