February 22, 2007 4:50 PM PST

Open-source Alfresco shifts to GPL

Alfresco, a start-up that commercializes open-source software for helping customers keep track of their digital documents, has adopted the General Public License in an effort to attract outside programmers.

The company's free Community edition previously used the Mozilla Public License, but the move to GPL removes some barriers, said Matt Asay, Alfresco's vice president of marketing. The company's supported and certified Enterprise edition remains available under a commercial license.

"We wanted the code to be bigger than the company," Asay said. "People basically know what (the GPL) means, so there's no time wasted wondering (about) MPL."

In addition, Alfresco will be able to easily integrate with other GPL projects, such as the Drupal content management software, Asay said.

The move makes sense, said 451 Group analyst Raven Zachary. "Alfresco's use of the GPL license for its Community Edition allows for potentially greater community contributions due to license familiarity and established standards," he said. At the same time, Alfresco can continue "to focus on growing its Enterprise Edition business under a commercial license."

Asay trumpets that growth. The company, which competes with EMC's Documentum among others, is on track for 2007 revenue to quadruple over 2006 levels, he said. And he expects the company to become profitable "shortly."

Alfresco's license comes at an interesting time, when the Free Software Foundation is working on version 3 of the GPL. Some--notably the core programmers behind the Linux kernel--are opposed to changes that appeared in the first two drafts, but Asay likes the direction.

"We'd really like to go version 3 when it comes out, if it remains as planned," he said. Until then, though, the software remains only under GPL 2.

However, the company did add to the GPL license a "FLOSS exception" provision that permits the software to be embedded in other FLOSS (free/libre/open-source software) packages. With the exception, those other projects don't have to worry about a potential requirement to release their own software under the GPL, Asay said.

Open-source licenses govern particulars such as the circumstances under which the software's underlying code must be shared, and how it may be intermingled with other open-source or proprietary software.

License changes are not unknown in the open-source realm, but a new license is no guarantee of more programmer interest. There are vibrant programming communities under several open-source licenses.

Asay acknowledged that there's more to building a rich community than picking a palatable license. "I don't think a license change is a panacea, by any stretch," he said.

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4 comments

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Looks like a simplistic decision
I remember reading that most of the top flight Open Source projects are effectively being contributed to by paid for employees at Red Hat, Sun, IBM,... So, expecting that a move to GPL will magically get you free programmers I expect is mis-guided.

Even though Open Source is free to use and distribute sonebody still has to code it and only professional grade programmers can do this effectively. Amateur programmers may tweak, but the big leaps require a lot more skill.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
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Absolutely...
Why do you think that IBM released Derby under Apache's licensing?

Not sure about Eclipse but I think its got its own licensing too.

TANSTAAFL applies.

Hint: IBM sells support for Derby under the initial Cloudscape brand. Sun sells support under OpenJava. But what happens when a bug is found that effects a paying customer? Does IBM or Sun Fix the bug and then provide it to the open community right after the fix is made and tested, or do they wait until the next release cycle.

There are pitfalls to certain opensource projects that will hamper the growth and development of the software.
Posted by dargon19888 (412 comments )
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Why GPL? Seems contrived. Why not the BSD?
I wonder why they didn't adopt the BSD license? That makes it
seem like they merely want to use open source to create mass
awareness and adoption but still restrict possibilities available to
people using the software. Why are they so afraid? Are they not
confident in the calibre of their people or product?
We open sourced SilverStripe [http://www.silverstripe.com]
under the BSD license because as committed and passionate
users of open source for years (e.g. SilverStripe relies on PHP5,
MySQL, Apache/Lighttpd) we are obliged to give back software
to the community, and let them do as they please with it. Of
course, open sourcing means mass market and allowing
developers to contribute code, and a lot of fun and satisfaction
by being able to touch and benefit lots of people with your
programs, but looser licenses let you get even more than that.
I also disagree with the notion that the base system should be
dual licensed; it implies that you ever get the "buggy,
unsupported" core, unless you pay for the "solid, reliable" core.
It feels like supermarket products sold for $2 with generic
packaging and $9 with fancy. I think its far better for the core
system to be free and stable, with no differences between the
free download and the Fortune 500 buyer... with premium
features or services to be charged where it makes commercial
sense from the purchaser. Think of flickr, where you have a
major community using the free service, but if you want to store
or upload heaps of photos, then you pay a small, equitable fee.
Posted by SigurdMagnusson (1 comment )
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Web dev = Affero GPL
Web developers should start using the Affero GPL license, which is now compatible with GPLv3, to protect their web applications to be used as proprietary ASP services. <a href="http://webyes.com.br/2007/05/10/the-web20-is-not-yet-free-software/">The web is not (yet) free software</a>.
Posted by giovanisp (7 comments )
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