As a result of companies releasing their code to the public, the importance of having a solid community—one that understands how developers, contributors, businesses and governments interact and communicate—increases. One group has recognized this importance since the beginning, and yesterday it celebrated its 18th anniversary, along with a history of support for open source.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI), a California-based non-profit, has been raising awareness and promoting adoption of open-source software since it was founded in 1998 as an educational, advocacy and stewardship organization.

During this time, interest and participation in the sharing of code has become mainstream, especially with the release of the Netscape source code, which happened shortly after OSI was conceived. Netscape, a computer service company, created an opportunity to educate and advocate for the superiority of an open development process, according to OSI.

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Also during this time, a group got together and observed companies start to engage with software freedom and this new way of licensing. They started a conversation about what it means to be “open source.” This led to a meeting that founded the OSI.

“A big focus in the early days [for OSI] was around licensing,” said Allison Randal, president of OSI and open-source strategist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “There was a broad variety of licenses going around—some of them claimed to be open source—and there was disagreement around what the core of open source should be.”

From early days to today’s outreach
In 1998, the OSI put together the Open Source Definition, an objective standard for what kinds of licenses can or cannot be called “open source.” This definition is still used by OSI today. This standard demonstrates that open source isn’t just access to source code. The distribution terms of open source software must comply with several criteria, and Randal said that this helps eliminate everyone being able to “slap” the open-source label onto their license when it might be, in fact, anything but open source.

One of the main activities of the OSI board is to review licenses that individuals submit to get the “open-source” blessing. The board reviews it according to the Open Source Definition, approving any license that meets it. OSI has a list of open-source licenses by category, including those that have been superseded or retired.

Randal said that this past year there has been an enormous buzz for all things open source, primarily because large tech companies like Google, IBM and Microsoft began to release once-proprietary code into open-source communities. Some well-known technology projects are affiliates of OSI, meaning they are non-profit and not-for profit entities and communities that are committed to public support for open-source software and the OSI. Affiliates include foundations like Debian, Eclipse, Joomla, Linux, Mozilla and Python.

The OSI has also increased its efforts in reaching out to organizations the its traditional software and open-source community in the last year. “This year we had several opportunities to work organizations that folks may not normally consider when thinking of open-source software, [like] companies in financial services, manufacturing as well as governmental agencies—across the globe,” said Patrick Masson, general manager at OSI.

Additionally, the organization shifted from a member-led organization, where members could organize and direct initiatives through working groups and incubator projects, according to Masson. At the same time, they wanted to increase their profile through contributions and support of open source software, projects, and community that highlights the OSI’s value for open source, according to Masson.

“The goal was to get the house in order so we would be in position to actually provide the level of support the growing community was asking for,” he said.

Open-source software is continuing to grow as organizations see the benefit of having public source code. More organizations are reaching out to OSI for assistance in understanding open source as a whole, according to Masson. Some organizations reach out to OSI because they want to learn best practices when implementing open-source software, or how they can contribute or participate in a project.

Randal said that open source is on a continued growth trajectory, and there are a few reasons why it’s moving forward. One is that as more and more corporations use open source, it becomes a part of their economic value. She said this drives an “interesting cycle of increased involvement” for open source.

To kick off its 18th anniversary, the OSI wants to add 2,398 members in celebration of the day the organization was founded. This membership drive will run in parallel with its annual board elections, which opened yesterday. Current members of the board have diverse backgrounds, with positions ranging from engineers to Java developers, educators, strategists, lawyers and managers. All members have some connection with or contribution to the open-source community.