Saturday, April 15, 2006

How much open is dual licensing?

While on the slopes, I had time to think. There is an interesting discussion going on in our mailing list, about how open Funambol is. I mean, we are obviously open source. But are we really an open project? That is an interesting question, valid for every open source project but more so for dual licensing projects.

Is Linux really open? Can you contribute to the core if you want? Yes, but there is a benevolent dictator that will allow you to do it or not. So... you can, but... Well, maybe Linux is not really open. It is close, but you have to demonstrate to be good and the doors of paradise will open up for you.

What about dual licensing projects? We also have a benevolent dictator (in our case, it is Stefano). The difference is that his motives might also be linked to commercial goals. The community might not have full visibility of those motives and feel we have a evil purpose.

To avoid looking "close", you have to be very open on your goals and define what you do for the project and what the community should do. It is called a Social Contract. We published the Funambol Social Contract some time ago. It sets the rules. It is a forever-changing document that adapts to the community input. It is a crucial document.

Dual licensing is always at risk not to look open. Sometimes people forget that open source does not mean chaos and random development. The good open source project (including Linux) have a rigid organization. It is the only way to build good quality software. The same is for dual licensing open source projects. If you are running one or you are thinking about starting one, my suggestion is to make sure you sign a contract with your community. Make your process open and you will end up being as open as any open source project. Keep your process close and your community will leave you. It is a tight-rope walk. Every single day.