It’s All About the O(pen) – Open Standards and Open Source

By Dave Lounsbury, CTO, The Open Group

Recently, The Open Group received a query about whether a piece of software which was restricted to use with Open Source systems could be used on Apple’s OS X. The person had seen OS X on the Register of Certified UNIX®  Products and asked “so this means it’s open source, right?”

This confusion between open standards and open source is something you see frequently. While Apple’s OS X does conform to the UNIX Standard, it is sold as part of Apple’s product line – it is definitely not open source.

What’s the difference? An Open Standard is a specification for the interface, behavior or quality of something (an operating system in the case of UNIX®). There are various but similar definitions of what openness is, but most agree that open standards are developed through consensus processes that feature:

  • Openness
  • Balance of interest
  • Due process
  • An appeals process

Most also agree that open standards should be available at reasonable and non-discriminatory prices.

Open Source, on the other hand, refers to a software implementation that is made available using one of a variety of licenses and “with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose[1].” While many open source projects are developed through collaboration, some are not. Although typical open source initiatives encourage wide participation[2], the governance of what changes are or are not accepted is up to each individual project, particularly in smaller projects where the decision may be under control of a single individual.

So, what is the relation between these two similar sounding but fundamentally different approaches to openness? One of my mentors in the standards world told me that the best standards are like tires and highways. While there are limits on weight, size, etc., within those limits, people can build whatever kind of vehicle they best suits their needs.

Open standards and open source should have that kind of a complementary relationship. Open standards provide a stable foundation for innovation and increase buyer confidence in knowing what’s in a product, and open source allows people to get started quickly and economically, and to collaboratively create new capabilities. One or more open source implementations can also drive the widespread adoption of a standard, thus strengthening it – look at Apache and HTTP for a good example of this.

To bring this idea of alignment of open standards and open source back to the original query about UNIX and open source: are there examples of such alignment? The answer is yes: Inspur K-UX 3.0 is based on a Linux distribution, but is also certified as conformant to the UNIX standard – the same as Apple’s OS X, AIX, Solaris , HP-UX and others. There is plenty of room on the UNIX® highway – it would be great to have more open source vendors riding along.

  1. Wikipedia, “Open-source software”
  2. Open Source Initiative, “The Open Source Definition (Annotated)”

By Dave Lounsbury, CTO, The Open GroupDavid is Chief Technical Officer for The Open Group. As CTO, he ensures that the people and IT resources at The Open Group are effectively used to implement the organization’s strategy and mission, including The Open Group’s proven processes for collaboration and certification both within the organization and in support of third-party consortia.

David’s previous executive assignments at The Open Group and the Open Software Foundation (OSF) include VP Advanced Research and Innovation which fostered open systems technology through collaborative funding and development, including LDAP, ActiveX Core Technology, DCE 1.2, CDE-Next, and Complex Text Layout.

David holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and is holder of three U.S. patents.

Connect with us via Twitter –  The Open Group @theopengroup and Dave @technodad


Filed under open source, Single UNIX Specification, Standards, The Open Group, Uncategorized, UNIX

2 responses to “It’s All About the O(pen) – Open Standards and Open Source

  1. Geoff Clare

    The relationship between Apple’s OS X and open source is not nearly as simple as you imply. Substantial parts of the nuts-and-bolts underpinnings of OS X are open source and collectively form the “Darwin” operating system.

    • This is an interesting example in itself, in that OS X brought together both open source, proprietary and 3rd party licensed code – including code licensed from one of The Open Group’s predecessors in the form of OSF/1 Mach Microkernel code from the Open Software Foundation Research Institute.

      It’s also a good example of how the open standard OS (OS X) can benefit from it’s open source (Darwin) components – the availability of Darwin has allowed the open community to engage with Apple as the article notes.