Getting Some Religion – GPL Style

31 Dec Getting Some Religion – GPL Style

Religion (rĭ lĭj’ en) n.
  1. A belief, cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion
  2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and devotion.

I used to not be a big fan of the GPL. My impression was that a Richard Stallman-esque amount of religiosity was required to embrace not only the license, but the philosophy itself. Despite these initial reservations, I became a “believer” in the philosophy as I began to understand the collaborative model of open source development and after observing the early commercialization efforts of Linux (my brother and I picked up our first Slackware distro in Flagstaff in 1995). Eric Raymond’s seminal writings, Netscape’s adoption of the model, and Red Hat’s IPO were further testimony that I relied upon in my philosophical conversion.

Another fundamental part of my philosophical conversion was that my core belief system was also shaped by my medical training. I have already previously commented the parallels and overlap between the core values of open source and healthcare. Concepts of transparency, collaboration, peer review, knowledge transfer, and “greatest good for the greatest number” were moral equivalents of everything that I was medically familiar with and believed in. Beyond being inspiring ideals, they were the practical realities and part of the clinical requirementto provide the very best patient care.

Lately, I have had a greater appreciation of the license itself. I have followed the progress of the worldwide GPL3 tour and transparent global dialogue shaping its final form. I have had the privilege to meet Eben Moglen, listen to him speak in multiple forums, and consider the profound implications and underlying tenets of freedom, innovation, and knowledge transfer. Finally, I personally have real world experience in creating an open source business with real customers, real revenue, and real value creation.

Through all these experiences, I have seen how the philosophy and the license cannot be separated for the movement to be successful. The GPL captures the true spirit, the “share and share alike” ethos of what open source is all about. While there are clearly situations where different forms of open source licenses are warranted, the proliferation of such licenses and the subsequent mutant forms of open source business models enables organizations to “say but not do”, and worse, to “say but not be” (By the way, where is the OSI in “policing” the inappropriate use of the term anyway?!).

I am now a true believer in both the philosophy and the license that is the GPL. Not only do I believe the GPL ethos will continue to earn converts the (software) world over, but I also believe it will continue to be the innovation religion of the 21st century.

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