As most of you realize by now, Puppet 2.7 was released under the Apache 2.0 license instead of under the GPL, and Facter has already been released under the Apache license. My goal in this post is to explain why, and what effects you might expect to see as a result.
We’ve been talking about the possibility of this change for about two years, but it was only in the last six months that it’s been solidified as the right plan. For the vast majority of people, this change won’t affect you at all—Puppet is still open source, and under one of the most open licenses available. For a few of you, however, this license change will make it easier to embed Puppet into your software, ship it as part of a solution you’re building, or contribute code to it.
Our goal at Puppet Labs, and my goal since I started the company and the project, has been to have Puppet everywhere. I want every OS to ship with Puppet, I want every appliance to use Puppet, and I want every device that can’t run Puppet to speak its language and still integrate with it. Heck, I want to replace the package manifest formats with Puppet’s language. I’m a big believer in open source, but for strictly practical reasons. Puppet always had to be open source, because I couldn’t get the kind of ubiquity that I wanted with a purely commercial product—too much of our infrastructure is already open, and too many sysadmins understand the risks of locking yourself into software you can’t control and have no visibility into. Also, when I started the project I had no reputation and, um, no money; open source was a great way to bootstrap the company and project with very little expense.
With the GPL, realizing this goal of ubiquity was very difficult—some companies are comfortable with the GPL and have no problems including software released under it, but plenty of other companies are dreadfully afraid of the potential for it to force releasing of other code, whether or not that fear is rational. With Apache, these companies can focus on whether Puppet will make their solution better, and not worry about whether they’ll have to make significant business changes in order to use it. You won’t see me making arguments about freedom here (and you probably won’t have much luck engaging in such a conversation with me separately), but you have already seen that my practical perspective on this drives toward open source as much as anything else.
To me, the choice between GPL and Apache was never about which one is more free. It has always been about which one can best accomplish the goals of the project, and possibly which can do the best job of helping me fund those goals. In the end, choosing GPL means more companies that want to partner with us have to pay us, else their software must also be open, while choosing Apache means anyone can use, embed, and extend Puppet without having to worry about it affecting any other software. In other words, the choice between GPL and Apache for us as a company largely comes down to the GPL enabling fewer partnerships but some number of which that pay us, while Apache enables far more partnerships but few (if any) that pay us.
Puppet is primarily meant to be directly used by sysadmins. Switching to Apache, and hopefully seeing far more integrations and embedding, seems like a good trade-off. We give up business we might never have in exchange for relationships right now. Thus, the goal of ubiquity feels a bit closer.
I know this argument doesn’t persuade all of you, and I’ve already exchanged emails with one person who is convinced that this change means Puppet is no longer free software, but it is my sincere hope that we can quickly get back to writing and releasing software rather than talking about licenses. And, of course, it’s also my sincere hope that we see far more people embedding and integrating with Puppet.
As always, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns.