Alfresco has now gone to the GPL model and it seems to be making news. We have added the FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) exception that allows any software using an OSI-approved license to embed Alfresco. We are really excited about the opportunity that this creates.
About a year and half ago, I wrote a blog about how Alfresco is an Open Source Laboratory. In it I said that there is no formula to building an open source company. It's still true. We have looked to companies like JBoss (see Roy Russo's blog on the subject), MySQL, SugarCRM and RedHat who have paved the way for us, but who are still experimenting with their models. Look at MySQL's all you can eat enterprise model. Or RedHat re-inventing packaging and solutions in the face of Oracle selling support for their product.
Although we all (professional open source companies) are still fine tuning the model, but we know it works and we are all just optimizing the model. However, there is a constant tension of rapidly expanding the pie and trying to monetize that expansion and get our fair share. As we were building our brand, we sought refuge in the models with which others had experimented. Over time, it has become clear that growth is the most important factor in development of an open source company. We have moved beyond enterprise extensions and now we have moved beyond attribution. Are these really necessary to build an open source company? Well, we tried it and we don't believe it is. We believe that leadership is a much stronger protection than any license restrictions.
We made no pretensions to being experienced open source guys when we started Alfresco, but we knew that we were experience enterprise software guys. We saw a movement that was having a tremendous impact on enterprise software and the internet as a whole and thought that we could apply those lessons to the areas that we know best, content management. We were open to trying new things and we were willing to admit that we would have to change as things moved along.
Two years later, we have created a strong brand in Alfresco. We have confidence in the product that we are building. It was time to look at what made sense for our license. Matt Asay has always been a big advocate of the GPL license and has been a proponent since joining us in 2005. I was nervous about our use of the attribution clause originally, but I was also nervous of the GPL. Matt has been on the OSI board where there has been a lot of discussion around attribution and the various licenses that use it. What has become clear in recent months is that GPL systems can incorporate non-GPL/LGPL components, specifically Apache and BSD, and the FLOSS exception had eliminated any concerns that I had about the GPL license being used by others.
About 74% of all the projects on SourceForge are GPL. Matt anticipates that a lot of open source applications will ultimately want to go this way, but going to GPL is new in the professional open source applications area. Companies like MySQL and Java are infrastructure and their use makes sense from a dual licensing perspective. We too have a good embedding business and dual license makes sense for potential OEMs. However, the timing of Java going to GPL is coincidental since we have been looking at this for a while. The question was, what was best for Alfresco, the out of the box ECM solution. GPL with FLOSS exception is the answer.
We have made a big investment in integration with PHP as well. We look forward to integrating with a number of GPL projects that need a repository and to use GPL components as part of the Alfresco solution. We look forward to the GPL community adding and extending Alfresco with new functionality as well. The experiment looks like it is coming to a successful conclusion.