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Thoughts on Leaving the OSI Board

After six years (two terms), this week marks the end of my time on the Board of Directors of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). While I plan to remain involved with open source issues and with the Board, the end of my service on the Board is a significant personal milestone, so I thought that I would briefly reflect on the past six years for open source, and especially the OSI.

When I was nominated for the OSI Board in 2010, the Board was a small, select group whose early members made important contributions to the open source community, notably the Open Source Definition and the approval of licenses that conformed to that Definition. The Board’s activities were supported by a couple of corporate donations. Since all of the Board members had “day jobs” that brought in their personal incomes, everyone was quite busy and it was often difficult to make progress on various initiatives.  It’s a testament to the hard work of the earliest members of the Board that the OSI was well-recognized as the steward of licenses and the OSD.

When the OSI was created in 1998, open source occupied a small niche in the overall world of software.  By 2010, though, it was on its way to the mainstream, driven in part by the increased availability and quality of open source software and in part by the growing number of organizations and individuals who had used it successfully. (The financial constraints faced by organizations during the economic crisis of 2008-9 helped, too.) The time was right for expanding the OSI, and the Board took suitable steps.

First, the OSI established an Affiliate Member program, where non-profits and not-for-profits could support the mission of the OSI and contribute to the continued awareness and adoption of open source software. Today, there are more than 50 affiliate members, representing open source projects and communities, educational institutions, and user groups. This collection of members vastly improves communication among the different organizations supporting open source, and enables various members to work together more effectively.  For example, many of these groups worked together to express opposition to aspects of the proposed TPP trade agreement that affect free and open source software.

Second, the OSI expanded its Sponsorship program, and now has more than 25 sponsors that can help the OSI promote open source development, communities, and software. This expanded Sponsorship made it possible for the OSI to hire our first General Manager, Patrick Masson, in 2013. Unlike the other Board members, Patrick has been able to work full-time toward achieving the goals of the OSI. His presence and hard work has made the OSI much more visible.

Third, the OSI created an Individual Member program, with modest annual dues, and free membership for students and those for whom the dues would be a financial hardship. There’s a long way to go with the Individual Member program, both in terms of developing Member benefits to encourage people to join, and in publicizing the Individual Member program itself. From my perspective, I would like to see that program grow so that the OSI has a large network of members around the world. In that way, the OSI could establish local Member communities, whose members would be active in advocating for open source and identifying issues for the OSI Board to address.

Much of the work to achieve these results was done by other Board members. Simon Phipps, in particular, did an outstanding job of signing up Affiliate Members, and Mike Milinkovich led the way on attracting Sponsors. Both of these programs have now reached a critical mass, making it much easier to attract new members. The Individual Member program is still a work in progress, but there are hundreds of members already, and I personally hope that this number will grow to the thousands over the next few years.  Such growth will expand awareness of the OSI and give the OSI a stronger voice when important open source-related issues arise. Beyond that, member dues will allow the OSI to undertake more activities in support of its mission.

It’s been a unique privilege and honor to have served on the OSI Board during these last six years, and I’m very proud of what the OSI has accomplished over that time. I’m confident that the OSI is in great hands with its existing and new Board members, and I look forward to working with them in the future. I’m always looking for new ways to help advance broad awareness of open source software and its benefits, and will hope to get involved with other communities in the future.