SugarCRM goes GPLv3...but not for the reasons you're thinking

SugarCRM just went GPLv3, but not for the reasons you're thinking. Community building, not community pressure, drove the decision.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

John Roberts has taken some flak for his open source position. But that's not the reason for SugarCRM's announcement today that it has gone to GPLv3 for its Community Edition (formerly called "Sugar Open Source"). You can view the FAQ here.

I've been talking with John for months (years, actually) about this, and it has always been on the radar. It has always been a matter of "when," not "if."

John and the SugarCRM team founded the company on the ideals and promise of open source. Now no one would challenge their right to do call themselves such.

Including Eben Moglen, executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and outside counsel to the Free Software Foundation:

I'm pleased to see the SugarCRM open source project adopt the GPL v3. We believe that sharing knowledge is good, even for making computers do neat and useful things. We encourage other important free and open source software projects to take this step and join us in making better software.

This is important, because it adds one more voice to the open source trend (and an important project to the GPLv3 movement). It also allows SugarCRM to continue to build its community and to provide developers a buffer between SugarCRM, the project, and SugarCRM, the company. It removes the need, in other words, for absolute trust. The trust is baked into the license. Developers can trust the license, regardless of what they think about SugarCRM's motives. This is one of the fundamental strengths of open source (and one of the major problems with proprietary software, both in terms of hidden copyright and hidden patents).

As with Linden Labs, Alfresco, and others, this move by SugarCRM is founded in strength, not weakness. It's one thing to open source your code in a desperate Hail Mary attempt to be relevant. It's quite another to do so when you're at the top of your game. SugarCRM is doing exceptionally well financially. It continues to blow out its quarters. Now it will get to prove that the GPL is no inhibitor to financial success, but rather an accelerator thereto (as my own company has found).

In fact, I'd argue (and have) that the GPL is the most commerce-friendly of any of the open source licenses. If you're a software business looking to go open source, the GPL is your friend. Eben might not like how I express this, but it's an opportunity to bless customers and developers while cursing competitors. The free market at its finest.

Of course, SugarCRM's model continues to be a mix of a robust, rapidly developed open source core with proprietary extensions. Sugar Enterprise remains licensed as it was before. But I hope that a year from now SugarCRM will feel that its brand and other value can carry the purchase decision as well or better than these proprietary extensions do today.

They're only there, in my opinion, to provide a convenient reason to buy. To reduce friction on a sale, in other words. But there are other ways to accomplish the same thing, and I'm hopeful SugarCRM will discover these.

In the meantime, I heartily endorse this move and view it as a significant step in the right direction.

NOTE: I am an advisor to SugarCRM. I'd think the move is excellent regardless, but I am a little biased.