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Linux Foundation is leading fight against fauxpen source

Shifts its transmission from vendor neutral into open source gear


Opinion Since its founding, the Linux Foundation has been a vendor-neutral supporter of Linux and open source software. Now, though, it's actively promoting such open source projects as OpenTofu and Valkey.

The Linux Foundation started in 2007 when the Open Source Development Lab joined forces with the Free Standards Group to support Linux. In 2010, though, it evolved into a neutral, trusted foundation of foundations for developers and organizations to code, manage, and scale open technology projects and ecosystems. Then, in 2023, it took a firmer open source stand by supporting OpenTofu and Valkey against their faux open source parent companies.

To refresh you on what's what here, last August HashiCorp dumped its Terraform infrastructure-as-code tool's open source Mozilla Public License v2.0 (MPLv2) for the semi-proprietary Business Source License (BSL) 1.1 license. Terraform users, developers, and partners were not happy. So, as open source people are wont to do in situations like this, they forked the code into OpenTF

So far, so much as usual. We've seen this happen time after time. For example, you might have heard of Jenkins, the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) program. Unless you paid really close attention, though, you probably didn't know that its creator forked it from an earlier program named Hudson after Oracle tried to grab control of it. And, of course, the same story is true of LibreOffice's forking from OpenOffice.

But then things took an interesting turn. Usually, these forks either make their way on their own or, as in the case of the Amazon Web Services (AWS)  OpenSearch fork of Elastic, a major technology power backs the fork. This time, though, the Linux Foundation stepped in to take control of OpenTF and rename it OpenTofu

As Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation's executive director, said at the time: "OpenTofu embodies our collective dedication to genuine open collaboration in infrastructure as code. It stands as a testament to our shared goal of delivering dependable, accessible tools for the tech world. OpenTofu's dedication to open source principles underscores our shared vision of providing accessible, reliable tools that empower the tech community."

HashiCorp was ticked off. CEO Dave McJannet snapped back: "Open source foundations are just a way for big companies to protect themselves from innovation."

He added: "What does it say for the future of open source if foundations will just take it and give it a home? That is tragic for open source innovation. I will tell you, if that were to happen, there'll be no more open source companies in Silicon Valley."

Funny he should say that.

When Redis recently dumped the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) 3-clause license for the Redis in-memory data store for the Redis Source Available License (RSALv2) and Server Side Public License (SSPLv1), guess what happened? Yes, the Linux Foundation once more stood up and announced it would support a fork of the code: Valkey.

I don't see anyone in Silicon Valley, or anywhere else, abandoning open source. Since 77 percent of all code today is open source and essentially all codebases include at least some open source code, it simply can't be done. You might as well say that your developers will stop using the internet.

Why is the Linux Foundation doing this? Chris Aniszczyk, Linux Foundation VP of developer relations, explained in an email: "At the end of the day, we serve the open source community that comes together when solving problems. We may have gotten a bit faster and working with any single vendor relicensing/fork issues, but these tend to be still in the minority the last time I counted them up."

The problem the Linux Foundation is trying to solve here is the rise of faux open source licenses such as BSL and SSPL. Far too many companies have taken to building on top of open source projects, achieving a measure of success, and then turning their backs on open source in an attempt to squeeze more money out of their customers and partners.

Now, some will say that these companies are just trying to get their fair share of the pie from huge hyperscale cloud providers. Fair? I don't see the open source developers getting rich from these license changes. I see venture capitalists and private equity companies enriching themselves from the efforts of open source programmers.

Yes, AWS and the like are worth multiple billions, and much of their value comes from using open source software. But let's not pretend that these former open source companies are hurting. As I write this, HashiCorp is worth over $5 billion, and Redis's last valuation was $2 billion. Neither of these companies, nor many others, could have made their fortunes without using open source in the first place.

Open source was always based on the fundamental idea that we're all better off sharing our efforts. The Linux Foundation is simply defending the very method that these businesses built their fortunes on in the first place. If that's ticking off these companies, so be it. ®

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