While the hubbub and associated ripples generated by Roy Fiedling's departure from the OpenSolaris community probably had more to do with the fissures in Sun's open source fortress that it supposedly exposed. Since I'm not close enough to the OpenSolaris team to comment on its internal state of affairs I hesitated to weigh in about whether this is a positive or negative indicator for the community and Sun in general. Obviously, the departure of someone with Roy's credentials will be felt, my only question is will Sun seize the opportunity to better establish a governance identity?
Nonetheless, Roy's contention over Sun's approach to open source governance/decision-making doesn't just highlight key issues and challenges tied to the open source software model. Namely the fact that the open in open source should not be confused for a generic identifier that guarantees a finite set of characteristics. As the model matures, it makes sense to expect that the number of differences between disparate open source efforts will only increase positively over time. However, the reality that different evolutionary paths will materialize from the unique forces (internal and external) exerted on individual project communities seems to go unnoticed. In the same light, some of the words commonly used in conjunction with open source will continue to become too broad to leave to interpretation. As an example, Roy pointed out the following:
"What is the point of creating the OpenSolaris Community governance if the community isn’t even allowed to decide what is called OpenSolaris? This isn’t an abstract discussion of trademarks. It is the fundamental basis for making technical decisions of any kind for the project."
It remains difficult to effectively criticize Sun (or anyone else) for choosing the path it has with OpenSolaris so long as the commitment to transparency is a priority. However, from the looks of things a key member of the OpenSolaris Community Advisory Board (CAB) didn't have the same understanding of what open entailed. More than anything else, Roy's departure is symptomatic of critical gaps in communication, whatever the specifics. Such a gap isn't unique to open source and is more often the rule as opposed to the exception when it comes to larger organizations. Unfortunately, open source thrives when external and internal communication is clear and driven by the variety of flattened hierarchies that are typically extinct within those same large corporate organisms...all of which seemed to fall under the CAB charter.
So it's mildly surprising to learn that the individual tagged as a representative of the general open source community was never made aware that his concept of open decision making differed from Sun's understanding of the same term. If the Sun team never had any intention of granting substantial input into the technical decision making process, that's their choice. Only the company should have taken care to cleanly express the desire to retain control (in general or in regards to specific matters), since the CAB was founded with a perceived air of, not just representation, but also participation in the governance process. There should have been absolutely no motivation to project anything other than the actual outlook on these matters...the definition of transparency.
My perspective is that the open source umbrella has unfolded enough to cover a healthy variety of flavors, colors and combinations (and I don't have any reason to assume this won't continue). So while there is still lively debate about whether certain licenses can be considered open source, other elements associated with a community aren't subject to this type of either/or judgment. Personally, I have no problem applying the open source label to a project that makes its proposition (what it is/isn't as an open source effort) crystal clear and sticks to it. Roy's position seems to be that this is exactly what didn't happen with OpenSolaris.
Obviously the community isn't going to fall apart anytime soon. All the same, it does provide cause to wonder how much of openness is being spun for the purposes of perception management. Hopefully this fallout will incite Sun to assert a cohesive position on how the OpenSolaris community will proceed as a decision making body and continue to demonstrate a commitment to that angle.