Last week I attended the Jornadas gvSIG, the developer/user gathering for the open source GIS project supported by the regional government in Valencia. There seems to be a very supportive climate towards free software and open licensed data in Spain. I was impressed to hear people from commercial consultancies and local government information and infrastructure departments talking so strongly about software libre and the need to compartir el conocimiento, where tecnologia proprietaria has no place in a proyecto cooperativo. Government is increasingly moving toward an explicit Creative Commons based open licensing approach to public data and its Spatial Data Infrastructure – census data, political and administrative shapes, street networks and aerial imagery – all kinds of geographic information, open and libre.
Our household only knows about Indo-European languages, but can’t think of another language than English where a distinction between libre (free) and gratis (free) isn’t explicitly made. Talk of datos libres or freie daten has both rhetorical strength and public plausibility in a way in which free, in English, hasn’t. The term “open source software” originally came about as a softening of the term “free software”, in an attempt to introduce a non-radical plausibility. Free and Open Source software can be essentially the same thing, under a different name, open licensed in the same way.
In the last few weeks I’ve heard of Google’s launch of “OpenSocial” and its bootstrapping of the “Open Handset Alliance”. The latter, certainly, is based on patent/license-encumbered hardware and not offering an “Open Platform” that will run on more truly libre telephony hardware platforms such as OpenMoko. How libre is “open”, in these cases? How libre can a system be that relies on data formats and hardware recipes that require royalties and/or membership of a consortium in order to use it?
In such circumstances I am very glad an effort like opendefinition.org, attempting to describe a yardstick by which the libre qualities of open data, data service, data format, works can be assessed. I hope that, in helping to keep the definition of usefully “open” clear, this may help to keep open free.