Mandrake flirts with non-open source

French Linux company MandrakeSoft takes a step away from the open-source philosophy, with a change to license terms involving customers that want support for a firewall product.

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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
MandrakeSoft has taken a step away from the open-source philosophy, changing license terms for a Linux-based firewall so customers that want product support may no longer install the software on as many computers as they wish.

The company's new Multi Network Firewall (MNF) software is free and ships under an open-source license for those who don't need support, Paris-based MandrakeSoft said Thursday. But if customers want support, they must buy a version covered by a different, more restrictive license.

"Our goal is also to sell directly more expensive products to customers," said MandrakeSoft co-founder Gael Duval, adding that the product is still priced to undercut competitors such as Check Point Software.

"Additionally, users can download the product, try it, and if they are satisfied, purchase later a commercial license that gives them access to support," Duval said in an e-mail interview.

It's not the first time an open-source company has made philosophical adjustments for pragmatic reasons. The fervor for the collaborative-programming model has yielded to bottom-line concerns at many companies. Indeed, as the Internet mania of the late 1990s was replaced by recession pessimism, many free-lunch ideas expired.

Firewall software protects computers from undesired network traffic, such as probes by hackers. Mandrake's firewall products are part of an effort to expand into corporate software from its base of versions of Linux for desktop computers. The firewall offerings include Mandrake-written code, to which it owns the copyright, as well as software taken from the open-source domain.

The dual-license approach is similar to that used by some other open-source projects, such as the MySQL database.

Though the licenses may differ, the software is technologically identical, MandrakeSoft said. But the two licenses--the seminal General Public License (GPL) for the free version and the new MandrakeSecurity MNF Commercial License for the paid version--impose very different constraints on how the software may be used.

The unsupported, GPL version may be freely copied and changed and installed on as many computers as a customer likes. The GPL requires that any changes made to the software be published publicly if the modified version is distributed.

The commercial version may be installed on only one computer, though it supports any number of clients connecting to it. MandrakeSoft supports the product and gives faster access to updates. In addition, business partners may change the software without requiring the changes to be published.