The licenses used by open source solutions are quite different than those associated with commercial software. Open source solutions are predominately licensed under the GPL (GNU Public License). This license dictates that the code may be used for any purpose, even sold for profit. But if any portion of the code is copied for inclusion in new software, the resulting software must acknowledge that it contains GPL-licensed code, and the code must be freely distributed.
Open source licenses generally only affect organizations that are developing with OSS, not only new products for consumption, but also modified versions for internal use. So an enterprise user of GPL- or BSD-licensed code doesn’t need to worry about the licensing, but the software developer does.
The LGPL (Lesser GPL) is a modified form of the GPL license that is generally used by developers to ensure library compatibility with proprietary code. The LGPL permits proprietary code to link with LGPL-licensed libraries without forcing the resulting code to be publicly released. The GNU C library is licensed under the LGPL for this reason. Other open-source licenses vary in their terms. The BSD license enforces copyright claim over the code, without a requirement to publicly release derived source code.
Most commercial software is rented by an end-user from a vendor rather than purchased. Open source software is freely available and can be modified for any purpose, but lacks the support of a single entity. It may also require more elbow grease to implement and maintain because support is community-based.
The SCO Group’s lawsuit against IBM over Linux code points out potential legal liability issues and uncertainty that can arise if the derivation of code comes under question.
There are commercial companies developing open source software that have more than one licensing scheme. MySQL, for example, has two versions of its popular database, one licensed under the GPL, the other with a commercial license. This affords developers the option of purchasing a license rather than using the free GPL-licensed code.
Choosing the right software is not as simple as free versus commercial. It involves examining short- and long-term costs and benefits, whether measured in dollars or time. Paying rent is never as satisfying as paying a mortgage, but owning a house does require more work.