Monday, March 05, 2007

Software License Categories & My Preferences

I wish all software was FOSS. But this is not the case. I deal with many flavors of software licensing. Here are the categories that I am aware of in the order of my preference (1-3 are interchangeable). Am I missing any?

  1. Commercial Open Source

    Must meet requirements of the OSI OSS Definition. Just has a commercial entity behind it that offers support etc.

  2. FOSS - Free Software

    Must meet requirements of the OSI OSS Definition. May have a commercial entity behind it, may not, key is that it is free or can be free

  3. Community Source

    Examples include Sakai and Kuali. I am convinced/hopeful that this will be the next big thing for vertical industries as I predicted.

  4. Developer Source

    This DOES NOT meet the OSI OSS Definition. But it sure beats the heck out of commercial proprietary. Examples of this model are Caucho, Some Jive Software products - including their new Clearspace (some of their products are FOSS), and Atlassian. Although I'd prefer FOSS, these are typically very innovative and open companies (e.g., publicly accessible enhancement requests/defects/forums) who take their customers very seriously. Typically customers of these companies are fanatical about using these products. I think that the fact that getting access to the source upon purchase sans escrow account is a big statement - it says that the company is proud of their code and has no problem with you seeing it and extending it as you wish.

  5. Shared Source

    This is a MSFT thing - better than nothing I suppose. I want to be able to see the source.

  6. Shareware

    If it's proprietary it might as well be free.

  7. Commercial Proprietary + Escrow

    If it is proprietary, I might as well have the source in escrow so if you go out of business I am not completely screwed. I hope you included a build script and instructions . . .

  8. Commercial Proprietary

    This is of course my least favorite. As Matt Asay says:

    Let us be clear. Whatever the merits of proprietary software, they are purely vendor-favoring. There is no customer reason to make software proprietary. None. There is no customer benefit that attaches to proprietary software. There is only a vendor's ability to temporarily monopolize a piece of software and thereby profit from it.


Bill said...

Cool, thanks for including us (Jive Software) in the list. I strongly encourage any commercial software company to try developer source. Customers love it and it can be a big competitive advantage.

That said, we love traditional open-source as well which is why we have big OS projects.

We try to go beyond just making our source available to licensees -- we provide a full build script and developer environment (project files). It's handy for us internally and for customers. ;)


fuzzy said...


I totally agree with you - can you and or Matt comment or blog on your own blog on this topic further when you have time?

How did Jive arrive at this decision? What fears did you have (e.g., people stealing your code). Did they materialize? How do you enforce your licensing? Do people try to screw you more or less than if you were commercial proprietary.

Yay Jive all around.