December 20, 2006

SPI to transfer domain names to OSI

Author: Bruce Byfield

Software in the Public Interest's (SPI) board of directors has voted to approve the transfer of the and domain names to the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The move is welcomed as a goodwill gesture by OSI, but has already generated some hostility from SPI's constituency.

The resolution to transfer the domains was drafted in November in response to a request from OSI in July. However, the issue dates back to 1998, when Bruce Perens left SPI to help found OSI and failed to transfer rights to the domain. The issue has been contentious ever since, with OSI regularly requesting the transfer and many SPI supporters arguing against it on the grounds that OSI was not suitably governed for a non-profit society -- an argument that often seems to have been a front for hostility left over from the original split between the two organizations. Opposition to the transfer seems to be especially strong among Debian developers, the largest and oldest project supported by SPI.

The issue came to a head during SPI's November meeting, when Bdale Garbee, SPI president, stated, "Let me be very clear about this. I'd like to close this issue one way or another, once and for all. I will not tolerate another postponement, so please, everyone on the board continue to discuss and be ready to vote on the resolution a month hence.."

David Graham, a vocal supporter of the motion on the board (and a member of the staff), echoed Garbee's comments before the meeting was called to order on the #spi channel on "This limbo state is absurd," Graham said. Referring to the questions of OSI's governance, he added, "If we are providing OSI its domain, it should be either with our endorsement or not at all. For years we've been in this ridiculous state of saying we have your domain but we don't agree with the way you do things, so maybe some day we'll pull it out from under you unless you change."

Garbee sent regrets for the December meeting. However, with Michael Schultheiss chairing the meeting in his place and no debate permitted during the actual meeting, the SPI board quickly passed the resolution. David Graham, Neil McGovern, Jimmy Kaplowitz, and Michael Schultheiss voted in favor the resolution, with Ian Jackson voting against it and Josh Berkus abstaining.

For those logged in before the meeting was called to order, Berkus's vote came as no surprise. "I see no strong arguments to keep and no strong arguments to give it away," Berkus said before the vote, adding that, while he could see the point of a goodwill gesture, "I don't think the gesture would work," and therefore planned to abstain.

However, a small but vocal number of guests strongly criticized the resolution both before and after the vote. Debian developer M. J. Ray suggested, "It's one of those toothpaste tube topics: if it is ever done, it's hard to put back. The only way to resolve it once and for all for SPI is to give the domain away to someone else. I strongly suggest it shouldn't be OSI."

After the vote, Ray remarked that the board had "given away SPI's assets to a closed group." Similarly, Debian developer Ean Schuessler commented vaguely but ominously, "I just hope that OSI doesn't end up being instrumental in dictating some government's definition of what open source is and isn't."

By contrast, Danese Cooper, secretary and treasurer of OSI, responded positively to the news. "We're really pleased that they made this decision," Cooper said.

"I think they were waiting to see how we would grow," Cooper said, in apparent reference to the arguments about OSI's governance. Nor was Cooper annoyed by the time taken to bring OSI's request to a vote. "We work by consensus ourselves," she said, "and it sometimes takes us a long time to make a decision. So we understand why it would take SPI a long time."

However, whether the gesture will bring the two organizations closer together remains doubtful. As the comments after the vote demonstrate, passing the resolution has apparently done little to change the feelings of at least part of SPI's constituency.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge,, and IT Manager's Journal.


  • Open Source
Click Here!