In preparation for my presentation at OSBC tomorrow I’ve been looking back at some of the key trends that influenced the commercial open source landscape in 2009. One of those is the decline in the use of the GNU GPL as a proportion of all open source projects.
The decline was highlighted by figures from Black Duck Software in June 2009, which indicated a 5% decline in the use of the GPL, compared to the previous year.
At the time that reduction was put down to the move to Web applications and cloud computing, where the reciprocity of the GPL does not come in to play.
Looking at those figures again, and comparing them with the latest Black Duck numbers, I’m not convinced the answer is that simple. 50.06% of projects tracked by Black Duck in June 2009 were using the GPLv2, and that percentage has continued to decline, to 48.86% today.
However, a few quick calculations indicates that the number of projects using the GPLv2 has actually increased in real terms from 94,254 in June 2009 to 97,148 in March 2010. That 3% increase is less than the overall 6% increase in open source projects during the same period, but not alarmingly so.
If we assume that Web applications and cloud computing played a significant role in the proportional decline of the GPLv2, we would expect to see a significant rise in the use of the AGPLv3. While the use of the AGPLv3 has indeed risen 16% between June 2009 and today, in real terms the rise is from 198 projects to 231 – still an insignificant amount compared to the GPLv2.
Indeed the GPLv3 appears to be having a much more significant impact on the GPLv2, rising 14% from 9,541 in June 2009 to 10,887 in March 2010. Overall the use of the GPL family of licenses has risen 4.1% from 103,993 to 108,266.
To be clear, in the long-term I do still expect cloud computing and software services to have a negative impact on the use of the GPL, but it appears that we may have been a bit premature in seeing a causative link last year.
We have also pointed to increased use of more permissive licenses, either in order to encourage widespread adoption and rapid community formation, or to enable easier integration with proprietary software. And those are two key trends that we expect to see applying ongoing pressure on the GPL in the future.
Every time I write about licensing and community I am reminded that licensing is just one of a number of factors that can influence the health of an open source community. It is also true to say that the increased use of cloud and Web applications is just one of a number of factors that are influencing the health of the GNU GPL.