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Joomla and the GPL

There have been big changes in the Joomla extensions directory in recents months: since July this year the directory has only included extensions that are licensed under the General Public License (GPL), the same license that Joomla itself is licensed under.

So commercial developers of Joomla extensions have been faced with a choice: either convert to the GPL, or try to go it alone without being listed in the directory.

We decided to convert to the GPL: our software has always been open-source, and the license that we used in the past was similar to the GPL in most respects, so the practical changes required were not too great. In the end the decision was pragmatic: in a survey we found that about three quarters of our site users arrived through the JED, and we felt that we would be unlikely to survive as a business without being listed there.

However we are not happy about being forced into this decision. It is my belief that, as a software author, it should be up to me how I decide to license my own work.

Whether we will be able to survive as a business under the GPL is open to question. The JED have introduced policies to protect software authors from those who would abuse the GPL and try to pass the work of other people as their own. Extensions that are actually minor changes to the code of an existing extension will not be listed. However, will Joomla also ban advertising on their site for such extensions? I suspect not. The fact that they are not listing such extensions in the JED is a tacit admission that there is a problem with the GPL in protecting the surely legitimate rights of software authors.

Not surprisingly there has been a good deal of debate over this issue. One of the more unpleasant aspects of the debate has been the clearly expressed attitude of some people that commercial developers who release Joomla extensions that are not open source and not GPL are exploiting Joomla rather than contributing to it. This is nonsense. Anyone who writes a good Joomla extension that fulfils a demand is contributing to it. The fact that there are a fair number of such commercial extensions is evidence that users want them, and they are fulfilling a demand that purely open-source, non-commercial extensions cannot meet.

Joomla's great strength has been the huge range of extensions available. This is due to the fact that it is an excellant framework for developing website applications. However it is certainly not the only one. Before I became a Joomla developer I spent a good deal of time looking into content management systems (and even wrote one of my own). I concluded eventually that Joomla was the best system of content management going, and decided to work with it. I think that there is a real danger now that, as soon as a convincing alternative system comes along, many developers will desert Joomla, which will be everyone's loss.

Having started to sound off about this I find that I have a good deal more to say on it, so I will return to this issue in the future.