One of the things we do here in OCLC Research is develop software. Much of this is 'throw-away,' in that it is so specialized we would never consider sharing it, but some packages are of interest to others and we need to decide whether and how to share them.
Over the last few years, the first question has become 'will we make it open source?' There are at least two levels that need to be considered in answering that, either one of which may trump the other.
The first level is at the developer/code level. Who is interested in using the software? Are we interested in getting the software ready to share (it will take at least minimal documentation and packaging)? Are the developers interested in supporting an open source project? They need to be both able and interested in outside users' needs, suggestions, and submittals. From a long-term maintenance point-of-view, does it look like it will be easier or more work to have outside users and contributors?
The next level is a more corporate view. What does the cooperative gain by making the software available? Will it be picked up by for-profit corporations in competition? Will it open up new opportunities? New partners? Will it make it easier for us to work with others, or more difficult? Will we be forgoing possible revenue? Will others be profiting from our software in ways we wouldn't have, and will that bother us? What will the benefit be for our members? Can we put a dollar amount on the potential costs and benefits?
I've written before about some of our thoughts on software licenses. In the interests of making our software as useful as possible, we've decided to start using the Apache License, Version 2.0. The Apache license offers very few restrictions on what can be done with the code and is well known, so users of our software won't have to read a license specific to only our code. We'll be re-releasing some of our older code under this new license.
A good book on the subject of software licenses is Andrew M. St. Laurent's Understanding open source and free software licensing. Also, a link noticed in Ongoing about limiting the proliferation of open source licenses.
Thanks to Eric Childress for contributions and thoughts about this.