App store licensing hinders OSS growth

Clash in app store agreements over licensing may hinder growth of open source mobile apps, notes analyst, but software developer predicts free and open source software will "continue to grow".
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

App store licensing models that are not compatible with open source ones, resulting in apps being taken down from the marketplace, are causing confusion among developers and will likely inhibit open source development within the mobile computing space.

This was the prognosis offered by Craig Skinner, senior consultant at Ovum, who cited a March survey by OpenLogic which revealed that out of 635 iPhone, iPad and Android apps monitored, slightly over 10 percent, or 66 apps, contained open source codes. Of these 66 apps, though, 71 percent did not comply with their open source licenses and some even claimed in their end-user licensing agreements (EULAs) that all codes used within the software were proprietary, Skinner noted in his e-mail.

"Complications such as these are likely to inhibit open source development targeting platforms with these [licensing] restrictions," he said.

Kim Weins, senior vice president of products and marketing at OpenLogic, a software vendor that provides support and governance for open source software, also said in the survey report that many mobile and tablet developers may not have a complete picture of the open source agreement they are using and the requirements of these licenses. This, in turn, will have "real-world implications", he said.

For example, Weins pointed out that the Free Software Foundation has stated that GNU General Public License (GPL) and Apple's iTunes licensing agreement are not compatible. This has resulted in several apps based on GPL to be pulled from the store, while Google has also received takedown requests for Android Market apps that have violated GPL rules, he noted.

"App developers need to pay attention to open source license compliance to ensure their apps are not impacted by legal actions," he said.

According to a previous ZDNet Asia report, Apple in January removed popular media player VLC over a licensing conflict after being notified by one of the program's original developers.

Weins, however, noted that open source compliance "need not be difficult". He added that all that is required is an understanding of open source licensing models used in an organization's app and ensuring it complies with the various license requirements.

Open source grows unabated
Despite this potential roadblock, a May survey released by North Bridge Venture Partners and technology research and analysis company 451 Group, revealed that within the mobile arena, there were 3,800 new open source projects in 2010, of which 94 percent targeted Android and iOS platforms. This number is more than double that of 2009, the survey noted.

Corroborating this growth is Brian LeRoux, a software architect with Web and mobile app development company, Nitobi. He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the company is "seeing explosive growth" in the free and open source (FOSS) realm, particularly for mobile libraries.

"Developers are finding FOSS tools faster to develop across multiple mobile platforms, which means quicker turnaround and higher code quality," LeRoux explained.

He also expressed optimism that the FOSS momentum will continue to grow, rather than recede, within the mobile computing arena. This is because as mobile growth continues to foster a much larger audience in computing, this would, in turn, drive greater demand for more software, he said.

"Free software has proven itself to be the most capable core of the majority of mobile operating systems, and everything is built on top of [open source codes]. This is why [FOSS] will continue to grow… It is an exciting time," he added.

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