About 3 years ago, we released eXo Platform 4.0 and announced a license change to the LGPL for the community edition. Why did we do that? Looking back, what did it change for the eXo community?
Why did we change the license?
Before version 4.0, the eXo Platform community edition was licensed under GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL), which is a variation of the GNU General Public License (GPL) that basically extends its restrictions to software that is delivered over the network, such as online services. It meant that anyone willing to make even the slightest change to the source code, extend it in any way, and ship it to others by any means had to make those changes public and under a GPL-compatible license.
Now that eXo Platform is licensed under GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), those restrictions are mostly gone. Even though the LGPL open source Licence was designed for code libraries that need to be embedded into larger systems, rather for large platforms like eXo Platform, we found it attractive. First, we found it attractive because it remained aligned with the same philosophy while imposing fewer restrictions on so-called derivative works, such as add-ons. Mostly, though, we appreciated that it allowed developers to build an add-on, freely choose its license, and decide whether they want to publish the source code.
Extend the software, expand the community
Hence, the main driver for adopting a new license was to allow more freedom in creating add-ons and promoting them as the main way to extend eXo Platform.
Add-ons can be used to alter functionality but also to add new apps. Without a pluggable architecture, these things would only be doable by forking the code. Though it was designed from the start with extensibility in mind, eXo Platform has a large and complex codebase that is evolving quickly. Maintaining and keeping a fork up to date with upstream can be a daunting task. So we introduced the Add-ons Manager a few months after adopting the new license, to further facilitate extending eXo Platform through add-ons.
Nowadays, our Developers Guide advocates to write customizations using the extension mechanism and to ship them as add-ons. This encourages a clean separation and lets you choose any license for your add-on. Whether you are building a commercial application or simply customizing eXo Platform for your company’s needs, you are not constrained to publish your source code.
Beside that, we thought that LGPL would be beneficial for the community by making eXo Platform’s license terms more acceptable for a larger audience. Many people joined the eXo community because they like the software as it is, but they quickly realized they could leverage the platform to build something even more valuable for their organization. While we encourage anyone to publish their add-ons under an open-source license, we do not wish to impose this suggestion. We think it’s healthier for the eXo ecosystem to advocate through guidelines, rather than impose through rules.
A tenfold impact on the community
A lot has been going on at eXo since that license change in 2013. But two things have remained: we kept shipping software, and the community kept growing! Alright, it’s time to review some numbers.
Let’s start with the add-ons. When we started talking of add-ons back in 2012, we had just a couple of projects on github. Today, our add-ons center features over 50 add-ons of many kinds: templates, new apps, new features, connectors, etc.
Now let’s review some stats about the community website. Back in 2013, we were happy to gather around 9,000 members on our forums. Today, the tribe has 91,000 registered members, and monthly visits have also been multiplied by 10!
As the community enlarged, we were reaching a more international audience with people from over 200 countries visiting the site this year. Consequently, many generous contributors have offered translations. eXo Platform 4.0 was originally shipped with just 3 languages versus 28 for eXo Platform 4.3!
The top destination on the community website has always been and remains the discussion forums. It received over 330,000 pageviews year to date versus 27,000 in 2013. The number of forum posts also has increased similarly from a thousand back then to 17,000 posts today!
When I reviewed those numbers, I was stuck to see how consistently things had grown by an order of magnitude. What is even more striking for an insider is that all of this happened naturally and consistently over time. We almost did not notice it!
Indeed, it would be excessive to attribute everything to the license change, but there is no doubt that it helped a lot. For those looking for open-source software, the license is certainly a key criterion when deciding to go with it or look elsewhere.
Overall, we are very happy with the LGPL so far. Very few people have expressed concerns about this license, but if you have any, we’d be happy to discuss them on our community forums.
See you in 3 years! Hopefully we’ll get to observe another x10 growth!