Licensing is Strategy

Licensing is Strategy

Summary: By using the GPL, by giving away code and hoping amateurs will enhance it, corporations can wash their hands of failed products and still provide competition to hated rivals. In other words, licensing is strategy.

TOPICS: Open Source

Red Hat LogoI got a great note from Paul Murphy today.

He suggested I take another look at mixed licensing of open and closed source products and mentioned Sun's CDDL, as used in Open Solaris.

I'd like to go Paul one better, and suggest that in the Linux world, licensing is strategy.

I take for my text the latest announcement from Red Hat, revealed last week by our DataPoint blog, that it will release what was the Netscape Directory Server under the GPL as the Fedora Directory Server.

Red Hat paid $25 million for this technology last November. Now it's being given away.

Why? Strategy.

Red Hat is using the GPL to kick rival Novell's eDirectory, and maybe get customers for Sun's Java Directory and Microsoft's Active Directory asking sharp questions. Sounds good, not just for users but for Red Hat as well.

What do I conclude from this? To many companies the various Linux license schemes represent a continuum of interest. What starts as proprietary under a EULA becomes semi-proprietary under the CDDL, freer under something like BSD and completely open under the GPL.

While the GPL is at the top of the public interest tree, it's at the bottom of the private interest one. By using the GPL, by giving away code and hoping amateurs will enhance it, corporations can wash their hands of failed products and still provide competition to hated rivals.

In other words, licensing is strategy.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Something many have already considered.

    Consider Microsoft's announcing the use of XML for file storage of Office applications. The license to use it is royalty free (no dollar cost) but, and it's a big one, you must obtain a license to use it legally. As that flies in the face of most open source supporters it effectively keeps them out.
  • level playing field

    I think that the liscensing issue with microsoft has more to do with providing liscensing on the cheap to giant corporations, and squeezing the little guy or shutting him out. It seem that this is where the rub comes in with the EU. If your going to be a monopoly, as MS is, (and if it isn't, certainly wants to be), then you have to at least have the appearance of playing fairly. Believe me, I am proud that an american company is leading the way with this software thing that is going on now. I am concerned that the MS way may not be the best way, and that when interests in forign countries (read china) get their **it together, that we may have a real dead horse here.
    I think the open source movement needs to improve the way it compensates. The tremendous price jump between free and 200 dollars for an OS is pretty ridiculous as well (read red hat)so it seems like there is room for some middle ground. The main thing lacking in Open Source is that there is no mechanism to judge the relative worth of contribution. If there was such a mechanism, and the OS was cheap (say 20 or 30 dollars) and it really worked, the Open Source movement would have some legs, as the programmer who contributed would get something, even if that just amounted to the latest greatest computer to write more code on. If microsoft would get it's liscensing together and take some chances with reputable interests, then open source would become a strength for them as well. I believe that, in spite of what they say, they owe a great deal to Unix, and the ideas passed freely in the "old School" methodology of computing. Pay Up.
  • faulty analysis -- BSD is much more "free" than GPL.

    Under BSD-type licenses, users of the software are free to enhance it and sell it as their own, or to incorporate large portions of the Software into a tightly licensed "Product". (E.g., incorporating the BSD TCP/IP stack into Windows). The GPL specifies very strict terms on the Distribution of new software built from GPL sources. And obviously, offering Software as Public Domain is even more "free" than a BSD-type license.

    I have another comment: The closing statement about GPL coders being "amateurs" is obviously wrong from both perspectives: Many programmers are paid to work on GPL code, and many GPL Programs seem to have much higher quality than their "closed" competitors.
    Rick S._z
    • GPL beats BSD for freedom

      Actually, the GPL beats BSD license for freedom. Yes, you can take any BSD-style licensed product and make it non-free if you want, at any time, without asking.
      GPL, on the other hand, guarantees that the code will stay free indefinitely, and that all contributions also will. That is a much more extensive freedom than BSD provides - GPL is just brilliant - a shame that some companies still try to work around or even against it.