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CS2007: An Open Source Requiem? Read your license...

The American Heritage dictionary defines a requiem as “A hymn, composition, or service for the dead”. Lately you can read a great deal about the recent release of Community Server 2007 and the changes in its licensing model.  Some pine for the loss of an “open source” project... but it begs the question as to what was really lost? And what repercussions to open source projects are caused by it.
It’s interesting how some industry events can send ripples into far reaching corners of the Internet and influence other communities. Recently we have experienced an increase in the number of inquiries about the DotNetNuke licensing model. I suppose that the license change in CS2007 shocked a few people into the sudden realization that software licenses can change! This change has rightfully made them feel vulnerable, prompting them to seek some reassurance from other platform vendors that their business investment is solid.
DotNetNuke is licensed under a standard BSD open source license. It is a proven open source license which has existed for more than 30 years without alteration and provides the maximum flexibility in both commercial and non-commercial environments. This open source license is the key to the vast ecosystem which has been cultivated around the DotNetNuke project ( 440,000 registered users, 3.5 million downloads, etc... ). As such, the open source license for DotNetNuke is not going to change. Ever. Period.
One might ask, “if DotNetNuke is so sure of its license, why do other applications consider it necessary to change their license”?  Much of this can come down to the motivations, intent, and project values of the founders.  In the best case scenario the creators of a software product choose a license which aligns with their long term goals and ambitions. This is the case with DotNetNuke, where we believe that mass adoption of the platform results in a passionate developer community and a prosperous ecosystem for all participants (whether you measure prosperity in dollars or simple satisfaction).  A less optimal scenario is when the creators of a software product choose a license which does not align with their long term goals and, as a result, must eventually change it. This causes friction (even devastation) among users when an event like that occurs.
A short walk down memory lane may provide some valuable insight into the Community Server license change.
Community Server began its life as WebForums.Net, an ASP.NET software application written by Scott Mitchell of 4GuysFromRolla fame.  Although the original licensing model is not known, Scott talks about WebForums.Net here ( you can also see how he and Andy Smith invented the Provider Pattern which was later assimilated by Microsoft ).  After Scott's original release in 2001, Microsoft purchased the rights to the IP from him and re-released it as the ASP.NET Forums under a liberal EULA which some people considered to be "open source" ( the actual EULA was not an OSI approved license ). While working at Microsoft, Rob Howard participated in the community development of the ASP.NET Forums and when he left Microsoft in 2004 to form his company ( Telligent ) was able to take the rights to the IP with him ( the exact details of this IP transfer are not publicly known ).  Telligent then began acquiring a few other popular .NET open source projects, including .Text and nGallery, by hiring their creators, Scott Watermasysk and Jason Alexander respectively. And these 3 applications were then integrated into a single application dubbed “Community Server” which was released under its own proprietary license in 2005. Originally the project claimed that it was "open source" but this term was later changed to "shared source" as the license did not fully adhere to open source principles. It never did and Telligent clearly had commercial intentions with the product. Recently Telligent released Community Server 2007 and, in the process, made changes to the license making it even more restrictive in certain environments.
As you can see this piece of software has changed hands no less than 3 times and had significant licensing changes in every incarnation. Since it never employed a true open source license, it means that users were always restricted in some way - with the licensing restrictions becoming progressively tighter & tighter over time.  Now compare this to a standard open source license like DotNetNuke's and it should have been obvious that it was only a matter of time before Telligent changed the Community Server license in a way which significantly reduced its accessibility. The audit trail for these changes is right there for anyone to see, but licensing tends to be one of those things nobody looks at closely until they get the bill (or the eventual notice to pay one).
Open Source Requiem? Hardly. Commiseration with those now caught in a licensing dilemma? Disappointment with the “bait & switch” phenomenon all too common in the name of Open Source? Frustration with misdirected energy spent contributing to a product designed for-profit? Yes.
Some have expressed that "people need to make money" so a license change is a natural progression?  Some have even proposed that DotNetNuke is headed in this general direction as the need for DotNetNuke Corporation to answer the community call for support is hard to ignore. But I disagree... the logic is flawed. And if you’ve been around the DotNetNuke community for any length of time... you should disagree too.
Clearly there is a need for DotNetNuke Corporation (indeed any organization which assumes responsibilities of stewardship) to achieve sustainable revenue streams for research & development, infrastructure, marketing, growth, community... things which are enhanced by contribution but cannot rely solely on it. Our community includes the vocal and the quiet; the restless and the content; the well-financed and the struggling; the businessman and the philanthropist. It always has. It always will. So is a license change really a “natural progression” or a thinly veiled business tactic conceived to monetize one “slice” of a community at the expense of the rest? You decide.
DotNetNuke Corporation believes that we only succeed if our community is succeeding also. We always have. We always will. It shows.
Read your license.


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