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[20050209] Corporate reasons for BSD over GPL (Update 1)
I was asked on how to convince some decision makers at a (mostly?) hardware company to 1) use BSD-code instead of GPL-code for the start (i.e. use NetBSD over Linux) and 2) make them release the code to the public after making changes. Here are my thoughts:

  • A general consequence when putting code under the BSD license or releasing new code based on existing BSD-licensed code is that the code can be kept closed. E.g. when shipping hardware, there is no need to add the source.

  • In contrast, when you put new code under the GPL, or write code based on a program released under the GPL, it is mandatory that you release the full source of all your changes. Many big companies have been bitten by this with Linux, see to find that prominent companies like Siemens, ASUS, Sitecom, Gigabyte and many others are affected and were sued over this (apparently?) difficult to follow requirement of the GPL.

  • When using BSD-licensed code as a base, it's your own choice if you want to keep your changes private, of if you want to contribute them back to the community. Contributing the source has both benefits and drawbacks, which have to be considered.

  • Drawbacks of opening the source are that competitors will have access to your intellectual property. When using BSD-licensed code as a base for your work, you can choose to keep your changes private. With GPL, you have to open them up, if you want to or not.

  • Benefits of releasing source to the bright public may have various benefits usually found when arguing for Open Source: people can use the code and base their works on it, the code can be audited by 3rd parties for e.g. security reasons, etc.

  • A particular benefit of releasing a work based on BSD-licensed code again not (only) to the bright public but especially to the original project is that the contributions can be incorporated into the project, and get maintained by the project people.

  • One of the goals of the NetBSD project is to offer a complete operating system kernel available under the BSD license only. To integrate code into NetBSD, and the kernel in particular, it has to be BSD licensed. Integration into NetBSD (which of course requires releasing the source) will lead to benefits from the efforts of the NetBSD project, its community as well as the vendors supporting it.

If you want to point at various other vendors who have choosen BSD, and NetBSD in particular, to place their products on, see:

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Disclaimer: All opinion expressed here is purely my own. No responsibility is taken for anything.

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