In a previous post, we have made our point that dual licensing was unfair and community debilitating.
In a search for a better solution, I met this weekend with Ludovic Dubost CEO, Founder and original contributor of XWiki. XWiki.com is making its income out of enterprise support, software guarantees and integration projects. This last part being a substantial source of revenues for XWiki.com
In January 2006 Ludovic faced an important decision: at that time, XWiki was a GNU GPL project with a reasonably growing community but because of it Ludovic was loosing integrations/outsourcing contracts. Some of his potentially largest customers were not comfortable with the GNU GPL.
Many companies in XWiki.com's situation would have opted for a Dual-Licensing (DL) strategy but Ludovic thought that it would be somewhat turning back to the community and he decided for a GNU LGPL instead.
Today, the company is growing with both large enterprise customers and a solid group of external contributors to whom XWiki doesn't even ask to sign any dual-license CLA/release.
Yet, the fsf thinks that the GNU LGPL is a necessary evil of sort:
Proprietary software developers have the advantage of money; free software developers need to make advantages for each other. Using the ordinary GPL for a library gives free software developers an advantage over proprietary developers: a library that they can use, while proprietary developers cannot use it.
Except that nowadays, proprietary software companies are using the GPL through DL schemes to maintain a monopoly over the commercial exploitation of open sources released under the GPL!
As a result, DL companies don't have any incentive to really take care of the community, not even to contribute. But under the GNU LGPL, XWiki.com is naturally pushed to tightly cooperate with the community to which the real value has been transfered: XWiki must foster a happy community.
What about the contributions? On the developer side everything is rosy: no more dubious dual CLA. On the open source side it's even better. Ludovic tells me that more than 50% of his integration projects lead to significant open source contributions.
Why would you ask since most of those developments are made for (non-distributed) internal operations? Why would XWiki.com insists on their customers so that contributions could be released back to the community when it's not even mandated by the licenses? Why would the customers accept?
Three main reasons:
- It keeps the community happy, growing the flow of new quality contributions
- It makes the proprietary maintenance less burdensome: it helps keeping the proprietary customer projects in sync with the main release of XWiki.
- Customers are not locked-in anymore. Since any company can use the LGPL they know they can use another integrator in the future.
Would XWiki have chosen the DL path:
- XWiki would have had much less incentive to please their community since a DL/GPL would have given them a quasi commercial monopoly
- Less customers would have chosen XWiki not only because of perceived FUD factors but also because it would have meant a lock-in with a specific integrator: XWiki.com
- The developer community would have been prevented to develop beyond a slow-growing group of mostly opportunistic patchers.
But, what if one of XWiki.com customers decides to release an XWiki-including product? Under the LGPL they won't be forced to contribute back to the commons.
Maybe. Think about it: if they decide to release an XWiki-based product, this new company will be faced with the same challenges than XWiki: keeping the community happy and decreasing their maintenance risk.
- It's an alternative to perverting the GNU GPL into a commercial monopoly-making strategy
- It's an alternative to demanding DL/CLA and therefore to controlling developers IP
- It's good for the code: with the LGPL fostering both developer community and enterprise adoption the common code should grow much faster than if it had stayed in the limbos of the dual/GPL.
- It's good for the developers: the community will gain many more friendly companies looking out for them
How could the GNU LGPL be bad for open source?