Random writings on running, software & product development, business and anything else

Is an open license enough?

Does having an open license for a software project, have all the advantages negated if the development process is basically closed to the outside world?

Recently I have been trialling a new web based account/billing software. It is not a very mature project, but the features listed and performance so far have me believing that this is potentially a good solution. Also it is written in a language I am comfortable with (PHP), and it has an open license (GNU AGPL). Hence I may be able to contribute.

However, I have now encountered some issues. The project is under the control of a small company, and project communication is limited to a couple of mailing lists. I have tried direct communication, but the response was things are proceeding, and they are very busy.

The latest planned release date has now slipped twice. I understand software development, and this happens, but public communication has been minimal. Also there is no public source control. In most FOSS projects, a browse of commits will give a good indication of the health of the project, but this is not possible.

So we have a closed open source project. Some may raise the option of forking, but this is almost exclusively a bad result in the long run. So I will wait a little longer, and see how it goes?

Note: I have intentionally not named the software in question, as I still have hope for this project, and do not wish to tarnish the reputation unfairly.


  1. David Kastrup

    Free Software is about the recipient of the software getting all the blueprints he may need to modify and redistribute this particular version. It does not give the world in general any access to the software unless one of the licensed recipients decides to redistribute. Neither does it give anybody write access, or the ability to contribute. Nor does it give access to development internals that are not being distributed.

    Open licensing is widely orthogonal with open development. You can let others participate with the development of proprietary products as well, if you like.

    There are some products that tried doing that (like the old Sun Java), but due to people being inspired by Free Software philosophies and ethics, the uptake has been mostly lukewarm.

    Emacs, the proverbial frontpiece of Free Software responsible for Richard Stallman creating the GPL, was developed in a closed process for several decades.

    Different models inspire different people differently, and this has changed over time. I don’t think that you can generalize the implications easily.

    • Ernie

      Hi David,
      Thank you for the excellent response. I guess we are spoiled with a very large number of projects that are both licensed in a free & open manner, and are developed in a a similar way. Very true it is not the only way, even if it is my personal preference.

  2. lefty.crupps

    Sounds like a good example between the differences of a Free Software application (the licensing scheme) and the Open Source development model. This app sounds to be Free, but its development is far from Open (from what I’ve read here).

    Everyone seems to want these two to be the same, but they just aren’t.

  3. Daniel Koć

    There’s much more than just licencing and patents!

    If you’re courious how many other legal considerations and bounds are down here, read the book “Towards an improved regulatory framework of free software : protecting user freedoms in a world of software communities and eGovernments”:


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