It’s Your Party (i.e. GPL Licensing)

Special thanks for John Gruber over at Daring Fireball for finding the post at

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had serious concerns (like most of the REALbasic community) about using MySQL database servers because the GPL-style licensing makes me nervous.  I’d love to use it but if it means I’m on the hook for licensing fees and/or have to release my source code of my apps that use I’d much rather not bother with it.  ARBP did a survey last fall that pretty much showed MySQL usage down 20% and PostgreSQL (which has very liberal licensing) up about the same amount.

Any way you slice it, to us mere mortals the GPL is vague at best.  We’re programmers for heaven’s sake!  We don’t write vague code because vague code doesn’t work.  Be explicit like the MIT license – it’s clear and concise and is far from ambiguous.  I think the GPL should be rewritten to make it explicitly clear.

I didn’t mean to start a whole blog post about someone else’s blog post but I know that there are a lot of questions about GPL and what it means to the developer.  What are your thoughts on the GPL?

5 thoughts on “It’s Your Party (i.e. GPL Licensing)

  1. Oh shoot. I actually mentioned it in an early draft, took it out, and then forgot to add it back in. Sorry about that. My humble apologies.

    Paying ARBP members should take a look at Stephens article’s as they are a good introduction to the ins and outs of using open source software and libraries.

  2. The GPL is as clear as any legal document. The MySQL license, on the other hand, is monstrous. I worked in a company with about twenty PhDs in logic and philosophy, and we went and asked the company lawyer, and we wound up buying a license because no-one, including the lawyer, could really say whether we needed the license or not.

    But since Postgres is better in essentially every way, I continue to be bemused by this being an issue, except for legacy code.

    I did my best to put the MySQL vs Postgres issue together as a presentation, which you can see at:

    For crying out loud, everyone, just use Postgres and relax.

  3. Thanks for the presentation Guyren. It was VERY helpful.

    It’s been a while since I’ve worked with Postgres. Installation was a major pain on Mac OS X and the tools weren’t very good at the time either. But it’s probably better now. For my next database project I’ll definitely look at Postgres.

  4. @Bob Keeney
    No apologies needed. However, it is a big topic to discuss. Simply working out what the GPL is intended to say, and what it actually says according to courts can give a fairly long discussion, even before you get to the politics of the thing which can (and does) keep debates going for years. 🙂

    Guyren Howe :
    The GPL is as clear as any legal document. The MySQL license, on the other hand, is monstrous.

    GPL is not a particularly clear legal document. In fact I would say it is fairly opaque, even if not as bad as most tax legislation. It is partly excuseable by seeking to be legally enforceable regardless of jurisdiction, and being written by committee, but it could certainly be a lot better; the FSF commentary makes clear what they intended, but it is not certain that is what they have achieved.

    However, completely concur on the MySQL licence.

    I also agree IMO Postgres is the better of the two but even if you do not agree on technical merit, the BSD licence makes it easily the preferred choice.

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