October 22, 2007

License change makes software more attractive for the community

Author: Tina Gasperson

Dimdim calls itself the world's first free Web meeting service based on an open source platform. Users can share their desktops and files while chatting and videoconferencing with meeting participants. Dimdim was originally licensed under the Mozilla Public License (MPL), but the possibility of a big deal with a university made Dimdim executives eventually change to the GNU General Public License (GPL) instead. By changing the software's license from the MPL to the GPL, "we are making it easier for the community to use our product," says Dimdim founder DD Ganguly.

The founding team of Dimdim was working together on other projects from disparate locations and needed a way to share and discuss files in a meeting-like setting. "There was nothing available that was cost-effective," Ganguly says. So the group decided it was time to create its own Web-based meeting application. "We had two ideas: to really simplify the Web meeting experience, and to change the pricing so that it was available to any organization."

Right from the start, Ganguly and his team knew that they wanted to release their product under the terms of an open source license. "The first link on a Google search for databases is MySQL," Ganguly says. "That's because of the democratization process of open source. We knew we wanted to make our software available to everybody."

Dimdim started out licensed under the MPL because Ganguly believed that the project deserved to be recognized. The MPL is commonly referred to as the "attribution license" because of its requirement that any derivative works carry the name of the project from which the code was received.

"There was some concern that people have voiced about the MPL and attribution," Ganguly says. "They see that as a move toward some sort of trademarking, and that wasn't our intent. Our intent was to see that we got some credit for what we were doing."

That desire for credit was subverted to the desire for income when Ganguly got word that the University of UmeÃÂ¥ in Sweden and the Vaasa University of Applied Sciences in Finland wanted to begin using Dimdim and paying for support. "They woke us up in the middle of the night and said they wanted to use it, but they didn't like the MPL," Ganguly says. "We realized that there was a negative association with the MPL that outweighed the positives."

Ganguly says one of the biggest challenges of marketing an open source product is that customers need to be convinced they're dealing with a stable company. "People ask us, how are you going to make money with open source. We talk about companies like JBoss and Red Hat and MySQL. We pull out the slide shows and explain the open source process. The customers just want to know they're dealing with a company that has a sustainable business model and will continue to be in business."

Ganguly says Dimdim has received a lot of attention. "The benefits we have seen [of being open source] are quite amazing. We've gotten tremendous feedback about the exact features people want. Our investors came to us and we didn't have to go out looking. Our customers have come to us. I did another startup, a proprietary product, at the height of the dot-com boom. We were right in the middle of the action, but nobody had heard about us. But with Dimdim, when we look at Google, it's amazing that in Argentina, where we have made no effort to market the product, people have actually heard of Dimdim and are searching on that word specifically. Somehow, people over there have heard about us. This democratization process is really working, and it's because of open source."

Ganguly says if he could go back to the beginning and do one thing different, it would be to release Dimdim under the GPL from the beginning. "The licensing change was avoidable. There's really no need to use the MPL. It's not so much about the legal terms, but there's a perception that the GPL is more open source. That is something I missed because I looked more at the legalese because I though it was important -- but at the end of the day, it really wasn't so important."

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