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In 1968 Informatics introduced the first commercial killer-app and rapidly established the concept of the software product, the software company, and very high rates of return. Informatics developed the perpetual license which is now standard throughout the computer industry, wherein ownership is never transferred to the customer.
Unix from a BSD Licensing Perspective
AT&T, who owned the original Unix implementation, was a publicly regulated monopoly tied up in anti-trust court; it was legally unable to sell a product into the software market. It was, however, able to provide it to academic institutions for the price of media.
A BSD license gives a small company the equivalent of software-in-escrow without any legal complications or costs. If a BSD-licensed program becomes orphaned, a company can simply take over, in a proprietary manner, the program on which they are dependent. An even better situation occurs when a BSD code-base is maintained by a small informal consortium, since the development process is not dependent on the survival of a single company or product line. The survivability of the development team when they are mentally in the zone is much more important than simple physical availability of the source code.
GPL Advantages and Disadvantages
A common reason to use the GPL is when modifying or extending the gcc compiler. This is particularly apt when working with one-off specialty CPUs in environments where all software costs are likely to be considered overhead, with minimal expectations that others will use the resulting compiler.
The GPL is also attractive to small companies selling CDs in an environment where "buy-low, sell-high" may still give the end-user a very inexpensive product. It is also attractive to companies that expect to survive by providing various forms of technical support, including documentation, for the GPLed intellectual property world.
The GPL attempts to make programmers contribute to an evolving suite of programs, then to compete in the distribution and support of this suite. This situation is unrealistic for many required core system standards, which may be applied in widely varying environments which require commercial customization or integration with legacy standards under existing (non-GPL) licenses. Real-time systems are often statically linked, so the GPL and LGPL are definitely considered potential problems by many embedded systems companies.
The GPL is an attempt to keep efforts, regardless of demand, at the research and development stages. This maximizes the benefits to researchers and developers, at an unknown cost to those who would benefit from wider distribution.
The GPL was designed to keep research results from transitioning to proprietary products. This step is often assumed to be the last step in the traditional technology transfer pipeline and it is usually difficult enough under the best of circumstances; the GPL was intended to make it impossible.
BSD Advantages
A BSD style license is a good choice for long duration research or other projects that need a development environment that:
has near zero cost
will evolve over a long period of time
permits anyone to retain the option of commercializing final results with minimal legal issues.
This final consideration may often be the dominant one, as it was when the Apache project decided upon its license:
<quote>This type of license is ideal for promoting the use of a reference body of code that implements a protocol for common service. This is another reason why we choose it for the Apache group - many of us wanted to see HTTP survive and become a true multiparty standard, and would not have minded in the slightest if Microsoft or Netscape choose to incorporate our HTTP engine or any other component of our code into their products, if it helped further the goal of keeping HTTP common... All this means that, strategically speaking, the project needs to maintain sufficient momentum, and that participants realize greater value by contributing their code to the project, even code that would have had value if kept proprietary.</quote>
In many cases, the long-term results of a BSD style license more accurately reflect the goals proclaimed in the research charter of universities than what occurs when results are copyrighted or patented and subject to proprietary university licensing. Anecdotal evidence exists that universities are financially better rewarded in the long run by releasing research results and then appealing to donations from commercially successful alumni.
Companies have long recognized that the creation of de facto standards is a key marketing technique. The BSD license serves this role well, if a company really has a unique advantage in evolving the system. The license is legally attractive to the widest audience while the company's expertise ensures their control. There are times when the GPL may be the appropriate vehicle for an attempt to create such a standard, especially when attempting to undermine or co-opt others. The GPL, however, penalizes the evolution of that standard, because it promotes a suite rather than a commercially applicable standard. Use of such a suite constantly raises commercialization and legal issues. It may not be possible to mix standards when some are under the GPL and others are not. A true technical standard should not mandate exclusion of other standards for non-technical reasons.
Companies interested in promoting an evolving standard, which can become the core of other companies' commercial products, should be wary of the GPL. Regardless of the license used, the resulting software will usually devolve to whoever actually makes the majority of the engineering changes and most understands the state of the system. The GPL simply adds more legal friction to the result.