Back to the future of commercial open source

It’s been tempting to write a post about open source licensing trends and how they relate to commercial business strategies, given ongoing interest in our previous posts about the relative decline of the GPL.

Every time I start to write a post though I realise that I’d just be repeating myself, most notably The future of commercial open source business strategies from December 2011, but also Control and Community – and the future of commercial open source strategies from late 2010.

You can trace the origins of the theories and research in those posts back to The golden age of open source? in August 2010, and even further to Commercial open source business strategies in 2009 and beyond from early 2009.

That post in particular contains the core elements about why we believed we were at a tipping point with regards to commercial open source strategies, prompting the shift from vendor-led strategies that emphasised control via copyleft licenses, to community-led strategies that emphasised collaboration via permissive licenses.

The one aspect that those posts didn’t cover is what happens after this shift. That is a question that has recently been addressed by Simon Phipps, who predicts that the pendulum will swing to the centre and weak-copyleft licenses and specifically the recently released MPLv2.

While I don’t dispute the logic of that prediction, I can see nothing in the data that we have previously collected and analysed that indicates a shift to weak-copyleft. As you can see, while there was a strong shift from vendors towards non-copyleft licenses from 2007 onwards, we have seen no such shift with regards to weak-copyleft.

Which is not to say that it won’t happen – just that we see no evidence of it right now, and that we would have to see an enormous swing towards weak-copyleft licenses in the next couple of years. It will be interesting to see whether the release of MPLv2 will be the event that triggers that swing.