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 I was wrong. 

(2063 Reads) Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 - 01:04 AM
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I was wrong. I thought that Medsphere would make an "underwhelming" release. Instead they have made a very significant release. This important software is a CPRS replacement that runs under GNU/Linux. (CPRS only runs on natively on Windows). This is a very important development and may mark an important turning point for Medsphere. Still while I am certain that this is a significant event, I am not sure exactly what this release means; I have written some initial thoughts after the gap. In any case, I never would have predicted that this is what Medsphere would do! There seem to be two parts to the release. The OpenVistA "Server" is a tweaked version of FOIA VistA used to get Midland running. FOIA VistA does not have some basic features needed to run a private hospital. I had expected that this portion, which I credit to Midland Hospital more than to Medsphere, would comprise the entire release. If this had been it, I would have been right about being underwhelmed. I am surprised, and delighted, that this portion of the code was released under the GPL.

From what I can tell the other part of the release software represents half of the software that the Shreeves "conspired" to release under the GPL. According to the court documents, the Shreeves released two pieces, a Java based MUMPS interpreter called JUMPS and a CPRS replacement called Kickstand.

The OpenVistA "client" appears to be Kickstand. The Client is released under the Medsphere Public License (MSPL) which is based on the Mozilla Public License. However the MSPL is "Badgeware", meaning that it requires that portions of the interface to display "powered by Medsphere" even if some other company is supporting the codebase. I will talk more about this problem soon, but for now you can read some interesting discussions on the subject. Because of the debate regarding Badgeware, it is not clear if this release is open source or not.

Because it is Badgeware, this does not meet the Free Software definition and it is not . It fails Freedom 0 and 1. For instance, if I wanted to modify the software to advertise "Fred's excellent company" instead of Medsphere I would be unable to do this. The Medsphere license says that I can use it for any purpose... as long as I also advertise Medsphere.

More interesting than anything else is why Medsphere has done this. My original (and incorrect) thought was that Medsphere could never consider doing this, since the whole point of the case against the Shreeves is the idea that the Shreeves were doing something destructive to the company. Despite my GPL-leanings I can understand how a company like Microsoft would consider the GPL release of its operating systems by an employee to be an attack. On the other hand, Red Hat and other GPL oriented companies release valuable code under the GPL everyday and think nothing of it. Before this release the case seemed clear to me: Medsphere would argue that Medsphere was like Microsoft (more or less) and were therefore damaged by the Shreeve's release. The Shreeves would argue that Medsphere was more like Redhat and that Medsphere benefited by the Shreeve's release.

This release fundamentally changes Medsphere position. Now they are saying, "When we release in this fashion, it is good for the company. But by releasing in the way that the Shreeves it was bad for the company". This explains the following message from the
Governance Page at

Medsphere is a commercial open source healthcare software company. As such, the Company will from time to time release to the public portions of the source code that it has developed. Prior to any source code being released to the public by the Company, the code is vetted through a well-defined clearance process aimed at ensuring the integrity and appropriateness of the code for public release and ensuring corporate awareness of the release.

On one level, I applaud this release. It is definitely a step in the right direction. However, Medsphere has not released JUMPS and is still suing the Shreeve brothers.

This will ultimately be a test of the moral underpinning of the "open source" community. The Free Software people (like me) have often criticized the open source position for being valueless. Lets see what happens when the rubber meets the road. Does the use of an almost open source license excuse Medsphere from suing its former employees and, more importantly, community members. It will be a simple question: Will a community form around the Medsphere controlled code? or will someone fork the code because Medsphere is not trusted? Given a fork, will the community form around Medsphere or around a fork?

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