It's always good when respected open source luminaries such as Matt Asay begin to question long-held open source software truths. Matt wonders whether the GNU General Public License (GPL) is "an alternative way to release proprietary software." He argues:
With the Web making open-source licensing largely irrelevant, anyway, it's a good time to evaluate the merits of the two dominant open-source-licensing approaches. For this moment in time, they're essentially equivalent, at least to end users and Web developers, neither of which is required to contribute back derivative works.
Matt uses Eric Raymond's post, "The Economic Case Against the GPL," to bolster his evolving view that the ASL (Apache Software License) is a more effective license for the future of open source than the GPL.
Before writing off the GPL in the long run, there are three situations to consider. They all deal with the viability of the open source vendor considering the GPL versus the ASL.
- Does the GPL encourage customers to purchase a license more so than the ASL would?
- Does the GPL encourage partners and/or OEMs to purchase a license more so than the ASL would?
- Does the GPL protect the open source vendor's intellectual property against a (larger) competitor more so than the ASL would?
I was going to argue that the GPL encourages customers to pay for the software more so than the ASL does. But that's false, and if it isn't today, it will be in five years. There was a time when inside counsel would recommend their companies stay away from using GPL software for fear of the GPL's viral nature. Today, customers understand that the viral nature of the GPL is only applied if the GPL software is modified and distributed outside of the company's walls. The overwhelming majority of enterprises and business using open source products do not satisfy these two requirements. As a result, there is nothing inherent about the GPL that would drive higher open source vendor revenue than if the ASL was used.