Stop Whining: Let's All Be (C)PALS

New open source license draws converts to Open Source Initiative approval.

Apparently having an Open Source Initiative (OSI) approved license does matter.

Companies that had once shunned the official open source label while still operating as open source entities are starting to adopt a new OSI license, the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL).

For years, numerous commercial open source startups have used a Mozilla Public License (MPL)-plus-attribution clause to hock their wares. Open source aficionados have long argued that this type of license, which adds an attribution for a "powered by" type of notation in the application, is not an approved OSI license and so is not technically open source.

The OSI and its backers have argued that, by definition, being open source requires the blessing of the OSI. CPAL was recently approved by the OSI and has been blessed as bona fide open source goodness.

So far wiki vendor Socialtext, which originally submitted the license for OSI approval, ERP vendor Xtuple and Java integration vendor MuleSource have all become CPAL users. Collaboration vendor Zimbra may soon be next.

But there is little difference between what the vendors were doing before with Mozilla-plus-attribution versus what they get with CPAL.

"There is an additional paragraph in the CPAL that we didn't have in the MSPL [MuleSource public license]," MuleSource CEO Dave Rosenberg told "Otherwise it's the same."

Xtuple President and CEO Ned Lilly explained that, though the license isn't all that different from what his firm was doing, the OSI's blessing actually does mean something.

"I think it means a lot more in this particular situation since they have officially blessed a successor to MPL+A [Mozilla public license plus attribution]," Lilly said. "I'm happy that xTuple can be full-fledged members of the open source applications community without any kind of asterisk or hard feelings; and we're all indebted to Socialtext and the OSI board for working this through to a successful conclusion."

For its part, Socialtext Director of Product Marketing Jeff Brainard said that wide adoption of CPAL was one of its goals in getting it approved by the OSI.

"It was a long process, but rewarding for Socialtext to follow the community process to achieve full OSI certification. Now, we can truly say our wiki software is open-source," Brainard said. "We hope that we've solved the problem for the industry at large to help more commercial software packages become part of the open source movement."

At a panel during LinuxWorld, SugarCRM CEO John Roberts argued that the blessing of the OSI isn't as important as some believe. SugarCRM was among the very first vendors to go the MPL plus attribution route and has been at odds with the OSI ever since.

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