Open Sourcers Drop Software Religion for Common Sense

Cade Metz | Wired | February 15, 2012

Mike Olson was an open source pioneer. But he’s not an open source zealot.

Olson helped build the open source Berkeley DB database in the early 90s — before the Linux boom — and as the CEO of Sleepycat Software, he turned the database into a successful business using something very similar to the GPL, the free software license that was so essential to the rise of Linux. The GPL — or GNU General Public license — said that if someone modified free software and distributed the code with a larger product, they would have to contribute their work back to the community.

But in 2009, Olson founded Cloudera — the first outfit to commercialize Hadoop, the open source data-crunching platform based on Google’s software infrastructure — and he dropped the GPL in favor of the Apache license, a license that doesn’t require contributions back to the community. You might think that such licenses would stunt the growth of the open source world. But Olson believes the opposite is true.

The open source zealots don’t agree. But Olson is by no means the only one backing the Apache license. According to some statistics, the world’s open source projects are gradually moving away from restrictive licenses such as the GPL and towards more permissive licenses such as the Apache, and many open source watchers — including longtime pundit Matt Asay and Steven O’Grady, an analyst with developer-minded research firm RedMonk — agree that this shift will ultimately bring open source to a much wider audience...