Pentaho Pumps Up the GPL's Power

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One of the interesting trends in the enterprise open source space has been the gradually migration of software companies to the GNU GPL, whether from totally proprietary licences or from less “strict” free software ones. The latest addition to this club is an important one, since Pentaho is one of the leaders in the Business Intelligence space, and its move sends out an important signal:

Pentaho Corp., the commercial open source alternative for business intelligence (BI), today announced that its current version 2 alpha release of the Pentaho BI Platform, as well as future versions, will be distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License Version 2 (GPLv2). GPLv2 is a software license published by the Free Software Foundation. Pentaho will also provide a "FLOSS Exception", which simplifies distribution of Pentaho BI Platform with certain other open source licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative (www.opensource.org). The Pentaho BI Platform is the underlying infrastructure which supports Pentaho's reporting, analysis, dashboard, data integration, and data mining capabilities.

The reasons it gives for this move are instructive:

The GPL is the most widely used open source software license. Currently, more than 60% of open source projects tracked on freshmeat.org are GPL-licensed. The GPL is well understood by the market and the legal community and has notable precedents such as MySQL, Java and the Linux kernel as GPL-licensed projects.

This is a classic example of network effects: the more projects that use the GNU GPL, the more likely it is that others will adopt it, since it is “widely used” and “well understood”. The same network effects lie behind Pentaho's decision to opt for GNU GPLv2, not the more recent GPLv3:

GPLv2 is more compatible with more of our partners' licenses and community open source distributions than GPLv3 is today. For example, GPLv2 makes it simpler and cleaner for other projects that want to embed both Pentaho and MySQL, Alfresco, or other GPLv2-licensed projects. Pentaho could move the platform components mentioned above to GPLv3 at a later date, based on partner and community feedback.

There is, of course, a huge irony here. The GNU GPL has often been portrayed as downright “anti-business”, but as Pentaho's move shows, it is pretty much the foundation of the entire open source industry today.

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