A couple of weeks ago (Dec 12, 2009 to be exact) Miguel de Icaza made a bold move and pulled all GPL code out of MonoDevelop, replacing it with LGPL. Of course, the open source community had a lot to say about this. Many users were calling for Icaza to just "start working for Microsoft". Few could understand why this move was made. Some even saw this move as a first step to crippling Linux.
Strong words for a move that, when you really think about it, makes perfect sense.
After reading enough of de Icazas blog, and putting a pieces of a "big picture" puzzle together, it should be clear to just about anyone, that in some cases the GPL isn't as "freeing" as people would like to think. Let me explain that statement.
First, what is Monodevelop? Monodevelop is an IDE for C# and .NET frameworks allowing users to develop desktop and ASP.NET Web apps on Linux, Windows, and OS X. Monodevelop also makes it easy to port .NET apps to Linux. So, if you are a future-thinking type user or developer, you can see that this could be a very important piece of software. But what about the GPL code? How did that affect this tool?
If a third-party developer wants to create an add-on for Monodevelop, he/she could do so. But with the GPL code inside of Monodevelop, any add-on code attached to Monodevelop would also be GPL'd. By removing the GPL code, de Icaza has made it clear that add-ons can be included without their code having to be GPL'd.
In my opinion, this is a good move. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the GPL. But just because one supports the GPL doesn't mean they have to be single-focused and militant about that support. Oh sure, if your last name is Stallman, you are most likely still screaming about this move. But let's rethink some things here.
Open source is not limited to the GPL. In fact there are quite a lot of open source licenses (check out this page for a complete listing). Just because a piece of software is not GPL, does not remove the "open" from the nature of the code. I can still download the source for Monodevelop. Only now, if a closed-source, third-party software wants to include an add on to Monodevelop, I won't be able to view the code for that add-on. No big deal. Besides, someone will fork Monodevelop and keep it tightly knit to the GPL anyway.
But that's not really my point. My overall point is this: The open source community can be a bit short-sighted. When all you care about is that you can see the code, you are missing out on a bigger picture that could include quite a lot of growth and inclusion for Linux and open source software. To me, this is all about Linux growing beyond that tried and true "is Linux ready for X?" argument. And I believe that Miguel de Icaza sees this as well.
Linux has evolved beyond the underdog, whipping boy it once was. Linux is now a serious contender in a lot of serious markets. Ten years ago (or maybe even five years ago) no one would have ever attached the term "enterprise" to Linux. Now they do. There are even two vendors selling "enterprise Linux". And if Linux is to continue growing and evolving it is going to have to shed the ideology that everything must remain free. That binary kind of thinking will ensure that Linux remains in basements and on the desktops of fanboys and fangirls alone.
If getting Linux on the short track to success includes migrating software to a different open source license, I'm all for it. The GPL will always be there and will always serve a very noble and specific purpose. But in the grander scheme of things, other licenses must be examined in order to allow Linux to grow.
Miguel de Icaza has continued to make bold choices and moves that have ruffled a few feathers in the Linux community. He has, time and again, acted like everyone's favorite band producing an album he knows will sell (even if his die-hard fans might not like it so much). And if it weren't for visionaries like him, Linux wouldn't be where it is.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.