Friday, March 14, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 32: Software licenses and the Kingdom

I’ve been working on some additions for the JavaScript library Ext. Someone on the forums asked me what license they were being offered under. I’ve heard of a lot of the software licenses, but I didn’t know what they all meant, so I took time read about them and gain some understanding. The umbrella of “open source” software entails a lot of things. Some licenses are viral in the sense that anything that uses them must also be made open (i.e. free of charge and source code disclosed). Others are less viral in that only additional code that is derived from the open source code must be open source. Linking to the open source code is fine, which means someone can still make a commercial product utilizing the open source code. And some licenses basically make the code part of the public domain meaning one can do whatever he or she wants with it.

One of these extensions has been done with great help and starting base of someone else online. In asking him about what type of license he’d like to see on our joint effort, he said, “I want to make sure anyone can use my extensions without any restrictions”. I really appreciated his attitude. He wasn’t doing this to make money, but rather to pass on what has benefited him.

I started thinking about software licenses and the Kingdom. I don’t think the Kingdom is meant to be like the public domain licenses that allow someone to do whatever they choose. You can’t just do whatever you want to the Kingdom. While it’s made freely available to any who would choose it, there are conditions (a license so to speak) if you begin to enter (utilize) it. Jesus has some relevant words on the license: (Luke 14:28-33)

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Like any wise individual or company in the software world does (especially those with lawyers!), we’re to consider the terms. There’s requirements of us if we’re to become part of this Kingdom. Jesus spells some of them out for us before we enter the gate, so we can own the decision. It’s hard to feel ownership if someone tricks you. If we accept the terms, we have to effectively “open” ourselves, like the “viral” licenses discussed above. Our source code (life) needs to be visible for all to see, and we have to be open to being used by any and all. By doing so, we have the potential of other people joining us in this open movement. In this way, the mustard seed really grows and “becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:32).

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