Subject: Disguising open source code as a proprietary software product
From: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller <>
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 00:15:25 -0600

So I'm shopping for a blog-style content management system I can use to 
run several sites my wife and I own or plan to build. I look at dozens 
of them. In the end, I decide a "commercial" PHP program best meets my 
feature needs and has the best interface and theming system for what 
Debbie and I want to do.

But (gasp) how could a reporter/editor who works for the Open Source 
Development Network, who goes around giving speeches about Open Source 
business models and success stories, possibly choose a commercial 
software product over something GPLed like PHP Nuke or even Slash?

Answer: It's PHP, so it's open source in that I have access to the code 
and can modify it however I like (or in my case get one of my talented 
and PHP-experienced friends or coworkers to do it for me) so I don't 
have the usual proprietary software worry about a small developer going 
broke and leaving an unmaintainable "orphaned" product behind.

There's also a free-to-use version of this software available; the "pay" 
version has additional features, including some I need.

The developer and I talked. He had thought about an open source license 
and charging for support, but decided it was simpler to sell a low-cost 
"license" and provide support as part of the deal than to try to explain 
open source/free software + payment for support to mainstream customers, 
so that's the route he chose. His licensing is essentially voluntary, 
and not terribly expensive. He sells a "non-commercial use" license for 
$45, a "commercial use" license for $125, and will license use on 5 
commercial sites for $500. And, he says, he has neither enforcement 
capability nor desire to chase people. It's all on an honor system. (The 
only real difference between his "non-commercial" and "commercial" 
products is that there is no "powered by" button/link in the commercial 
version, and he points out that it's no great trick to remove that 
button/link if you want, and if you did the chances of him spotting it 
are exactly 0. )

The documentation is very complete and well-written. The developer could 
easily give away the code and charge $45 for the documentation. This 
would make him a GPL hero. it also might make it harder to collect for 
his work.

The only practical difference I see between what this developer is doing 
and what many open source/commercial hybrid developers do is prevent (by 
license) redistribution of modified versions of his program.  How much 
does this matter to someone like me?

At what point does *any* of this matter? Or does it? As an end user,  as 
long as I get well-written code and documentation, access to upgrades 
and bugfixes, and a chance to request reasonable code changes or 
additional features from the developer -- along with the option of doing 
them myself or hiring someone other then the original developer to do 
them for me -- why should I care whether the software is Free/free or not?

- Robin