What is a GNU Licence ?


Since moving to my role as Software Architect for Open Source at IBM, A question I get asked frequently is

“What’s the difference between community and commercial open source software ?”

I could talk about many aspects here, but the one that stands out is the licence model.

Commercial Open Source software is typically provided with a paid for subscription – this provides help desk (break / fix) and product updates and patches during the subscription period, and whilst the initial software product is free to download, you really need to buy the subscription to use it.   Community Open Source is different .. it has been created by a group of people sharing a common set of objectives and they create their product and the community around it for free – they get no financial rewards for their efforts.  There are a few licence models used with community Open Source, the most popular is GNU General Public Licence, characteristics of this licence are :-

  1. You can download and copy the software – so copy it to servers, workstations etc as many times as you want.
  2. Distribution – You can distribute the software as you wish BUT you must include a link to the original online community that created the software
  3. Change The Code – You are free to folk and change the source code … add to it, remove features etc  BUT you must offer your new version with the same GNU Public Licence
  4. Charge For It – You are also able to charge money for the software, BUT you must provide a copy of the GNU Public Licence and ensure they know its also available elsewhere for free.

So, that’s it .. hope this blog post clears up the licence difference between commercial and community Open Source .. more information is available at the OpenSource site if you have any feedback or questions, please get in touch 🙂

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