It seems that SCO is making another attempt to hurt the open source movement by claiming that the GPL is unconstitutional and violates federal patent and copyright laws. While many are not concerned and call this a publicity stunt by SCO, the discussion of open source software licenses does remind me of a panel that I recently saw at the Goldman Sachs Software Retreat 2 weeks ago.
On the panel you had representatives of RedHat, MySQl, and JBoss combined with the perspective of a large IT buyer, the CTO of Goldman Sachs. While I will not fill you in on all of the gory details, one thread did stand out in my mind. It goes like this:
It seems that many of the bigger open source players are building out their own stacks ala Microsoft and others in the pursuit of growth and profits like traditional closed-sourced software companies. Isn’t this the antithesis of what open source stands for? Rick Sherlund, Goldman’s software analyst, says that it makes sense from a financial perspective since it allows vendors to cross-sell and lock-in the customer – customer retention is a good thing after all, isn’t it? While all of the open source players did their best to dodge this question and claim that they are really open, MySQl was the only company that really seemed credible here as its goal was to be part of everyone’s stack, including the Microsoft .NET one. JBoss and RHAT clearly seemed to be building their own middleware and open source stacks while at the same time claiming an open architecture.
The interesting point was served up by Michael Dubno, CTO of Goldman Sachs. He specifically told the vendors that the danger of the open source stacks is that it does create lock-in and that open-interoperability is what is most important to him. He will go somewhere else if the open source guys end up limiting his options-he needs great service not extra features. Moving on, he points out that the biggest gaiting factor for him in terms of adopting open source is making sure the legal issues will not come back to haunt him. Goldman reviews every license agreement and makes a determination of which licenses make sense and which do not. What Michael wants is integration from a legal perspective, not a feature perspective. He claims the biggest cost to Goldman is not 2 products, but the cost in service and supporting 2 different contracts-he wants more standardization of contracts.
I found this to be an interesting point. I have seen a number of open source related software plays and it seems that many are trying to create their own unique twists on licensing. While Goldman’s CTO is one data point, I would encourage companies looking to open source some of their software to try not to be too cute and design their own unique open source license but rather look to leverage existing ones like GPL. One of the biggest barriers to a large enterprise using your software will be the software license itself. The other point is to not forget why lots of companies are using your product in the first place – be open!