As license issues swirl, a new CAOS report

There has been no shortage of lively discussion on open source software licenses with recent shifts in the top licenses, perspectives on the licenses or lack of them for networked, SaaS and cloud-based software, increased prominence of a Microsoft open source license and concern over the openness (or closedness, depending on your perspedtive) of the latest devices. Amid all of it, we’re pleased to present our latest long-form report, CAOS 12 – The Myth of Open Source License Proliferation.

In the report, we cover how the spread and structure of open source software licenses has indeed led to some proliferation, but rather than a bad thing for the enterprise, we believe the variety and abundance of open source licenses has enabled broader enterprise use of open source. Furthermore, there has been an evolutionary natural selection of the most popular open source licenses, with the GNU GPL family, BSD family, Artistic, Apache and MIT licenses dominating both open source software hosted on repository and open source software in use, according to vulnerability reporting and analysis from Airius Internet Solutions. Another key finding in CAOS 12: vendors such as Sun Microsystems and IBM are contributing to license consolidation, retiring open source licenses in Sun’s case and for IBM, superseding the Common Public License with the Eclipse Public License, which similar to the Mozilla Public License is growing in types of software and popularity, particularly given mixed licensing within open source.

The report also carries on the themes of increased open core models, whereby open source software and licensing is combined with commercial licensing, that we covered in CAOS Nine – Open Source is Not a Business Model, as we consider how the need to generate revenue and reward investors can impact decisions on open source licenses. The report also identifies where different open source software licenses are most prominent, both in terms of the layer of the enterprise software stack and types of environments, from mobile and embedded software to SaaS environments to cloud computing.

Despite some recent doubts about it, we see GPLv2 still widely popular beyond its most prominent projects Linux and MySQL, which nonetheless help bolster its significance. Still, it is a once favorite license that may be fading as it is being used less in new projects, which are opting instead for more modern terms and coverage from GPLv3, AGPLv3, CPAL or other open source licenses. There is no question that GPLv3, by contrast, is on the rise and despite its lack of addressing what is commonly known as the ASP or network or SaaS loophole in GPLv2, is generally viewed as more modern. However, there is still strong resistance to GPLv3, particularly outside of the U.S., where we see the European Union turning to its own EUPL for more appropriate language and license coverage. This puts EUPL on our CAOS 12 list of licenses to watch, and another interesting license that joins it there is AGPLv3, which we’ve covered on the CAOS Theory blog before. As covered in the report, while AGPLv3 has failed to gain the same level of support and traction as its cousin GPLv3, it is the open source license of choice among some interesting new cloud plays, such as 10gen and Enomaly, which we’ve also covered here. If a project or vendor can demonstrate some development, distribution or collaboration advantages from AGPLv3, we believe it could lead to a broad embrace of the license in the enterprise. We should point out, however, this has yet to occur and at present, AGPLv3 is often viewed as onerous, to the extent that Google does not support the license in its Project Hosting.

With implications for vendors, both open source and proprietary competitors, for investors and for end users and customers of enterprise open source software, CAOS 12 is also intended as a guide to which open source licenses are most popular and appropriate, and why, for the many enterprise uses of open source software, whether in development, infrastructure, middleware or applications. Looking ahead, we don’t see the most popular open source license list changing much, as vendors tend to stick with the one or two licenses that suit them and rarely change. However, there will be some interesting jockeying among those top dozen licenses. The emergent models of virtual appliances, SaaS, virtualized and cloud environments will certainly impact license decisions and direction, but things will most likely follow the evolutionary path that open source licenses have traveled thus far.

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#1 451 CAOS Theory » On natural selection, evolution, and open source licenses on 07.16.09 at 7:40 am

[…] Jay’s CAOS 12 report can be found here, while his blog post on about the report is here. On Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 1:00pm EDT we will be hosting a webinar to discuss some of the […]

#2 451 CAOS Theory » 451 Group CAOS 12 Webinar - Open source licenses on 07.20.09 at 7:40 pm

[…] Group CAOS 12 Webinar – Open source licenses Jay Lyman, July 20, 2009 @ 7:40 pm ET We recently announced publication of our latest long-form CAOS report, The Myth of Open Source License Proliferation. Now […]

#3 451 CAOS Theory » And the best open source license is … on 09.03.09 at 9:19 am

[…] debate portion was followed by some good discussion of business models, open core and proliferation with questions from the live and Web audiences. So why does my vote for the winner go to Mike and […]