[NMLUG] GNU and the GPL

C. Ulrich nmlug@swcp.com
Mon, 26 Nov 2001 23:16:22 -0700

On Monday 26 November 2001 21:01, you wrote:
>   I have been watching a tread on the Smoothwall mailing list.  It looks
> like this great product is about to go proprietary and commercial, dropping
> the GPL for their product.  While they may keep some version of it GPL'd
> that is definatly not clear at this point.
>   The main complaint from the Smoothwall folks seems to be the lack of
> support from the end users.  Their software lets you know up front that it
> is going to send information to them about installs - and he says he gets
> 300+ installs a day, with 1-2 registrations per day.  I can see his
> frustration as this is a truly excellent project and product.
>   In the techno drizzle of the last year, where do you guys thing the GPL
> stands, and what will it take to keep high quality GPL products alive.  I
> mean the folks doing all of this fantastic work deserve to make a decent
> living at it (IMHO).

One thing to note is that while subsequent versions of the software maybe 
carry a difference license, (to my understanding) the devloper can't take the 
last GPL version away. Oh sure, he can try. But getting software off the 
internet (if it's popular) is a lot like getting pee out of a swimming pool, 
once it's in there, it's in there.[1]

I have a feeling that doesn't console you much, given the whole picture.

What I'm getting at is that the GPL version can be forked as the next version 
of the software goes commercial. True, that might not be quite what you want. 
But who said open source was ever easy.

So, I gather you want to make a persuasive argument on why this software 
should stay GPL'd. First, any developer who loves his code wants to see it 
flourish. He wants to see users gobble it up and go 'yum that was good.' 
Second, software which starts out open source or freeware and then goes 
commercial DIES. End of story. (With two exceptions: it would survive only if 
it were hands down, really extraordinarily good compared to the competition 
OR if there were millions of dollars in marketing thrown behind it.)

The above two points, when put together, should be enough to convince any 
programmer who gives a crap about his project to keep the code GPL'd. If that 
doesn't quite do the trick, it never hurts to mention that a lot of 
successful (in terms of money and happiness) open source programmers always 
have at least one flagship product that's free to the public that they can 
use as a demonstrative example of their abilities to prospective employers. 
If this software is more of a team effort then you could highlight the point 
that really good free software might open peoples' minds to their commercial 

Lastly, and this is just a nitpick here, I notice on the Smoothwall website 
that they have a link that says, "donate towards the SmoothWall GPL 
development." I would hope that anyone who donates to the fund would get 
their money back or some kind of fair compensation if the product went 

--C. Ulrich

1. This analogy was stolen from some post in a thread way back when about the 
whole DeCSS debacle.
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