Thursday, April 30, 2009

Apache better than GPL for open-source business?

I have spent years advocating the GNU General Public License as the optimal open-source license for commercial open source.

Roughly nine years after I first became a fan of the GPL, I think I've been wrong.

My admiration for the GPL mostly stemmed from its ability to mimic, but then invert, proprietary licensing. The GPL is like opening a cannister of radioactive waste: while your competitors can touch it, you're dead certain that they won't.

Given that openness is increasingly a winning business model--if not the winning business model, as Red Hat executive Michael Tiemann argues--one has to wonder if pretending to be open through the GPL accomplishes as much as fully opening up through Apache-style licensing would.

Open-source luminary Eric Raymond is pretty clear on this point:

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1 comment:

Michael Tiemann said...

I whole-heartedly disagree with the premise of this article and I believe the author either profoundly misunderstands my 20+ years of history with the GPL or is writing something false in order to get curious people to click on a link that makes them say "WTF?!".

I have always preferred the GPL (or LGPL when appropriate) license to licenses like MIT or BSD, and that is why I have written more lines of code for GPL-based projects than non-GPL-based projects by more than 1,000 to 1. Indeed, I believe that MySQL eclipsed PostgreSQL not because it was a better database, but because the PostgreSQL license encouraged quasi-proprietary appropriation of their open source code (just as Sun appropriated the BSD Unix software). Such appropriate may attract a lot of venture capital, but it doesn't grow the project very organically.

I therefore ask you to read what I have written at or in the O'Reilly book "Open Sources" or speeches I have given that praise the GPL as my own personal favorite license.

Of course, as President of the Open Source Initiative, I don't run around saying "any non-GPL license is BAD BAD BAD". I *don't* say that. But I do prefer GPL, as a developer, and as an entrepreneur, and if anybody wants to experiment with other open source-approved licenses, go right ahead. But don't say that my recommendations are away from GPL--that is false.