Why GPL Blogging Software is Important

Filed as Features on July 14, 2009 7:00 am

HeckertThis is a continuation of the Blog Herald’s Guide to the GPL License series. You can read the first part here.

It is easy to see why GPLed software would be of great interest to developers. GPL software, though not always free in terms of the money charged, always has to come with its source code and the ability to edit and customize the work.

This means that, if a developer obtains a GPLed application and needs to fix a bug or add a feature, they can do so. They are then free to distribute the fix under the same terms and, in doing so, are ensured that all future modifications are treated the same way.

To a developer, GPL code is definitely a very appealing option, but why would an end user, who rarely, if ever, edits source code on their applications, care that their applciation is GPL-licensed? More specifically, why would a blogger want to be sure they were using open source code for their platform?

The reasons are many, but here are some of the more common and more important ones.

4. Stability of Platform

On a closed-source application, if the company goes out of business, the product is, for the most part, effectively dead. Updates will not be forthcoming, including security patches, and the software will quickly become insecure, dated and largely useless.

However, with an open source application, anyone else who is interested can pick up the mantle. Though open source projects do wither and die all the time, it is due more to lack of interest on the part of developers and users, not a company going out of business. As long as there is developer and user interest in an open source project, development will almost certainly continue.

3. Right to Make/Distribute Copies

With commercial software, the number of copies you can make of an application is often limited by the company that is selling or distributing the application. If you want to move a copy of your installation to another server, make a backup copy or install your blogging application locally to test out your site, you may not be able to do so.

On the other hand, with GPL software you are guaranteed the rights to make copies of your software and can even distribute those copies to others at no charge. In short, you can make as many copies as you want and need, without worrying about violating copyright law.

2. Use For Any Purpose

Some commercial blogging software, including some versions of MovableType, will put restrictions on what kinds of sites you can run with the application, especially in terms of commercial and non-commercial sites. Since GPL software comes with the right to use the software for any purpose, this is a non-issue with open source applications.

Since the needs of a site can change, especially in terms of monetization and business strategy, it is important to remember that this can impact your software licensing and, more specifically, shows another way GPL can help you keep your site legal.

1. Editing the Source Code

Though very few people actually edit the source code on their applications, even when the product is open sourced, blogging software is very different in that it is usually written in either PHP, Perl or another language that is easily understood and accessed by end users.

As such there have been many situations where a bug or security problem has been discovered in a blogging app and, while waiting for an official fix, users have edited their core files to correct the problem. For the most part, editing a line or two of PHP code is very trivial and can be done, with proper instruction, by almost anyone.

Though it is unlikely that even the most staunch supporter of proprietary software would go after you legally for editing their code to fix a security issue, making changes to your core files can invalidate your terms and cause problems with your product down the road, problems you likely won’t have with open sourced software.

The Other Side

To be fair, there are many advantages to proprietary applications, including blogging platforms. Proprietary systems do tend to have better support structures in place, especially for paid applications, and there tends to be a more rigid control system for new releases.

Also, open source software is prone to the problem of “forking”. This is where a developer, or even a user, becomes unhappy with the direction of an open source project, takes the code and starts up a parallel one to their own specifications. This is perfectly ethical and legal under the GPL, but can create confusion in the marketplace, divide up developer resources and making things all around more difficult for end users.

In short, open source software has many advantages over its closed source counterparts, but it is not perfect.

Bottom Line

In the end, you should always choose your blogging platform, or any application for that matter, based upon what tool does the job the best for your needs. If an open source application works best, then use it. However, proprietary ones are still sometimes better.

That being said, the license is still something that you have to weigh as you choose the tool that’s right for you. However, its important to note that, if you do select GPL software for your blogging application, that there are certain requirements that will be placed on you as you develop plugins, themes and other elements for your blog.

Next Up: GPL and themes/plugins

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  1. By Simon Lim posted on July 14, 2009 at 8:06 am
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    Jonathan,

    Out of the 4 reasons, number 4 – stability of platform will be an edge and plus point to promote GPL CMS like WordPress to business user or high scale commercial project…

    Lots of business owner are concerned of using open source software due to the “free or GPL” term..but this is the extra edge..a custom/closed source CMS will not have many updates as much as WordPress (in particular) as lots of WordPress developer and contributor contribute to core development and trac (bug tracking).

    As for support, it is always free and available in forum or blogs. For business owner who is concerned on that, they are free to engage third party provider which offers premium support for any issues..

    Reply

  2. By Mike T posted on July 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm
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    Lots of business owner are concerned of using open source software due to the “free or GPL” term..but this is the extra edge..a custom/closed source CMS will not have many updates as much as WordPress (in particular) as lots of WordPress developer and contributor contribute to core development and trac (bug tracking).

    They don’t care as much about updates as they do about stability, support and integration into their enterprise. WordPress cannot even connect to PostgreSQL, let alone Oracle or SQL Server. For many companies, having to install a separate database that they don’t support in house is a reason to not use products like WordPress.

    Reply

  3. By Byrne Reese posted on July 15, 2009 at 3:13 am
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    a custom/closed source CMS will not have many updates as much as WordPress (in particular)

    @Simon – Simply put, this is a false statement. The frequency of release any product has is never a function of its license. It is solely a function of the processes used by the development team.

    You must also consider that release frequency is a liability to some. For many companies updating the software that runs a core part of their business is not something they take lightly, nor should they. So when faced with a product that has over 15+ releases in a single year, in which over 90% of those release contained critical security fixes (for example), versus a product that had only 4 major, but optional releases in the same time period, there are many companies that would prefer and favor the latter.

    Reply

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