History of the OSI

Submitted by Michael Tiemann on Tue, 2006-09-19 03:12. ::

The prehistory of the Open Source Initiative includes the entire
history of Unix, Internet free software, and the hacker
culture. OSI was formed as an educational, advocacy, and
stewardship organization at a cusp moment in the history of that

The immediate chain of events that was to lead to the formation of
OSI began with the publication of Eric Raymond's paper The
Cathedral and the Bazaar in 1997. In this paper, Raymond pioneered
a new way of understanding and describing the folk practices of the hacker
community. His analysis, which centered on the idea of distributed
peer review, had an immediate and strong appeal both within and
(rather unexpectedly) outside the hacker culture.

Raymond's presentation of the paper at the O'Reilly Perl Conference
in September 1997 helped trigger Netscape's
announcement, on January 22nd 1998, that it planned to release the
source code of its popular Web browser as free software. Now, so many
years and similar source-code releases later, it takes some effort to
remember what an unprecedented move this was. At the time, it sent
shock waves through both the hacker community and the business world.
There was a widespread sense that long-held rules were about to
change, and that anything might be possible.

The 'open source' label

The 'open source' label was invented at a strategy session held on
February 3rd, 1998 in Palo Alto, California. The people present
included Todd Anderson, Chris Peterson (of the Foresight Institute), John
"maddog" Hall and Larry Augustin (both of Linux International), Sam Ockman (of the
Silicon Valley Linux User's Group), Michael Tiemann, and Eric Raymond.

Raymond had been invited out by Netscape to help them plan their
browser source-code release. The strategy session grew from a
relization that the Netscape announcement had created a precious
window of time within which we might finally be able to get the
corporate world to listen to what the hacker community had to teach
about the superiority of an open development process.

The conferees decided it was time to dump the moralizing and
confrontational attitude that had been associated with "free software"
in the past and sell the idea strictly on the same pragmatic,
business-case grounds that had motivated Netscape. They brainstormed
about tactics and a new label. "Open source", contributed by Chris
Peterson, was the best thing they came up with.

Over the next week Raymond and others worked on spreading the
word. Linus Torvalds gave an all-important imprimatur the following
day. Phil Hughes offered a pulpit in Linux Journal. Richard
Stallman flirted with adopting the term, then changed his mind.

Five days later, on February 8th 1998, Raymond issued the first
public call to the community to begin using the new term.
The formation of OSI followed shortly thereafter. Two of those
present at the Palo Alto meeting would later serve as presidents
of OSI, and other attendees became key early supporters of the organization.

A month later, on April 8th, most of the tribal chieftains of the
hacker culture met at Tim O'Reilly's Free Software Summit, a gathering
pulled together specifically in response to the possibilities opened
up by the Netscape release and the buzz developing around the new
"open source". The meeting included the founding figures of Linux,
sendmail, Perl, Python, Apache, and several other key projects, and
representatives from allies including the IETF and Internet
Software Consortium.

At that meeting, the participants voted to promote the use of the
term 'open source', and agreed to adopt with it the new rhetoric of
pragmatism and market-friendliness that Raymond had been developing.

Founding of OSI and the Open Source Definition

OSI was jointly founded by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens in late
February 1998, with Raymond as its first president and an initial
Board of Directors including Brian Behlendorf, Ian Murdock, Russ
Nelson, and Chip Salzenberg. Raymond served as president until 2005
and afterwards remained a nonvoting observer active in the Board's
work; Perens, originally Vice-President, resigned in 1999 over policy
differences with the Board and distanced himself from the

OSI was conceived as a general educational and advocacy organization
to execute the same mission agreed on at the Free Software Summit. At the
launch meeting, the original Board accepted this general mission and
decided to focus more specifically on explaining and protecting
the "open source" label. The main instrument they adopted for this
purpose was the Open Source Definition.

The Open Source Definition was derived from the Debian
Free Software Guidelines. Bruce Perens had composed the original
draft; it was refined using suggestions of the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution
developers in e-mail conference during most of June, 1997. They then
voted to approve it as Debian's publicly stated policy. It was revised
somewhat and Debian-specific references were removed during the
launch of the Open Source Initiative in February 1998.

In 2004 the OSI added clause 10 to deal with some issues
surrounding click-wrap licensing. Otherwise the OSD has been
stable since its inception, with only minor wording clarifications
in other clauses.


The goal of the original Board was to build a sustainable
institution to represent the open-source community and exercise
stewardship of the Open Source Definition. To this end it adopted
bylaws and applied for recognition as 501(c)3 nonprofit; this was
achieved in 2003.

That original Board's most notable success was to successfully
position the OSD as the gold standard of open-source licensing, and
the OSI as a standards body trusted both by the hacker community and
the worlds of business and government. That design was largely
achieved by the end of 1998, and OSI has since become a fixture in the
open-source firmament.

Though OSI has become one of the open-source community's two
principal advocacy organizations, it deliberately maintains a
relatively low profile. Much of what we do is achieved through
quiet, behind-the-scenes persuasion rather than public activism. We
offer background to reporters, policy suggestions to politicians, and
business cases to executives. We've worked hard at maintaining s
reputation for sanity and pragmatism; this has often enabled us
to cope with threats to the community's interests before they
reached the point of becoming visible crises.

Having worked steadily to broaden its base, OSI became a
truly international organization in 2005 with the accession of directors
from Europe, South America, Japan, and India.

Our first President, having studied the history of reform
movements, was much concerned that the open-source community needed
leading institutions not dependent on the charisma or talents of their
founding members. The single most important fact about the history of
OSI as an institution may therefore be that as of 2007, the offices of
President and Vice-President have rotated three times each and the
Board Of Directors is about to inaugurate its fourth slate of new