BSD Licensing Puts the Shine on Google Chrome - InformationWeek

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9/3/2008
04:13 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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BSD Licensing Puts the Shine on Google Chrome

For all the coverage of the Chrome Web browser announcement, little note has been taken of Google's choice of the ultra-liberal BSD open-source license. The BSD choice accentuates that Chrome will be more (and very likely less) than a conventional Web browser. Chrome will contribute Web rendering to an increasingly comprehensive enterprise software platform and may (further) tie non-Google application developers to the Google stack.

For all the coverage of the Chrome Web browser announcement, little note has been taken of Google's choice of the ultra-liberal BSD open-source license. The BSD choice accentuates that Chrome will be more (and very likely less) than a conventional Web browser. Chrome will contribute Web rendering to an increasingly comprehensive enterprise software platform and may (further) tie non-Google application developers to the Google stack.That platform is key. Google co-founder Larry Brin spoke at a Tuesday Google press conference. "Everything we do is running on the Web platform. It's very important to us that works well," Brin is reported to have said. "I wouldn't call Chrome the OS of Web apps. It's a very basic, fast engine to run Web apps. We'll see more and more Web apps of greater and greater sophistication."

Functionally, Chrome, still in beta release, is just a Web browser. Chrome's greatest impact will be as an enabler for applications that need Web capabilities but focus on something else entirely.

Chrome's BSD license is key. It runs 225 words in its entirety, 100 if you don't count the copyright notice or warranty disclaimer. "Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that... conditions are met," those being that redistributions must carry the license notice and that you can't use Google's or contributors' names in redistributions without notice. The license is that simple.

Unless I've missed something, the first thing you can do with Chrome is recompile the source code after removing stuff like code that "may automatically download and install updates from time to time from Google" and anything else you don't like. You can then redistribute (or even sell!) your binaries to the world. That would take care of complaints about Google's terms of service imposed on downloaders of the Chrome executable.

The next thing you can do is rip apart the code. Take 10 lines or take 10,000, whatever you need, and paste them into your own software. BSD licensing allows it. BSD licensing invites it. That's how it came to be that BSD licensed PostgreSQL has been so widely and profitably mined in building innovative data management packages, as I reported in June and in July.

Chrome's BSD license will allow companies to exploit Chrome to Web-enable their BI software — any software, actually — at no licensing cost.

(While the Mozilla Web browser is also open source, the Mozilla Public License includes "copyleft" provisions that govern the redistribution of modified code in ways that disallow mining source code for inclusion of components in other products. See MPL section 3.2. Availability of Source Code. Thank you to Roberto Galoppini for confirmation on this point.)

(Developers exploiting the open-source Webkit JavaScript engine, which is utilized by both Chrome and Mozilla, would typically not modify the code. Webkit's GNU Library General Public License, would therefore not hinder commercial distribution of products that call Webkit code.)

People who look at the Chrome beta and see just another Web browser need to look deeper. Given that a production release will surely offer competitive performance, Chrome's difference will come from under the surface, from the ultra-permissive terms of Chrome's BSD software license. And that difference will be reflected in new or expanded Web capabilities for a host of Google and non-Google applications.For all the coverage of the Chrome Web browser announcement, little note has been taken of Google's choice of the ultra-liberal BSD open-source license. The BSD choice accentuates that Chrome will be more (and very likely less) than a conventional Web browser. Chrome will contribute Web rendering to an increasingly comprehensive enterprise software platform and may (further) tie non-Google application developers to the Google stack.

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