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Overview of Open Source Licenses

written by: Michael Dougherty•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 8/16/2010

Most people have heard of the GNU General Public License, also known as the GPL, but did you know there are dozens of Open Source Licenses used in software development today? Let’s take a look at your options for an Open Source License if you are a software developer.

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    Introduction

    Linux Login 

    When most people think of Open Source Licenses they think of the GNU General Public License (GPL) in its various forms. The GPL Open Source License is frequently mentioned in discussions about Linux and as a sales tool by companies selling PC's with Linux as their OS (Operating System). This has brought the license to the general public's attention to some degree but what most people don't know is that the GNU General Public License is only one of dozens of Open Source Licenses. Let’s take a look at this as well as the lesser known Open Source Licenses.

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    The Most Popular Open Source Licenses

    While there are dozens of Open Sources Licenses there are definitely a few that are used more than the others. They are, in no particular order:

    All these Open Source Licenses are frequently put to use in today's software industry. Much of the world's software is going Open Source and we have to keep in mind that even though a piece of software is "free" it is still protected under an Open Source License which restricts (albeit much more loosely) what you can do with the software and it's source code.

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    The GNU General Public License (GPL)

    GPL 

    Perhaps one of the more popular Open Source Licenses is the GNU General Public License (GPL). This license is heavily used in the UNIX and Linux operating systems allowing users to obtain software for free, download the source code of said software, and improve upon the code and/or fix software bugs.

    The GNU General Public License (GPL) was created around the belief that nobody should be restricted by the software they use. Fans of the GNU General Public License believe that all software users should have certain freedoms. These freedoms include:

    • The freedom to use the software for any purpose.
    • The freedom to make changes to the software as you see fit.
    • The freedom to share the original software as well as the modified software with whomever you wish.

    With these freedoms in place you now have what can be called "free software." Keep in mind that when I say "free" I do not mean in regards to money (although most "free software" is "free of charge"). Free when it comes to the GNU General Public License is in terms of free to do what you wish with the software with very few restrictions and is not monetary.

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    The Open Source Initiative

    The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open-source community. One of the responsibilities of the OSI is to approve and deny potential Open Source Licenses basing their decisions on the free software definition and their own custom approval process.

    The OSI also maintains a full list of Open Source Licenses, this combined with their involvement in the approval of Open Source Licenses, makes them the organization who sets the standard for Open Source Licenses. For more information on the OSI as well as a full list of approved Open Source Licenses please visit the Open Source Initiative's official website.

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    Photo Credits

    All images courtesy of stock.xchng.