CTO on GPL

I met with the CTO of a company leveraging open source projects to build a compelling offering in the BI/DW space. Their secret sauce is staying closed source, but they are contributing some good stuff back to the core projects which they are leveraging.

We were discussing the dual licensing GPL/Commercial strategy and he put it quite nicely:

For business focused projects that have little or no value to hobbyist projects, it’s almost antagonistic offering GPL

This echoes my thoughts on the Ingres move to GPL. Business focused open source projects know that they have to exist in an economy of open and closed source applications so offering a GPL version of their project could be considered insulting! In practice, it becomes shareware (try for free, but use for money). For instance, Ingres corporation is saying that you are free to use our database if your product is GPL. This is like offering a scholarship to an underprivileged inner city youth for a PhD program in Astro Physics when they only just passed their GED. They can claim they are being benevolant but they know that student will never get accepted to the program.

My advice to “business focused” open source projects: If you want to flourish, you must have a business friendly license otherwise your community will not arrive. The hobbyists don’t need advanced business workflow processing, and companies that could invest in your technology won’t because they need business friendly licenses.

MySQL works because it actually benefits the community because “Joe’s MP3 collection manager” does need a simple database for it. MySQL is on the “cusp” of a business application. There is a reasonable value add for MySQL in GPL and vice versa.

I’m continually amazed at how the words “open source” and the actual practice of “open source” are getting twisted, turned, mauled, and misused to make a buck. It’s entirely possible for someone to choose GPL and not build a great open source project… Community (developers, companies, users) is the secret sauce so your license, posture, philosophy must engage your potential or existing community with the idea that getting some invested in your project (ie, hard working hours of coding, testing, and leveraging your project) will far surpass any tricky antics to force people to pay you some money.

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