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Can closed source software transition to the GPL successfully?

Even though I've tried it and felt the consequences, I have hope for a new bid to open up an already successful closed source software.

Commercial software going Open Source doesn't happen very often. In fact...I have a hard time thinking of good, successful examples off the top of my head. That's how rarely it happens.

Occasionally, someone makes a go of it, to take a good piece of closed source software and release the source code under a nice, open license. In fact, I did just that about a year ago. I tried to take a software development tool (along with some video games) that I had developed (and was earning a good living from) and migrate them to the GPL with continued development funded via donations.

The results were...disastrous. Within a very short period of time of going Open Source, the total funding for the projects fell to less than 20% of what was being brought in via sales when the software was Closed Source, which almost completely impeded the ability to fund continued development. Luckily, I was able to recover and get things back on track, but it was definitely not a fun experience.

But is there a good, reliable way to fund this sort of transition? To allow a company (however large or small) to stay in business while transitioning to an Open Source license? Obviously, the approach I took didn't work, but I'd like to think it remains doable.

Well, the folks who build LiveCode (a Hyper-Card-like software development tool for Linux, Windows and Mac that I found to be pretty impressive when I reviewed it last month) think it's doable too. And they've taken to Kickstarter to make it happen.

The gist is this: if they can reach their goal of £350,000 (roughly $550,000 USD) they will be releasing the source code under the GPL. They'll also be putting those funds to work cleaning up and re-architecting the code to be easier for larger groups of, somewhat disconnected, developers to work on (an important aspect of Open Source software).

The only real catch is this: the Open Source version of LiveCode (that they are dubbing the "Community Edition") will only be able to make Open Source software. If you want to build Closed Source software you'll still need to pay for the commercial edition. Which...actually seems pretty doggone reasonable to me.

At the time this was written, they were roughly 20% of the way to their fund-raising goal with 22 days left. So it seems tight...but entirely possible.

Even if you're not interested in software development tools yourself, this is worth keeping an eye on as a good case study on a successful Commercial/Closed Source piece of software going Open Source. Regardless of the outcome, they deserve a solid tip of the hat. I would love to see more software shops give this sort of thing a try.

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