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Predicting Open Source Licensing

What's the most popular open source license currently in use? If you said GPL you would be right. But how did you know?

Plenty of people assume that GPL is the most commonly used because that's what a simple search of the SourceForge.net online repository brings up.

Now, licensing detection software vendor Black Duck is jumping into the fray by providing a public resource that includes the benefit of Black Duck' efforts detailing open source license usage.

"We have a spider group [with] manual and automated tools that has resulted in the knowledge base," Douglas Levin, president and CEO of Black Duck Software, told InternetNews.com . "Having a listing of the top open source licenses by usage is very useful for companies already in open source as well as those considering it."

Levin added that the Black Duck open source software resource center plots the growth of open source as well as the relative use of various licenses.

The top license according to Black Duck's data is GPL version 2, coming out on top at 59.74 percent. Although GPL is the leader, Levin noted that there are many other licenses still actively involved in the mix.

Second spot goes to the Lesser GPL (LGPL) at 11.4 percent, followed by the Artistic License (Perl) (8.07 percent), BSD License 2.0 (6.50 percent) and Apache License 2.0 (2.72 percent) to round out the top five.

The rankings were roughly what Levin had expected, despite different versions of some licenses. For example the site tracks both GPL version 2 and 3 as well as Apache version 1 and 2.

"I was impressed by the level of distribution among various licenses," Levin said. "We think this is important information as an indicator of the health of adoption rates of open source."

Black Duck's site also takes specific aim at tracking adoption of GPLv3, which is something that Black Duck's competitor, Palamida, has been doing for months.

"We've taken more time to develop our resource center as we really want to be carefully about how companies announce adoption and then actually release, " Levin said. "That distinction is very important."

Levin also declined to forecast what he expected GPLv3 adoption rates to be. Palamida had initially forecast that over 5500 projects would move to GPLv3.

"We will not forecast because we're not careless in our presentation of data," Levin stated.

Palamida, for its part, doesn't share Levin's assessment.

"We released our GPLv3 Resource Site in June of 2007 after six months of intensive research surrounding GPLv2 and v3 conversion status," Melisa LaBancz-Bleasdale Senior Communications Manager at Palamida told InternetNews.com. "It's important to note that after polling the development community, working together with open source project leaders and continuing to accept and build upon information continuously submitted by open source community development teams, we can confidently state that Palamida offers the most accurate and frequently updated information regarding the General Public License conversions."

LaBancz-Bleasdale also questioned Black Duck's distinction of announced versus actual code publication.

"We call your attention to the existence of Accounting on Rails (Rubyforge) and that project (also listed on our site) has not even switched over to GPLv3 and in fact, it is among projects listed as "planning" to move," she said.