A blog for the enterprise open source community
As the GPL fadesJay Lyman, January 28, 2010 @ 3:17 pm ET
We’re continuing to see signs that the dominant GPL open source license may be fading from favor among commercial open source software players. The latest move away from the GPL comes from content management software vendor Alfresco, which is moving to the LGPL after originally releasing its code under the GPL three years ago. The reasoning for the shift, according to Alfresco CEO John Newton, is the company sees greater opportunity beyond being a software application, particularly given the emergence of the Content Management Interoperability Services standard. Alfresco won mostly praise for its move, and it does make sense given where open source is going these days.
I believe the emerging trend away from GPL and toward more permissive, mixable licenses such as LGPL or Apache reflects the broadening out of open source software not only throughout the enterprise IT software stack, but also throughout uses beyond individual applications, frameworks and systems. More and more open source software vendors are pursuing opportunities in embedded use or OEM deals whereby open source software often must sit alongside or even inside of proprietary code and products. Similar to what we’ve seen in the mobile space — where open source software and development are more prominent than ever, but end products with accessible code are not — open source is broadening out, but it is doing so in many cases by integrating with proprietary code.
We also see some debate about the community and commercial ups and downs of GPL as organizations contemplate the balance of the two and the best way to achieve commercial success with open source software. As Matt highlights, we are seeing a choice of non-GPL licensing in order to more effectively foster community and third-party involvement, but we also continue to see GPL as a top choice to similarly build community.
While the debate about community versus commercial benefit may not necessarily be prompting movement away from GPL, I believe another recent action may indeed do so. The latest series of GPL lawsuits are aimed at raising awareness, profile and legitimacy for open source software. While those bringing the suits — primarily the Software Freedom Law Center — have exhibited a reasonable approach and settled with past lawsuit targets, these suits and publicity may still serve to steer organizations making the choice to other licenses, including the LGPL, BSD, Apache and the Eclipse Public License.
Another factor is the GPL thumping that took place during the SaveMySQL campaign as the European Commission contemplated Oracle’s proposed (and now closed) acquisition of Sun Microsystems and the open source MySQL. I voiced my concern that the SaveMySQL campaign might jeopardize or de-value open source software projects and pieces in M&A, but I believe I’m actually in agreement with SaveMySQL leader Monty Widenius that the deal and process may end up tarnishing the GPL and its reputation in the enterprise.
As stated above, much of the movement we’re seeing away from the GPL has to do with the desire and opportunity to place open source software alongside, within, on top of or otherwise with proprietary software. Non-GPL open source licenses are also more flexible in terms of integrating and bundling with other open source software licensed under other, non-GPL licenses.
We anticipated this fade of GPL as covered in our report, The Myth of Open Source License Proliferation. Given its clout, durability and continued popularity in commercial open source (and with help from continued growth of GPL-licensed Linux) we believe the GPL will endure as a top open source license. However, given their flexibility and the ability to combine with other code, we see a number of other challengers — Apache, BSD, EPL and LGPL — rising while GPL dominance wanes. We’re also watching to see whether the AGPLv3 for networked software will provide new life for GPL-style licensing and community building in emerging virtualized, SaaS and cloud computing environments.
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