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Mission Accomplished: Do We Need the New OSDL?

Organization seeks a new direction, CEO resigns, staff cut by a third.

Since 2000, the non-profit Open Source Development Lab has been a champion of Linux and Open Source in enterprise environments. Primarily an engineering-focused organization, the consortium is generally regarded as a boon to the Open Source community and a positive force in the mainstreaming of OSS.

The environment that the OSDL rose up in has greatly changed in the last several years. Today, Linux is without a doubt a trusted part of enterprise infrastructure, as validated by its most aggressive competitor. That’s a tremendous shift from the mindset of 2000 and this week the OSDL felt that change with the loss of their CEO, Stuart Cohen, who leaves to work at a venture capital firm based in Portland and Seattle. In addition to this the OSDL laid off a third of its staff as they seek to redirect their efforts away from engineering and toward becoming a legal support organization.

This isn’t a completely new area for the OSDL. The original Linux Legal Defense Fund was established in early 2004 in the wake of the SCO lawsuit to protect Linux end users, ODSL, Linus Torvalds, and Andrew Morton. That fund, however, will need to be reallocated in light of recent events.

Last week saw the near outright dismissal of what remains of the SCO trial as a judge upheld previous rulings and tossed out the bulk of SCO’s “evidence.” For a complete breakdown of the ruling, we recommend visiting Groklaw.

The long and the short of it is that the SCO lawsuit against IBM is over. Baseless to begin with, we should hope to never see its like again in the US courts. And if we don’t, what of the OSDL’s legal ambitions?

Nearly every vendor provides some form Open Source indemnification to its end users these days. The vendors themselves should be capable of taking care of lawsuits aimed at their own company and putting methodologies in place too ensure that such lawsuits should never come to light. What’s left to protect? Independent developers?

The organization, which isn’t currently commenting on the changes, offered this in a statement as a key area of focus following the reorg:

[To provide] increased legal support for Linux and open source to account for licensing and patent issues that are increasing in complexity; this expansion will complement our current initiatives such as the Patent Commons, Osapa.org, the Linux Legal Defense Fund, and other projects.

Without a doubt, intellectual property issues surrounding Open Source are more complex now than they have been in the past due in large part to the enormous volume of code currently in open circulation. But how real are the threats of litigation? Does the OSDL’s focus make these implied threats more real than they actually are?

The OSDL’s initial mandate — “To accelerate the deployment of Linux for enterprise computing…” — created a situation where their success would invalidate their mission. That situation has come to pass and we now find the OSDL in the position not of creating something new but rather reacting to what currently amounts to legal boogeymen.

I suppose the new OSDL is a bit like an Open Source Fire Department. I wonder how long it will be before they tire of responding to false alarms.

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