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Alfresco Goes GPL


Alfresco, the leader in open source document management, has now made a subtle but significant change in their licensing.  Effective immediately, Alfresco is being released under the GPL rather than their previous Mozilla-derived license. 

While there's nothing wrong with the Mozilla license they used, my take is, it had two things that were slowing things down.  First of all, it's yet-another-license, even if it is based on a reasonably well-known and accepted license.  So inevitably that means that lawyers start asking lots of questions, at least compared to the GPL which is fairly well understood.  (The GPL is not perfect, but in my view, it's the best going.  And partly because it's widely used by Linux, MySQL and others, it's understood.)  The second issue is that Alfresco's license had an attribution clause.  I don't think attribution is the huge bogey-man that people have made it out to be, but still, having such a clause means you have to spend the time to explain when you have to display the Alfresco logo and when you don't and all of that is just a distraction that gets in the way of adoption.  Now you can just use the software without worrying about attribution or Mozilla license terms.  (For another take on this issue, read SugarCRM CEO John Roberts' response "Why Attribution Matters".)

Alfresco also uses a FLOSS license extension (known by the counter-intuitive lawyerly name "license exception"), similar to what we use at MySQL.  This provision ensures that the Alfresco GPL license is compatible with other open source licenses, including the Mozilla license, BSD License, Apache License, and a couple of dozen other licenses.  Although the whole idea of license compatibility is rather ironic when you think about it, it makes sure there's no impediments to using Alfresco with other popular open source licenses, effectively removing one more potential barrier to adoption. 

At any rate, by adopting the GPL Alfresco has simplified the licensing issue.  (That's one of the reasons MySQL adopted the GPL several years back.)  And it's good news for everyone except perhaps lawyers who charge by the hour to explain all these issues.


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