No matter how we look at it, the open source movement is relatively young even when compared to a young technology market. We are learning as we go, but even so, we should be able to apply business knowledge and experience.
If we were talking about a company and someone wanted to significantly change a part of the product -- and a license change is certainly significant -- a smart executive, to determine whether it was a good idea, would ask three questions. They are: Who is the customer? What is the cost? and What is the benefit? In this case, I'd add a fourth question "Do we have the authority to make the change?"
Let's explore each of these questions as they relate to GPL 3.0:
Who is the Customer?
Let's get to this question by exploring who it isn't. It isn't end users. They generally can't code and this license change likely will force companies such as TiVo to avoid anything that uses this license. Since there are likely more customers using Linux with TiVo than with any other client-side implementation, I'd suggest they would be neutral or negative on this.
The customer isn't business. There is nothing in the change to benefit business and in fact, it is designed to reduce the options businesses have. IBM has indicated it won't support GPL 3.0 even though it has been given special dispensation. Impact on Google has been avoided as well.
You'd think the hardware guys would like the concept of the GPL. It lowers the value of software, so you'd think that would give more power to the hardware side again. Problem is, the model lowers the value of hardware as well and Google is the new poster child for that. I spent some time awhile back exploring this with IBM hardware and those guys weren't happy.
Professional developers are mixed on this change, and when are developers the customer for something that addresses how a product will be sold? Shouldn't the customer always be the buyer?
What's the Cost?
Changes come with cost. If you don't know the cost of something, how can you possibly make a good business decision about whether it's the right thing to do? This may force those who support the GPL, such as Novell and TiVo, to abandon it for something else. It will shrink the available market for products under this license. You only have to look at the discussions about it to realize that many people disagree with it.
We don't yet know how much the market will decrease -- likely more than 10 percent and less than 90 percent. But if it were 80 percent, would it be wise to adopt it? How about at 20 percent?
Software isn't a religion; for most of us it's a business, and it should be run as one. One interesting thought: Before the GPL, the most powerful technology company was Microsoft, a company run by programmers and software developers. Under the GPL, the heir apparent is Google, an advertising agency.
If you're a programmer or a developer, that change alone could be a significant cost. There is an old saying: "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." I wonder if these changes aren't exactly that.
But, in the end, we should ask both what the cost is, and why no one selling this idea is discussing that cost.
What's the Benefit?
In context, any cost can seem reasonable if the benefit is great enough. The advertised benefit is freedom, but the not-so-subtle benefit is stopping Microsoft. How realistic is either? Licenses restrict rights as well as grant them and at the core of the 3.0 change is the concept of stopping pacts such as the Novell/Microsoft deal, which appeared necessary for Novell's survival.
The alternative might have been litigation or the simple failure of Novell which, for Redhat and other competing distributions, might have been a benefit. Yet the IT market has grown tired of litigation and has constantly expressed the desire for a steady state. This isn't that.
It's doubtful this license change would hurt Microsoft long term and, short term, it it might actually be a benefit.
So, if the only true benefit is stopping future versions of the Microsoft/Novell deal and killing projects such as TiVo, is the benefit worth the cost? For the promoters, it would seem so, but I wonder for how many of the true customers.
Does the Authority Exist?
I've been going back over the initial activities by SCO and the defenses. Who says people have to use GPL 3.0 if they don't want to? If there is code where the new GPL applies -- whether it is Microsoft, Novell, or TiVo on the defensive -- couldn't they simply remove it once it is identified?
If companies simply refused to adhere to the license, where would all of the enforcement money come from? SCO tried the litigation storm thing and it didn't work out so well. There seems to be a subtext that key people such as the Linux Foundation will have no choice, but I wonder if that is the case.
Isn't it possible that companies and developers will reject this license, which didn't come from any democratic process anyway, and avoid like the plague any code released under it?
Even Microsoft can't force you to take something you don't want. What if the market just says no?
I'm not making a recommendation other than to suggest these questions be asked, and answered, to your satisfaction. Throughout your professional life there will be people trying to get you to do things by talking fast and tricking you into avoiding the basics.
Whether it is a new product, a new contract or license type, it is always wise to ask critical questions and make your decisions based on the honest answers. Whatever you decide, I'd wish you luck. My recommendation is to always play heads-up ball.