Alfresco, SpringSource, Signavio and Camunda have launched an open source project under the permissive Apache 2.0 license, spawned mainly by prospective Alfresco OEM partners’ weariness of LGPL software.

Alfresco announced the Activiti Business Process Management initiative which the sponsoring vendors hope will become a top line project at the Apache Software Foundation.

A few months ago when Alfresco announced a shift in licensing of Alfresco Community to the LGPL, Alfresco CTO, John Newton, wrote:

“We have considered more liberal licenses as well, but we currently have two main LGPL components – Hibernate for database access and JBPM for workflow – which prevent us from going to something like Apache or BSD licenses. However, this is something we may consider changing in the future.”

It seems Alfresco is attempting to address the LGPL components within its product with an eye on shifting to a permissive license such as the Apache 2.0 license.  To that end, Newton writes:

“Activiti emerged from our desire to have an Apache-licensed BPM engine. Although we were quite happy with the (RedHat JBoss) jBPM engine, it’s LGPL license was preventing us from OEMing Alfresco to larger software companies that were concerned about any open source license with the letter G in it. It’s irrelevant that they shouldn’t be concerned about it…”

Newton alludes to Red Hat’s unwillingness to change the jBPM license from LGPL to something more permissive.

“It’s understandable that RedHat did not want to change its license, but our business needs dictated that we needed to find an alternative.”

Red Hat’s reluctance to change the jBPM product license could be due to jBPM components from third parties whose license Red Hat would not be able to change.

It’s interesting to note that Hibernate, the other LGPL component used by Alfresco, is also owned by Red Hat.  It stands to reason that Alfresco will move to an Apache 2.0 licensed alternative to Hibernate such as Apache OpenJPA.

As Newton states, one can definitely understand Red Hat’s reluctance to change the license.  However, one has to wonder if Red Hat could expand the applicability of its middleware portfolio with a more permissive license.  On one hand, the JBoss Application Server, an LGPL licensed product, has garnered strong downloads and continues to grow revenue at a faster pace than Red Hat’s Linux business.  It would seem that the LGPL hasn’t been a hindrance to JBoss Application Server adoption.  On the other hand, as Newton points out, some ISVs, and as I’ve heard, some customers, remain concerned about viral licenses.  While the LGPL was created to specifically address the viral nature of the GPL, some ISVs and customers remain weary.

In Alfresco’s case, the business need for a permissive licensed BPM component was so high that they’re willing to make Activiti 1.0 the default BPM engine for Alfresco by the end of 2010, displacing a more mature 4.x jBPM product.  While a 1.0 release isn’t always bad, most people in the software industry will argue that product quality and functionality improves with releases.  In an interesting twist, the original project founders of jBPM who left Red Hat two months ago have joined Alfresco to design and develop Activiti.  It’s unclear whether the license terms for jBPM played any role in their departure from Red Hat.  It is however important to note that Activiti wouldn’t be getting the attention it is if not for Alfresco’s backing.  And Alfresco wouldn’t be backing Activiti if jBPM were available under a permissive license.

Does the LGPL provide your company sufficient freedoms or is a more permissive license a requirement before making open source selection decisions?

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