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Stop Whining: Let's All Be (C)PALS

Apparently having an Open Source Initiative (OSI) approved license does matter.

Companies that had once shunned the official open source label while still operating as open source entities are starting to adopt a new OSI license, the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL).

For years, numerous commercial open source startups have used a Mozilla Public License (MPL)-plus-attribution clause to hock their wares. Open source aficionados have long argued that this type of license, which adds an attribution for a "powered by" type of notation in the application, is not an approved OSI license and so is not technically open source.

The OSI and its backers have argued that, by definition, being open source requires the blessing of the OSI. CPAL was recently approved by the OSI and has been blessed as bona fide open source goodness.

So far wiki vendor Socialtext, which originally submitted the license for OSI approval, ERP vendor Xtuple and Java integration vendor MuleSource have all become CPAL users. Collaboration vendor Zimbra may soon be next.

But there is little difference between what the vendors were doing before with Mozilla-plus-attribution versus what they get with CPAL.

"There is an additional paragraph in the CPAL that we didn't have in the MSPL [MuleSource public license]," MuleSource CEO Dave Rosenberg told Internetnews.com. "Otherwise it's the same."

Xtuple President and CEO Ned Lilly explained that, though the license isn't all that different from what his firm was doing, the OSI's blessing actually does mean something.

"I think it means a lot more in this particular situation since they have officially blessed a successor to MPL+A [Mozilla public license plus attribution]," Lilly said. "I'm happy that xTuple can be full-fledged members of the open source applications community without any kind of asterisk or hard feelings; and we're all indebted to Socialtext and the OSI board for working this through to a successful conclusion."

For its part, Socialtext Director of Product Marketing Jeff Brainard said that wide adoption of CPAL was one of its goals in getting it approved by the OSI.

"It was a long process, but rewarding for Socialtext to follow the community process to achieve full OSI certification. Now, we can truly say our wiki software is open-source," Brainard said. "We hope that we've solved the problem for the industry at large to help more commercial software packages become part of the open source movement."

At a panel during LinuxWorld, SugarCRM CEO John Roberts argued that the blessing of the OSI isn't as important as some believe. SugarCRM was among the very first vendors to go the MPL plus attribution route and has been at odds with the OSI ever since.

That said SugarCRM is changing its license, albeit to the GPLv3, which also includes protections for attribution.

MuleSource CEO Rosenberg admitted that he did consider the GPLv3 before choosing CPAL.

"However there is not enough information about the effects of version 3 or how to deal with things like Web services and objects that interact with GPL code," Rosenberg said. "The reason we have stuck with attribution is because the MPL is a bit too forgiving in terms of creating a business and encouraging users to become customers."

For Zimbra, which is currently under an MPL plus attribution, John Robb, vice president of marketing and product management said that they are looking at GPL v3 and CPAL.

"They both have their strengths, and we have two good choices to consider in the future," Robb said. "At the end of the day, the blessing of the community means a lot to us. What is important to us is that our customers and our community feel like we are putting out an innovative product with the freedoms they expect."

By going with a bona fide open source license, there is also one other added benefit: You get rid of the whiners. MuleSource's Rosenberg understands the importance of community and explained that common threads are necessary.

"To that end, the OSI plays an important role in trying to corral licensing under one entity," Rosenberg said. "However, after being a company for a year I can honestly tell you that our previous license was accepted worldwide.

"Our goal in moving to an OSI approved license is to show unity with other open source projects and companies and to tell all the whiners to shut up about who and what constitutes 'open source.'"