next up previous contents
Next: Development models Up: What is open source Previous: Open source software licences   Contents

Case study of a non open source licence: SCSL

Sun Microsystems has released some of its core software technologies under a new licence, the Sun Community Source License (SCSL). This is not an open source licence, but it tries to mimic some of the characteristics of open source licences. In fact, the documents where Sun explains and provides rationale for their licensing schema11include the usual arguments in favor of open source licences (although applied to SCSL). However, our opinion is that the points missing (those that would made it really open source) cause, from a practical point of view, most of the advantages of open source software to not be applicable to software covered by SCSL.

Some of the most widely known problems (from an open source point of view) with SCSL are:

Software developed under SCSL benefits from some characteristics similar to those of open source software (access to source code, some redistribution rights). However, it lacks the synergy found in open source projects12, due to the limitations of access to source code, integration of fixes and improvements, and the restrictions on redistribution. From a strategic point of view, any company or development group which uses or builds on code covered by SCSL is giving Sun a great control on their development and even marketing plans, which is usually considered undesirable.

The open source community is already reacting to this licence with the launch of several projects aimed at recreating SCSL covered technology in a completely `clean room' environment (without using Sun source code). It is always possible to pay later for accessing the test suites and brand the open source product, or simply ignore that problem, and concentrate on making it as compatible as possible13. In general, for a commercial project, it will be much more convenient to use, for instance, GPL instead of SCSL. The resulting software will benefit from all the advantages which it could have with SCSL, but the developer will have full control of the development plan, the distribution policy, and the marketing path.


... schema11
The interested reader could refer to the licence FAQ [16], which includes many links to the licence itself and its rationale. Our discussion in this subsection is mainly based on [17].
... projects12
See subsection 4.3 for a discussion on the advantages of the open source model.
... possible13
This is, for example, the philosophy behind the open source library Mesa, a clone of SGI OpenGL, completely compatible with it, but without the legal brand `OpenGL'. Mesa is now used within commercial and open source software without the official brand tag.

next up previous contents
Next: Development models Up: What is open source Previous: Open source software licences   Contents
Jesus M. Gonzalez-Barahona