Bossie Awards 2010: The best open source software of the year

InfoWorld's Test Center picks the top open source platforms, middleware, applications, and application development tools

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This is why discussions about business models are becoming as common as debates about data structures and programming languages. The popular jQTouch framework is an open source tool that lets Web developers create HTML, CSS, and JavaScript combinations that behave like a native application on the iPhone, Android, and other devices with a WebKit browser. It offers a quick and efficient end run around Apple's gatekeepers to the iPhone.

When it took off, David Kaneda, the main developer, started working with Sencha, a company devoted to commercializing the approach and some other JavaScript libraries such as Ext. Sencha offers support and extra tools that make it simpler to build the applications. jQTouch continues with the very generous MIT license, but Sencha Touch ships with either GPL 3.0 or a commercial license. Pricing is still to be announced.

The license terms are increasingly important because a number of well-polished commercial companies are looking for any means they can to push people to support development. Some release full versions with tight open source licenses like the AGPL that force people to share all of the code. Others create so-called community versions with basic capabilities and then charge for the most attractive features. Everyone wants to find some lever, some velvet glove covering an iron fist, that compels people to contribute to the commonweal.

Many of the more established open source projects such as SugarCRM and Openbravo are starting to look a bit more like commercial projects than open source. This is often a consequence of producing a product that is easy to install and run. Suddenly, nonprogrammers are showing up, joining the fun, and asking for better support and more custom features. It's a natural breeding ground for commercial relationships.

The evolution toward commercialization follows. The core group of programmers may have begun out of a collective need to scratch some itch, but suddenly there's a crowd of users who are clamoring for support, hosting, and even some custom features. Charging only makes sense. A well-crafted licensing structure spreads the costs equitably and easily. Creating the mechanisms that allow people to contribute money and support the programmers is one of the biggest challenges these days, and the most forward-thinking groups are working on license structures that keep the artistic geniuses happy and the people with support budgets content.

Open source's commercial squeeze
This long-simmering trend reached a boil when Oracle sought to buy Sun. While some wondered about the licenses controlling Java, the spotlight shown on MySQL, the database that Sun acquired just before. The controversy boiled over because Monty Widenius, one of MySQL's founders, petitioned the European regulators to block the deal until Oracle permitted others to sell commercial licenses to MySQL.

One of the secrets to MySQL's success over the years was the way it could push commercial ventures to purchase a license to use MySQL even though the venture was not going to make any changes or redistribute MySQL in any way. MySQL has long been available under the GPL, which forces people to share changes, but businesses bought licenses even when they made no alterations.

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