Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How FLOSS Software Became More Easily Accepted at Work

This was a long time ago now, but it was at a time when things were really starting to get big in the place where open source / free software and the Internet collided. It was also the time that we were looking to replace our in-house built, desktop based, bug tracking system.

It wasn't great, but it did the job. Even so, I started looking at a web-based bug tracking system that just happened to be licensed under the GPL.

I understood the requirements that were on us. I knew what it meant for us to use and change the code, and I knew what our obligations were for doing so.

Even still, a few people had concerns and I wasn't able to persuade them that we were OK. I suggested that we run the license past our (very technical) legal guy: if he knew what we intended to do, he would also know what was expected of us. My theory was, if he approves the license for our use case, then who really could argue differently?

The use of the GPLed software was approved and we went on our way. If the story ended there, it wouldn't be much of a story, though.

As time went on, we found ourselves gravitating to software licensed under GPL. But why? Quite simply, we knew two things: (a) legal had approved it; and more importantly (b) because the GPL itself is copyrighted, the very fact that legal had already approved that license meant that we didn't have to worry about fine print anymore!

All of a sudden, we didn't have to wonder "does this randomly drawn license for this particular software package allow us to do what we want?" and we didn't need to get 're-approved' to use the GPL (assuming we stayed within the parameters that we were given to begin with).

It was a weight off of our shoulders: almost overnight, we were confident that our understanding of the license requirements was correct, as we knew exactly what that license represented. We no longer had to try and understand hundreds of lines of legal terminology... we'd already done that once!

As time went on, we got a better understanding of a few more licenses (especially LGPL and MIT) and with that, we were able to make better and faster decisions about the libraries of code that we were looking at using.

It all really came down to the simple fact that because the licenses we were looking at were themselves copyrighted, any project that claimed to be using that license was not going to have some strange 'twist' to the license.

Yes, there were the odd times that the project tried to add a rider to the license, but even then, we were no worse off as legal would have had to look at it anyway.

To cut a long story short, these licenses made our lives easier because we all knew what we were able to do without ever really having to specifically analyse the license, simply because we knew that it couldn't have been modified from what we already understood.

And that made us happy.

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