GPL 2 adoption falls among open-source set

The fall of GPLv2 below 50 percent of all open-source projects may not be cause for panic, but it likely is a harbinger of more Apache code to come.

The GPL version 2 has been in decline for some time , and has just dipped below a 50 percent adoption rate among open-source projects, according to new data released by Black Duck Software.

While some of this decline may be due to GPL version 3's increased adoption , at least some may derive from growing commercial interest in Apache-style licensing.

GPLv2 adoption falls below 50 percent Black Duck Software

One of the best indications of this shift is Red Hat's decision to license the JBoss HornetQ project under an Apache license, rather than the Lesser General Public License, to which it had previously defaulted.

Having said that, it's important to note that Apache's share of the market hasn't been growing dramatically ( see the July 2009 data ), which lends further weight to a hypothesis that GPLv3 is cannibalizing GPLv2. Even so, I find the dip interesting, and anecdotally I'm seeing a groundswell of support for Apache.

This isn't to suggest that the GPL doesn't matter: it clearly does. As Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady recently noted, "the GPLv2 is more popular than all of the other licenses on the (Black Duck) list...combined."

But as Open Core becomes the default business model for "pure-play" open-source companies, we will see more software licensed under the Apache license.

The GPL makes sense in a world where vendors hope to exercise control over their communities (by constraining the sorts of derivative works that remain palatable to would-be competitors or "free-riding" users), but if the desire is to foster unfettered growth, Apache licensing offers a better path.

I don't see an end to GPL adoption anytime soon, as its ethos appeals to a certain class of developer and because it can offer tangible development and business benefits, as I'll be arguing at Monday's "Which open-source license is best?" discussion with the Free and Open Source Software Learning Centre. The whole Apache vs. GPL debate may be much like Coke vs. Pepsi: a matter of personal preference and nothing more.

With GPLv2 adoption dropping below 50 percent of open-source projects surveyed by Black Duck Software, however, it's very possible that preferences are starting to shift in favor of Apache licensing.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


    Discuss GPL 2 adoption falls among open-source set

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Show Comments Hide Comments
    Latest Articles from CNET
    The other analog format: Cassette tape decks have never been cheaper to buy