A senior HP exec has warned that there are too many different types of open-source licence and argued that the industry needs to find a way of consolidating them.
"A lot of people don't realise that today there are dozens and dozens of open source licences," said Martin Fink, HP's vice president of Linux. "The number has reached 52 open source licences and will likely be 55 by the end of the week."
Open source licences are approved by the non-profit Open Source Initiative, (OSI) which has certified software licences from organisations as diverse as NASA, MIT, Apple and Nokia since it was founded in 1998. But according to Fink, there are already too many: "There really is no value, and there is only confusion in having that many licences," he said.
To date, HP has not seen the need to create a new licence for its own contributions, choosing instead to release its software under existing open source licences, Fink said. "I approve on average three to five open-source projects and contributions every single week," he said. "If I have never had to create a new licence, I have a really hard time understanding why you think you do."
Fink called on open source developers to try and reduce the number. "Let's look for ways to start consolidating the existing set of licences so that we remove the confusion that having that many licences has on our industry," he said.
The issue has attracted the attention of the OSI board and has, at least, the potential to become serious, said Eric Raymond President of OSI. There is a "strong chance" that it will be more restrictive in the number of licences it certifies, though it has not put such a policy in place, he said.
The majority of OSI-certified licences are used in a very small number of works, Raymond said. "All but a dozen of these are vanity licences, usually uttered by a corporate legal department with too much time on its hands, used on exactly one project," he said.
Any confusion brought on by the proliferation of open source licensing is probably a greater issue for open source vendors, who must ensure that the products they sell do not have incompatible licences, but it is also an issue for customers, said Chris Hjelm, CTO with Orbitz, which uses a variety of open source software in its online travel business. "If everyone sort of opted out of the licensing game, it would make everyone's life a little easier," Hjelm said.
For software vendors toying with the idea of adding to the plethora of open source licences, Fink had some words of advice. "If you're out there and you're a vendor and you're planning to create a new licence. Stop. Please don't. Call me."
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