Home Business IT Open Source GPL use in Debian on the rise: study

A recent study by a free software advocate has found that the use of the GNU General Public Licence family in the Debian GNU/Linux Project has been growing over the last seven years.


The latest release, Squeeze, which came out in June last year, had 93 per cent of its packages under the GPL family of licences, according to John Sullivan, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation.

Under this family of licences, Sullivan places the GPL, the Affero GPL and LGPL.

Sullivan presented his findings in a talk he gave at FOSDEM recently, titled "Is copyleft being framed?"

While not mentioning the company specifically, figures issued by Black Duck Software, which are used by quite a few writers to claim that use of the GPL is falling, were not used by Sullivan.

He had his reasons for doing so. "Some of the most common licensing numbers used are published by a company who does not share their methodology. That's not science. FLOSSmole is an interesting project to generate the data in a verifiable way."

He pointed out that even studies that claim GPL use is declining say the absolute numbers of both GPL and non-GPL free software are increasing. "The FSF is pleased to see the growth in free software either way," he added.

Sullivan said a number of factors needed to be considered when looking at licensing and trying to gauge the rise or fall of any particular type. "Are we counting all free software projects on the web? Active projects? Small projects? Mobile applications? Lines of code or all individual programs treated equally? Packages with multiple licences?"

He said he chose the Debian project because it is a mature distribution that serves as the basis for many others, including gNewSense and Trisquel. He said he was citing the information he had garnered about Debian to raise the level of the community conversation about the issue and ask people to more closely examine the assumptions/framing behind all of this data.

"I would not expect the results to be significantly different for other distributions, except for those that might include more proprietary software. Additionally, software is vetted before entering Debian, so we know there are no duplicates," Sullivan said.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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