Building trust in open source: a look inside the OpenChain Project

Image Credit: Alpha Stock Images (Image credit: Image Credit: Alpha Stock Images)

Open source software provides businesses with a number of benefits including cost, flexibility and freedom. This freely distributed software can also be easily altered by any business that is familiar with its source code. 

However, licensing issues do arise which could present a major hurdle for an organisation's legal team. This is why the OpenChain Project was set up to help introduce common standards regarding how companies declare their open source efforts are compliant with licensing standards.

TechRadar Pro spoke with OpenChain's General Manager, Shane Coughlan to gain a better understanding of how open source licenses work and to learn how the Linux Foundation is making it easier for businesses to take advantage of open source software.

How is the Linux Foundation working to drive open source adoption?

The Linux Foundation supports sustainable open source ecosystems by providing financial and intellectual resources, infrastructure, services, events, and training. The Linux Foundation and its projects form the most ambitious and successful investment in the creation of shared technology. It could be described as Grand Central Station for open source collaboration. 

What are some of the challenges of open source compliance?

Open source code provides an excellent way to collaborate around shared technology investments. This collaboration is framed by the terms of open source licenses. One aspect of maturity in this space is ensuring the licenses are identified and followed. In complex supply chains there is the potential for challenges in accomplishing this. Mistakes happen. Our opportunity as a community is to continually learn from experience and continually refine what we do.

Image Credit: OpenChain

Image Credit: OpenChain (Image credit: Image Credit: OpenChain)

Can you tell us a bit about the OpenChain Specification and what a company has to do to earn it?

The OpenChain Project is all about identifying the key requirements of a quality open source compliance program.

The OpenChain Specification is the document that describes processes that companies can apply to open source compliance at inbound, internal and external inflection points. Experience tells us that if processes exist at these inflection points errors and omissions around open source compliance are dramatically reduced. Companies have the flexibility to specify the content of each process, ensuring that the Specification is suitable for all companies in all market sectors. It is a pretty elegant way to address open source compliance effectively.

How can businesses utilize OpenChain’s online conformance web app?

The OpenChain Project’s online conformance web app is a simple, free way for companies to review a series of yes or no questions about Conformance processes. If a company can answer “yes” to each question, they are OpenChain conformant. If they answer no to specific questions, they have identified areas where they can effectively apply resources to improve their open source compliance program. One interesting statistic from a recent survey is that half of our web app users are seeking conformance and half are conducting internal heath checks. It is one illustration of how open projects for open standards deliver value both on their core mission and in other ways.

In what ways is OpenChain helping to build trust in the open source community?

The OpenChain Project provides a clear, simple and effective way to identify the key requirements of a quality open source compliance program. It builds trust between entities in the supply chain as a neutral and broadly applicable standard of quality. If companies are OpenChain Conformant it means they have processes for open source compliance at key inflection points. It cuts through a lot of the uncertainty, vagueness or fragmentation in approaches that might otherwise exist.

Image Credit: Linux Foundation

Image Credit: Linux Foundation (Image credit: Image Credit: Linux Foundation)

What are the benefits of becoming a platinum member of the Linux Foundation and why have companies including Google, Cisco, Microsoft and others chosen to do so?

As the most ambitious and successful investment in the creation of shared technology, the Linux Foundation and its projects provide an incredible meeting point for realizing solutions for today and tomorrow. Membership in the Linux Foundation is a great way to provide leadership at the forefront of innovation. The same applies across the various projects hosted by the Linux Foundation. Microsoft, as the newest Platinum Member of the OpenChain Project, is signaling their intent and commitment to support the global ecosystem around the adoption of key requirements for quality open source compliance programs.

What do you think the future holds for open source software?

Software is everywhere you find technology. Open source is everywhere you find software. Open source is the fabric behind cloud, automotive, embedded, IoT and many more technologies. The future will see more commonalities being identified, greater collaboration across market segments, and ever improving ways to go from great ideas to great deployed solutions. OpenChain is one step along this path.