"Open source" companies are playing games with licensing to sneak in proprietary code, freeze out competitors, fight enclosure

Writing new software licenses is a seemingly irresistible vice in the free and open source world, and the decades since the first GPL have been filled with bitter disputes and splits over licensing, with new licenses proliferating for motives both noble and base.

Benjamin "Mako" Hill's seminal Libreplanet keynote described how "open source" had mutated to eliminate software freedom, allowing large companies (especially those with cloud-based products) to hoard all the benefits of openness without giving anything back to the world. Some licenses have tried to halt and reverse this process, but with limited success.

At the same time, the domination of the tech industry by a handful of monopolistic giants has made it harder than ever to run a profitable business, leading many businesses to introduce elements of their products that are proprietary.

This "open-ish" model is hugely controversial and often lands with giant companies on the side of "pure open" against small challengers who attempt to close off parts of their tools — because giant companies can used cloud-based deployment to hoard their improvements, but benefit when the rest of the toolchain is open and receiving contributions from all the other users.

Eric Anderson's table of open-ish tools and review of 2018's licensing controversies are an important map of where openness stands today, and, if you read between the lines, you can also get a sense of where software freedom is endangered.

Speaking about the new normal of 3-tier products, Elastic CEO Shay Banon summed it up, saying "We now have three tiers: open source and free, free but under a proprietary license, and paid under a proprietary license."

You see the same high-level licensing structure in Confluent and Redis Labs' offerings as well.

It is into this new 3-tier world where Chef, also open core and also facing the threat of competition from cloud providers, has gone the other direction and streamlined and simplified their open source offering. I'd go so far as to say the Chef news revitalizes the early spirit of open source software development: all Chef software will be developed in open source under the Apache 2.0 license. No asterisks or caveats.

Making sense of a crazy year in open source [Eric Anderson/Scale VP]

(via Four Short Links)