OT: wide-open software (was: python)

Grant Griffin grant.griffin at iowegian.com
Tue Nov 16 00:16:24 CET 1999

Fred Marshall wrote:
> Grant,
> I may be missing something here with regard to the WOL.  How is it different
> from the BSD, NPL, MPL, X, Python or Apache licenses or just Public Domain?
> All of these allow modifications to be taken private.  Using what's already
> widely understood and published (and written about widely) seems a good
> idea.  Not that yet another is so awful either!  Creating new ones seems
> more the work of lawyers needing to earn their keep (in perception).
> Fred Marshall

Hi Fred,

The "Wide-Open License" (http://www.dspguru.com/wol.htm) is a little
different from Public Domain because with PD, you give up all rights to
your software: you can't place conditions on its use.  The WOL (and
maybe all of the licenses you mention) does impose the very minimal
condition that the author's name copyright notice remain.

But beyond that, you're absolutely right that the WOL has a very similar
intent to those on your list.  It probably even uses many of the same
words.  (I didn't actually invent the WOL text, and I don't know who
did: it's been kicking around for many years.)

The primary difference, then, is simply one of "marketing".  The WOL
isn't just a license: it's a slogan and a brand name.  Open-source
software authors already know what "copyleft" means, but until now there
has been no term for the converse.  Since it's a lot easier to think and
talk about a concept if there's a word for it, I coined the term
"wide-open" to mean "free of cost, open source, but not copylefted".

The wide-open concept carries "open source" to its logical conclusion:
if open is good, wide-open is better.  As you might guess, then, the
_raison d'etre_ of the WOL is to compete with the GPL (GNU Public
License) in the minds of software-license "consumers" (that is, software
authors.)  The WOL gives them a name-brand alternative to the GPL.

Now...as it turns out, Fred, your list actually illustrates a couple of
benefits of the WOL. :-)

First, each of the licenses you name are associated with a specific
open-software product.  Therefore, they carry whatever associations
consumers have of those products; for example, people who prefer
GNU/Linux to FreeBSD might be reluctant to use the "BSD" license.  Yet
the BSD license itself stands on its own; you could change a few words
and then use it for anything.  The solution, of course, is simply to
create a license which is named for the primary feature of the license:
that it's wide-open.

Your list also illustrates the need for a "brand name" for
wide-openness.  Prior to the WOL, open-software licenses consisted of
the "GPL" (embodying copyleft) and "other", including many similar
wide-open-style licenses, plus a few "oddball" licenses (e.g. Gnuplot
and Scilab).  (Editorial Aside: If the well-intended branding effort of
Opensource.org is wildly successful, it will result in the creation of a
large number of new open-source licenses, further confusing both authors
and users.)  

While many people truly subscribe to the copyleft ideology, I suspect
that some authors of free/open software use the GPL simply because it's
easier than choosing from among the alternatives.  Or maybe they think
that if you're writing open/free software, you're just "supposed to" use
the GPL.  So the fact that you were able to name 6 similar licenses
suggests that we need a _single_ wide-open license to focus on to reduce
consumer confusion.  At the risk of confusing consumers with a 7th, I
have created the WOL.

Unfortunately, to fully compete with "copyleft" and the GPL, the WOL has
to be part "ideology", so here goes.  On the psychological side, I hope
authors will feel good about giving their "software gift" without
limitation; this is the best spirit of giving.  On the practical side, I
hope authors will recognize that being open-minded about who can adopt
their software child tends to encourage the poor little thing's
adoption.  (And doesn't it deserve a nice, warm home?)

Python's creator, Guido van Rossum, has long provided leadership in
wide-openness by licensing Python under its own wide-open-style
license.  I don't know whether this is an expression of his personal
values or simply a very pragmatic recognition of the fact that wide-open
software has an inherent "competitive advantage" over copylefted
software (Guido's a sharp guy), but I'm glad to see that much of the
Python community seems to be following his lead by reusing Python's
licensing terms.
Next, I'd like to see the openness that's embodied in these licenses
spread far and wide.  And  I think that a little bit of marketing is the
next logical step to open that up.  Using the "wide-open" slogan and the
"WOL" brand name, I'm trying to get people to buy into the wide-open
concept, and to popularize the WOL as the recognized alternative to the
GPL.  Then, software authors can choose between the two licenses
according to whether their intent really is to guard the perpetual
"free" status of their software (by using the GPL) or to maximize the
"gift value" of their work and to "encourage the adoption of their
software child" (by using the WOL).


Grant R. Griffin                                       g2 at dspguru.com
Publisher of dspGuru                           http://www.dspguru.com
Iowegian International Corporation	      http://www.iowegian.com

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