Since the announcement of the release date for the osCommerce 3.0 Harald has been writing about the future -and past- of osCommerce on his personal blog. The latest announcement came rather unexpected for most of us; the new code-base will be accompanied by a shiny new licence...
The BSD licence, depending on your viewpoint, offers true freedom, including commercial products that are 'closed'. This is in stark contrast with the current licence, open source poster-child GNU GPL.
Corporate fear for GPL
The GPL licence grants you all the freedom the BSD licence does, but with a twist; your changes automatically inherit the GPL licence. Distribution of the changed code means you will have to hand out all the code, and anybody can (re-)use it under the same GPL licence. This is obviously done to keep code open and available, but for many commercial ventures it is a source of frustration; how do you sell something when you have to hand people the code for free and they are allowed to give it away too? Combine this with the almost sickening 'everything is intellectual property' adage that has been roaming the boardrooms over the years and you know why the corporate world has been avoiding GPL like the plague.
Sure, there are companies that build succesfully upon GPL code, Redhat and Google being the most obvious ones, but like all companies in the GPL world they offer services that come with their own licences. Most IP lawyers will discard anything GPL licenced as simply too cumbersome and 'possibly dangerous in the future' for product development.
The strategic advantage of BSD
The adoption of osCommerce 3.0 has been slow so far, and certain decisions like the PHP 5.3 requirement make acceptance in the short term even harder. Many shop owners are not willing to trade in their highly modified 2.x shop for the new-but-bare-essentials 3.0 release - nor will they be in the near future, upgrade path or not. They have been working with the old but trustworthy codebase for years now and learned to work with it. The same applies for many developers. The 3.0 codebase is quite a few notches higher up the code ladder; the learning curve is steeper. osCommerce 3.0 today is essentially a new unsupported product, with no serious following, apart from the recognisable name and huge 2.x following. It lacks the familiarity, the addon library and the endorsement of bigger names. It will take time, and time sadly enough seems to be running out with several newcomers in the e-commerce field that supersede osCommerce in many aspects and have chisseled away at it's market share.
The new BSD licence will be able to offer protection for companies that were not willing to provide their intellectual property (code) to the end user but were forced to do so by the GPL. Wether you feel this is a good thing or not, it does open up new commercial possibilities with osCommerce. They are now able to close up their code or add more restrictive licencing to their modifications. And that might spark things up a bit.
Third party modules, functionality or even releases -open and closed- are a great way to attract investors, speed up development, mature your product and gain market share. With the closed option business- or 'pro' users can effectively buy support while the DIY crowd can benefit from fresh or backported idea's.
Although you could argue this somewhat conflicts with the original goals and ideals of osCommerce it might very well give osCommerce the boost it needs.
And no-one in his right mind should -in my humble opinion- complain about a GPL to BSD licence change.