The GPL Family of Licenses Sees a Decline in Adoption

Richard M  Stallman, better known as RMS has been the lone crusader, in the world of Open Source for a long time. He is popular for his remarkable work with the GNU Project, and the GPL family of licenses. Although the GNU Project has failed to release a GNU build on time, but it has given the world a wonderful software  license-  the GPL. GPL is a unique free-software license, because it enforces freedom by ensuring that all software using GPL licenses are open-source themselves.

This sounds good in theory. However, there is a valid counter-argument against GPL. While GPL enforces freedom in essence, it restricts developers from using GPL licensed codes, because they fear losing their source codes to competitors. This steers them to other less restrictive licenses, or even worse, forces them to reinvent the wheel. Maybe GPL needs  to be  this aggressive to survive after all, but this restrictive nature has distanced GPL from the developer, and GPL has started seeing a decline in adoption.

According to a study conducted by The 451 Group,

The figures indicate that not only has the usage of the GNU GPL family of licenses (GPL2+3, LGPL2+3, AGPL) continued to decline since June, but that the decline has accelerated. The GPL family now accounts for about 57% of all open source software, compared to 61% in June.

Google itself uses many GPL licensed software, but does not release the source, because it does not redistribute those software. This makes GPL excellent for in-house development and ensures that the GPL code is only used for internal services, but not for developing commercial services or products.

If this decline in GPL’s share continues, GPL licenses will account for less than 50% of the total share of Open Source projects, a year from now. Perhaps GPL is too ambitious a license, given the fact that GNU itself could not release a build, which was fully GPL. GNU uses X Window System, a large part of which  is released  under the MIT license (less restrictive than GPL). Looking at  the  way the Linux kernel and the GNU Compiler Collection have survived the tides of time, it would be inappropriate to judge GPL based on the current scenario. Nonetheless, GPL adoption is declining and this fact cannot be ignored.