Thoughts on Forks and Open Source Licenses

I had the opportunity to speak with Karthik Ranganathan of YugabyteDB a couple of weeks ago; he was the inaugural guest for our new podcast, “More than a Refresh: A podcast about data and people who wrangle it.” Karthik is the CTO and one of the Founders of YugabyteDB. He provided an interesting perspective on Open Source and the license changes of other database companies. YugabyteDB is a compelling product for the following reasons:

  1. It is Open Source (not marketing wishful thinking such as the SSPL).
  2. It is Postgres and Cassandra Compatible. This is not just wire protocol compatibility: It is Postgres and Cassandra feature compatible. It is a fork of PostgreSQL and Cassandra.
  3. It is globally distributed and supports Multi-Master.

Technical applications aside, it is the first number that we should consider here. There are people (rightfully) taking PostgreSQL code and forking it for their purposes. Each of the big three cloud providers have done so, as have other Fortune 500 companies such as VMWare. That is the foremost benefit of Open Source: the ability to take the code and make it work for you.

One of the recent trends in the market is to create something Open Source and market it as Open Source. The software may then begin to gain traction and other companies or people will fork it. These companies often get upset at people doing exactly what Open Source is designed for. A feeling of theft or betrayal is often expressed. Companies forget that Open Source is not a business model: it is a value add and the Open Source design is to share.

Likewise, it is not appropriate for Open Source advocates to become agitated when a company takes the code the company owns and re-licenses it. In today’s market a license such as the SSPL or Timescale License may allow the companies to remain competitive.

I agree that it is better for humanity if code is “Free” (as in Liberty not beer). Freedom, AKA Liberty, means that one has the ability and the right to consider a different path than one we may like. As an Open Source advocate, it is vital to publicize the benefits of Open Source over other models. We don’t need to attack those models, we just need to have objective discourse as to their failings and positive discourse toward Open Source solutions.