Once upon a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, developers didn’t think about licenses. They assumed open-source licenses didn’t matter. Oh, how wrong they were as one open-source lawsuit after another has shown. Just ask Oracle about its Google lawsuit. But, the organization, which has overseen open-source licensing since the beginning, the Open Source Initiative (OSI), has long been an amateur effort. That’s changed. The OSI has finally named its first Executive Director, Stefano Maffulli.
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Maffulli is a long-time developer community manager. He co-founded and led the Italian chapter of Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) from 2001 to 2007. He also worked for the FreedomBox Foundation. This organization, led by Columbia law professor Eben Moglen, created an inexpensive open-source server for those who wanted to avoid proprietary internet and cloud services. From there, Maffulli moved to OpenStack, the open-source Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, and other open-source projects.
He’ll be taking over from Deb Nicholson, who served as the OSI’s interim general manager. This key step in the move of the OSI OSI into a professionally managed organization.
“Bringing Stefano Maffulli on board as OSI’s first Executive Director is the culmination of a years-long march toward professionalization so that OSI can be a stronger and more responsive advocate for open source,” says Joshua Simmons, the OSI board’s chairperson. “We can now deprecate the role of President transitioning to Chair of the Board with confidence about OSI’s future.”
An enthusiastic open source user, Maffulli contributed documentation patches, translations and advocated for projects as diverse as GNU, QGIS, OpenStreetMap, and WordPress. He knows he’ll face new, bigger challenges at the OSI.
“Open source software is everywhere, but its definition is constantly being challenged,” said Maffulli. “The zombies of shared source, limited-use, and proprietary software are emerging from the graves where we put them to rest in the 90s, threatening the whole ecosystem.”
He’s not wrong. Open-source’s challenges now come in new forms. For example, Server Side Public License (SSPL) tries to present itself as an open-source license while forbidding its use by cloud service providers.
The OSI has to keep up with these and many other changes. For example, there have been several failed efforts to force ethical rules into open-source licenses. To keep up with these whiplash fast advances, Maffulli said, “mobile devices, cloud, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and blockchain offer new opportunities for developers, entrepreneurs, and society as a whole who all deserve a strong OSI not only to maintain a definition of open source that works in modern settings but also forges a path for how to effectively produce modern open-source software.”
Other open-source organization leaders are welcoming Maffulli and his new role. “This is an important change,” says Karen Sandler, the Software Freedom Conservancy‘s executive director of the. “I congratulate the OSI for engaging in a critical re-evaluation of its role in the FOSS community and redefining how its board functions. I’m excited to see what the future holds for OSI with Maffulli’s leadership.”
Allison Randal, the Open Infrastructure Foundation Chair of the Board added, “Successful open source depends on the solid bedrock of open source licenses, but it also requires so much more. The new structure of the OSI will enable the Executive Director and the Board to put renewed energy behind the practical aspects of producing open-source software in open and collaborative environments.”
What happens next? We’ll see. With stronger, professional leadership, I expect we’ll be hearing more from the OSI as open-source, and its licenses, grows ever more important to the business and technology world.