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Innovation

Why Apache is not the bottom of the open source incline

If you truly want individual contributions, your best chance of getting them comes if you and they are on the same legal footing, and the same practical footing, regarding the code base. You want the GPL. When businesses organize, with scaled contributions coming from what are essentially development partners, the protections of an Apache license make better sense. Apache offers better protection to corporate business models than the GPL.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Matt Asay is beginning to remind me of those people who, in the wake of 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, found themselves questioning their political assumptions and switched sides.

Recessions are hard. Deep recessions are harder. The current recession is not sparing the open source movement. Money and partnerships are harder to come by.

So why, Matt asks, is the GPL still considered the bottom of the open source incline, and not, say, the Apache license?

Then, despite high praise for Eric Raymond and disquiet toward Richard Stallman, he pretty much answers his own question.

Did Stallman simply create an alternative way to release proprietary software?

Well, yes.

Any code you write is proprietary to you. No matter its license, you feel a proprietary interest in it. You may want contributions from others, but you also want protection for your rights as an author. You don't want someone going around behind your back and turning your open source code proprietary with a tweak here and some marketing there. You want your interest in improvements protected.

If this is your attitude, an attitude both common and natural, then you will likely prefer the GPL to Apache licensing. Under the GPL your interest in getting improvements is protected. The power of others to fork your code and turn it to their profit is limited.

The equation draws a different result if you are a corporation, a group of people with marketing and support, releasing productized code. The code base you are releasing is likely larger and your infrastructure offers protection against rogue competition.

That is why corporate projects are often released under some type of BSD license. Google likes Apache. IBM likes Eclipse. These licenses protect corporate rights well, while the GPL's focus is on individual rights.

Communities, however, generally consist of individuals, not corporations. If you truly want individual contributions, your best chance of getting them comes if you and they are on the same legal footing, and the same practical footing, regarding the code base. You want the GPL.

When businesses organize, with scaled contributions coming from what are essentially development partners, the protections of an Apache license make better sense. Apache offers better protection to corporate business models than the GPL.

My guess is Matt's change of heart on these questions has much to do with his job at a corporation, one with infrastructure, marketing, and support functions that need regular feeding from license fees or something, in order to survive.

The size of a corporate code base, the work needed to maintain and support it, may make the protections of the GPL seem redundant, while those of the Apache license attractive.

But the bottom of the open source incline will be where individuals live, not corporations, and that's where you will always find the GPL.

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