Open source grew, it proliferated… and it became something that many previously proprietary-only software vendors embraced as a key means of development… but the issue of how open source software is licenced is still the stuff of some debate.
The Computer Weekly Open Source Insider team now features a series of guest posts examing in the ups & downs and ins & out of open source software licencing.
Rod Cope: not in it for the money
I’ve been using open source software since the 80’s, long before we called it open source. Back then, it was mainly developers ‘scratching their own itch’ and coming up with creative solutions they wanted to share with their peers.
It was more about doing it right (where each developer was free to use their own definition of ‘right) than it was about schedules, business value, or any thought of making money. Over time, communities of these likeminded people formed to tackle larger projects that were beyond the scope of a single developer (in most cases).
The final results were often very good, thanks to an unlimited time budget, peer reviews and a meritocracy where only the ideas mattered and no one in business management could come along and force a hasty decision.
Again, in those early days (and for many developers now, still) profit wasn’t a motivator. It was all about creating the best software possible and the freedom to try new approaches, architectures, languages, project management strategies and anything else that might improve the final result.
In many cases, contributors were professional software developers by day who worked on things like accounting software that weren’t as exciting to them as their nights and weekends spent perfecting an open source messaging system or web framework or NoSQL data store. They really enjoyed the freedom open source gave them to fail and innovate again as many times as they had the patience and energy for.
Commercial cloud doesn’t hurt, as such
Today, we often think of open source as a grander idea about sharing software with the world and that all users should contribute back for the benefit of all.
The rise of SaaS and cloud vendors that use open source without giving back obviously upsets people with the share-alike mindset, but does that really hurt open source? Developers are still free to work on what they like, scratch their own itch, innovate, experiment, fail and try again. They can still use any tools they like, take as much time as they like and not worry about a business manager asking them to go in a direction contrary to the developer’s vision. Developers will continue to be creative, earn respect from their peers and know that they made something good that is improving the lives of their users, even if those users are paying a third party for a service based on their work.
After all, it was never about getting paid or requiring users to give back in the first place.
Justin Reock: open fairness – is reciprocity required?
The modern software deployment landscape is worlds away from what was predicted when the first free software project was released over forty years ago. Since that time, advances such as cloud-native applications have presented challenges to the altruistic obligations that complement free software.
While the Free Software Foundation has always maintained that monetisation of the means of delivery of a piece of software isn’t strictly against their mission, would that sentiment have applied knowing the scale at which people would consume free software via the cloud?
Is it time to look at the original intent of the GPL, the moral fabric of free software and see how it holds up against the reality of software deployment in 2020? Perhaps… and that’s another story.