Yesterday, Oracle announced they are proposing to move OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation. Similar to Oracle’s announcement of moving Hudson to the Eclipse Foundation, this announcement has received mixed reviews. Like the split in the Hudson and Jenkins community, there is also the LibreOffice fork of the OpenOffice community. Some of those people that oppose the move are promoting ideology about open source software that is just wrong. Luckily I am here to correct them. 🙂
Ideology #1: GPL/LGPL keep developers honest
Bradly Kuhn, a well known Free Software and FSF evangelist, has written about how disturbed he is Oracle is relicensing OpenOffice to Apache Software license. He claims ‘The LGPLv3 currently keeps such developers “honest”; the Apache-License-2.0 will not.‘ This is just wrong. Developers or companies don’t need to be kept honest; developers and companies contribute in open source projects because it helps themselves. If developers needed to be kept honest, why are there so many successful Apache projects today? Looking at Eclipse projects, which uses a weak copyleft, I know of very very few contributions that have come into Eclipse because the developer was ‘forced’ to contribute due to license obligations. People contribute back once they have used the project technology and see benefit to themselves for contributing back.
Kuhn talks about his preferred license would be AGPL or use ‘strictest copyleft possible‘ meaning the GPL. I would suggest strict copyleft license like the AGPL and GPL are a dying breed. At a recent open source confernce, a well know open source lawyer claimed GPL v3 has been a failed experiment, with little adoption. As an experiment, name one popular community open source project created in the last 5 years that uses the AGPL or GPL? JQuery (MIT but also GPL v2), OpenStack (Apache), Hadoop (Apache), Hudson/Jenkins (MIT), nodejs (MIT) and Android (Apache). I claim all these project use a permissive license to get as many users and adopters, to encourage potential contributions. They aren’t worried about trying to force anyone. You can’t force anyone to contribute to your project; you can only limit your community through a restrictive license.
Ideology #2: Open source project should all play nice together
When Oracle announced their proposal to bring Hudson to Eclipse, a number of people complained to me and others why didn’t Eclipse Foundation force Oracle to work with Jenkins. There is a similar conversation going on with Oracle participating with LibreOffice. It seems people believe Apache should have rejected the project proposal, so Oracle would be forced to work with LibreOffice.
First, let me state clearing, open source projects compete with each other. Eclipse and Apache have a number of competing projects, ex. Equinox/Felix, Jetty/Tomcat plus others. The Linux distros compete with each other. Competition is good. Open source is not all one happy family. Sorry.
The right to fork is a key principle in any open source project. If you are not happy with how things are going, you can pack up your code and leave. This is what Jenkins and LibreOffice have done. They didn’t like working with Oracle, so they left. I applaud them for taking the initiative. Both forks have done an excellent job getting themselves organized and operating.
However, conversely Oracle is well within their rights to not to want to work with Jenkins or LibreOffice. Oracle and others have every right to say ‘I don’t like what they are doing, so I am going to do it differently’. I realize this is not optimal for the end-use or plugin communities. However, trying to force individuals or organization to work together is not how you run a successful open source project. Successful open source is about collaboration of individual and organizations. You can’t force this collaboration.
Simon Phipps on twitter has been bemoaning the fact the IBM and Oracle are trying to shutdown LibreOffice. I doubt IBM or Oracle have any strategy to actively shutdown LibreOffice. Oracle and IBM are really saying ‘we like how Apache does things so we are going to work there’. This is their right, just as it is everyone else’s to use LibreOffice. Freedom and choice is the real power of open source. Assuming everyone is going to work together in one big happy family is just not reality.