Flexible Content Management System


PostNuke, Licenses, Commercialism....

Contributed by on Mar 08, 2004 - 05:32 AM

There's a lot of good news - notably that PostNuke has grown tremendously, with an estimated 250,000 installations, and continues to grow thanks to the contributions of tireless and talented developers whose code beats within PostNuke. This popularity is noticeable as one stumbles across more and more sites on the web clearly built with PostNuke - for many sites it's obvious, for others not so obvious because there are some great theme designs out there.

As it stands, such popularity has also attracted many third-party developers to PostNuke, contributing blocks, modules and themes. While the spirit of free (as in 'free beer') software reigns for many contributors of such add-ons, a small community of commercial developers has also sprung up around our favorite CMS - and that's where some of the points of contention seem to come from.

Notably, some of the commercial developers are interested in providing their products in the form of binary-only (protected, and without source) form, in order to protect their commercial interest. These modules are *not* GPL (by virtue of not making their source code available). A veritable outcry has happened, albeit only by a very few, decrying what they claim amounts to heresy.

There are several issues at hand here, all of which we want to address, hopefully to the satisfaction of most, if not all:

- Commercial Products : It has always been our opinion that commercial ventures are encouraged, as they will invariably help strengthen the framework of PostNuke, and in turn help the community grow. Furthermore, commercial ventures will help PostNuke gain additional 'legitimate' recognition, as a serious tool in the field of business, or within the enterprise environment.

It is certainly the right of a developer to choose the way they want to distribute their software and it is your right to place a value on their time and effort, if you so choose. And unlike those few programmers that are independently wealthy, things like rent, food, and car payments don't get made by trading code (at least, not yet).

- 'All-Software-Must-Be-Free' Mentality - While it is certainly nice to be able to freely benefit from another's efforts, the basic reality is there is also (in our opinion) a lot of freeloading in that mindset. The purpose behind free software is to be able to freely trade with other programmers, who you then contribute code to - this worked in the old days within tightly knit programmer communities, but breaks apart as communities grow and more and more users join who have a variety of skills sets. Which means many aren't contributing code, but are looking for tools and resources. However, their contributions can be other valuable things like documentation and support, they can also contribute compensation in the forms of donations, postcards, or the ever popular universal currency, beer. As such, we believe free software is nice (and we will always appreciate anyone contributing generously), but likewise, shareware, donationware, and commercial software have a place that should be respected.

- Open Source Software - There's a big confusion over 'open source' and 'free', as there's a segment of the community that firmly believes if it's open source, it *must* be free. This certainly is not the case, as even the GPL specifies quite clearly products licensed under the GPL can be commercialized. In fact, it's encouraged. The key with the GPL license is only the source code has to be freely and easily accessible. This is both a benefit, but also a liablity for commercial products. On one hand, by making their code available, the community is able to contribute fixes and enhancements back to the commercial vendor - this has benefitted such diverse companies as linksys, TiVO, Apple and RedHat. Likewise, the availability of the source code also stands the danger of making proprietary

technology available to competitors - which is why many other commercial vendors sometimes pick different licenses allowing them to protect part of their technologies.

Still, if something is GPL, it stays GPL - that's why PostNuke will *ALWAYS* remain GPL licensed. There's many reasons why this is so, but the best is we know it is in the best interest of the project, as well as the community.

- Close-Source Contributions - this is the sticking point, wherein developers use the PostNuke framework, and contribute a module or add-on, that does not include the source code, and is distributed in a binary-only manner. Is this terrible? Is this evil? Is this the end of civilization as we know it? Of course, not.

Is it a violation of the GPL? The way we see it, it isn't (if done right - meaning no re-use of GPL code), but most of all, wether it is, or it isn't, IT IS NOT POSTNUKE'S RESPONSIBLITY! Why? Simple, because we cannot control third-party developers and a third-party product does not alter, or affect the copyright, trademark, or development process of the PostNuke Project. The few such products we have seen that fall into this category, target niche or vertical markets - thus, nothing PostNuke depends on.

The final decision regarding any such products or add-ons lies with YOU, the PostNuke community, as a commercial product will only be viable if it is being purchased. If you do not like how a vendor packages their products, if you do not like the way they sell them, if you do not like the prices, or the license - DO NOT BUY THEIR PRODUCTS! You may even take an additional step, and send them a polite letter as to why you will not be a customer, maybe if they get enough of these types of letters, it may convince them to alter their business model.

Finally, what kind of commercial products do we like, or rather, which contributors and developers are doing it 'right'? Two examples come to our minds right off the bat - AutoThemes, and Webvida.

With AutoTheme Shawn has created a nice theme utility with AutoTheme - not only making it easy to design themes, but also facilitating portability of themes among various compatible CMSs. While the 'pro' version of AutoTheme is a commercial product, Shawn makes a free version, AutoTheme Lite, available to anyone who needs it. As such, he gives his customer the option of what they want to use, and how they want to support him. The business model seems to be working quite well.

Webvida's Lobos provides themes for PostNuke, via AutoTheme. The themes seem well-designed, and affordably priced. In addition, many themes are provided at no charge, with new themes being added frequently. Also quite a bit of additional support and contributions in the form of tutorials are being provided by both Shawn and Lobos.

Lastly, both appear to be very active in the community, and provide support to the community, as well as to their users. Undoubtedly, there's value in what they provide, and this is commercialization, done right, in our opinion.

The final decision, as we stated above, on all of this, lies with the PostNuke community, as it is up to you to decide which vendors to support, and which not to - PostNukian Darwinism, so to speak - regardless of what any of us has to say, and certainly regardless of what any activists might feel about these issues.

Finally, to make sure we are clear on this issue, we encourage module developers and theme designers to contribute free and open source software to the community but we have no problem with them offering their products and services to the community as described in

Since it's not yet legally proven it might be even permissible to release addons under a non-compatible GNU/GPL license providing the addons are not derivatives of existing GPL work. While we prefer to take a 'wait and see' attitude regarding such non-free add-ons, should you feel strongly enough about it, we encourage you to take matters into your own hands, and file a precedent setting lawsuit to prove this matter once and for all. We'll check in with you in a couple of years, okay? (Seriously, the effort of filing such a suit, or even being concerned over such situations is not worth expending - vote with your wallet.)

We hope this clears up some things, at least what our opinions are on these issues - and that's what they are, opinions. None of these are legally binding, or even legally proven, and should not be taken as such. We're not lawyers, and we don't want to be, either.