A shifting GPL and

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-07-17 Print this article Print

an infinite number of licensing agreements."> The licensing agreement also can take an infinite number of forms. It can resemble a Microsoft license; it can resemble the BSD license; it might resemble thousands of other proprietary licenses; it might also resemble a form drafted by some guys back East who decided to call their form of license the "GNU General Public License"; or it could be a whole new form that the licensor crafted from scratch, Wacha said.

"If this is my own, original, nonderivative work, then I can license it any way I choose, including in different ways to different people," Wacha said. "If this is someone elses work, I must license it to others only according to the permissions granted to me by my licensor.

"Aside from these legal questions, of course, the commercial distributor must address questions such as, Does the distribution Im planning—or the distribution Im allowed by my licensor—fit my business model?" Wacha said.

Some companies, such as open-source vendor SugarCRM, are moving to a dual-licensing model. Earlier this year, the company became the first outside party to offer its software under the quasi-open-source Shared Source Microsoft Community License, as well as under the SugarCRM Public License Version 1.1.3, which is the MPL (Mozilla Public License) Version 1.1, modified to be specific to SugarCRM.

Read more here about SugarCRMs licensing moves. That move allows customers to choose which licensed distribution they want to run on their Linux and Windows servers.

David Schmidgall, an IT manager for Superior Industries, a manufacturer of conveying systems and components in Morris, Minn., said he welcomes the move. Superior has been running its business on Microsoft software and Sugar Professional for some time, and Schmidgall said he expects this collaboration to improve his business back-end database integration and streamline its system administration.

On the other side, Shaun Connolly, vice president of product management for open-source vendor JBoss—which last September started working to broaden interoperability between JEMS (JBoss Enterprise Middleware System) and Microsoft Windows Server—said he is not hearing requests for a distribution designed for mutual customers and that uses a Microsoft Shared Source license. (JBoss was recently acquired by Red Hat.)

Dan Kusnetzky, executive vice president of marketing at Open-Xchange, of Tarrytown, N.Y., stressed that company executives and developers should be aware of what a software license allows and also disallows, even if they do not currently plan to use their software in that way.

Developers, on the other hand, should be very aware of what license protects a piece of code and what happens when code from several sources, protected under several different licenses, is combined to create a product for resale, Kusnetzky said.

According to Kusnetzky, the lack of clarity in this area has allowed suppliers that oppose the open-source software movement to create fear, uncertainty and doubt. He said it has also offered opportunities to companies such as Black Duck Software and Palamida, whose services allow customers to learn more about what software is actually in use, what licenses are protecting that code and what it means to the organization when they are combined to create a solution.

"It would be very wise, in my opinion, to understand why a supplier of open-source software would choose a license other than the GPL from the Free Software Foundation," Kusnetzky said.

A new set of businesses also have sprung up to help enterprises deal with this issue. Doug Levin, president and CEO at Black Duck Software, of Waltham, Mass., which supplies software compliance management products and services, said he believes licensing questions will go away in the long term because technology companies and enterprises will implement solutions such as those offered by Black Duck Software to manage their software licensing compliance.

But open-source licensing is going to be unsettled for the next year. This is in part because of the process around the rewriting of the GPL, which is currently under way, and in part because software developers are "recklessly" proliferating licenses, Levin said.

Peter Yared, CEO at ActiveGrid, in San Francisco, agreed, saying that fewer licenses are needed, not more.

"And we definitely dont need open-source licenses with company names in them. These custom open-source licenses are in the interests of the publishers rather than their communities," Yared said, referring to the SugarCRM Public License, among others.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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