Simon is a veteran and in a climate of great change he has remained a level voice for continued change among institutions. For instance, last year Simon joined OSI (Open Source Initiative) as a director. The OSI was “[..] formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open source community”. At the time of its creation this meant stamping new licenses with the OSI stamp of approval. It was clear many years ago that the last thing we needed was more open source licenses but OSI had difficulty evolving from solving a problem we no longer had and returning to its core mission.
Simon joined OSI to bring change to the organization and make it relevant again. From his March 2010 post:
I think it’s time for change, first at OSI and then more widely. OSI needs to move from a “supreme court” model to a member-based model. I’d like to see activities promoting software freedom around the world both encouraged and represented by OSI – education, policy development and perhaps organisational support for open source projects. And if there was any way at all to be a more uniting force or have a scorecard – well, I can dream!
I have a lot of respect for Simon. His post was less about my criticism of Apache and more about my conclusion, that we may have outgrown our institutions. His response details the abstract importance and value that can be attained from a foundation, noting legal issues faced recently by Koha that could have been avoided if it had a strong foundation behind it. He is of course correct, in the abstract, the best way to protect ourselves from legal issues of all kinds (trademark, patent, copyright, libel, etc.) is through a foundation. In fact, I made sure to note that Apache’s value could remain relevant if it focused on these issues when I wrote my article.
The Apache mission can still be relevant, even if corporations don't have the same biases against open source software, developers still need protections of their own. Legal issues are real and have only gotten worse, especially patent issues. IP protections are more important now than they've ever been for creators of open source software.
But the abstract value of an institution cannot be compared to the practical impact current policies have on collaboration and community for open source projects.
Simon believes it is the job of an institution (in this case a foundation) to protect members from each other and from the outside world. In the case of legal liabilities this makes perfect sense. In the case of community participation this view has become detrimental.
If you believe, as I do, that we have undertaken a cultural shift in open source then you must re-examine the need for institutional governance of collaboration. If the values we once looked to institutions like Apache to enforce are now enforced within the culture by social contract then there is no need for an institution to be the arbiter of collaboration between members.
This does not mean that a foundation could not present its value as solely taking on the legal responsibility of its members with little to no responsibility for day-to-day collaboration. Such a foundation, to my knowledge, does not exist.
Simon makes it sound easy to start a foundation. I looked into the process of starting a 501c nonprofit corporation for running conferences and it is less than trivial and running my own startup has given me new respect for the amount of paperwork it takes to keep any institution working. Sure, I would love the legal protections an organization like Apache can provide but not at the cost of living on Apache Island far off the coast of the new open source culture.
I believe Simon thought my thesis was that we don’t need foundations but what I really meant is that we’ve outgrown the ones we have and that the loss of their leadership, to me, has been a tragedy. My solution was to focus on individual leadership among people in the community but I think Simon believes there is a future institution that can help us. I don’t know who is right, only time will tell.