March 29, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

New GPL draft has olive branches, thorns

The latest draft of revisions to the dominant open-source license offers an accommodating approach to some significant objections, but it could throw a wrench into the works of a major open-source company, Novell.

When the Free Software Foundation released the previous draft of the General Public License version 3 eight months ago, it caused indigestion among some open-source software fans. Among them were Linus Torvalds, leader of the Linux operating system kernel project, and Hewlett-Packard.

The third draft of GPL 3, released Wednesday, softens some positions in areas where Torvalds and HP were concerned, but it raises the possibility of crippling Novell's budding Linux business. That would be a dramatic change, given that Novell is one of two major Linux sellers and that it's staked much of its future on the software.

"I'm still a bit skeptical, but at least it's now 'I'm skeptical' rather than 'Hell no!'"
--Linus Torvalds,
Linux project leader

The new draft reflects the difficulties in meeting ideological goals but not alienating a software industry that's only begun to embrace the 16-year-old GPL 2. "At some point you become so shrill that you lose the audience, who moves on to something that better fits the business needs," Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM's software group, said Wednesday while discussing the new GPL 3 proposal.

Through a patent partnership announced in October, Microsoft agreed not to sue Novell's Suse Linux customers over patent infringement. The new GPL draft would ban such arrangements, but the foundation said it hasn't decided whether the ban will apply only to future deals.

If past deals aren't grandfathered in, the effect on Novell could be "catastrophic," said Mark Radcliffe, an intellectual property attorney with DLA Piper and member of a committee providing comment on the license. "If (the Microsoft deal) violates this, somebody could terminate their license to distribute Linux."

Microsoft and Novell have more optimistic interpretations. "The draft of the GPL 3 does not tear down the bridge Microsoft and Novell have built for their customers," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said in a statement. Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry added, "Nothing in this new draft of GPL 3 inhibits Novell's ability to include GPL 3 technologies in Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise, OpenSuse and other Novell open-source offerings, now and in the future."

Although the Free Software Foundation left the door open for the Microsoft-Novell deal to survive, that's because it also crafted language to ensure all recipients get the benefits that Novell customers get from Microsoft. Any company offering promises of patent safety to one audience automatically extends those promises to all recipients of the software involved, according to the new draft.

"We believe it is sufficient to ensure either the deal's voluntary modification by Microsoft or its reduction to comparative harmlessness," the foundation said in its 61-page explanation of the new license draft (PDF).

Torvalds mollified
Torvalds said he's "pleased" with changes in the new GPL draft, a significant change from his earlier strong objections.

"Whether it's actually a better license than the GPLv2, I'm still a bit skeptical, but at least it's now 'I'm skeptical' rather than 'Hell no!'" he said. Torvalds had frowned on earlier provisions that he believed could lead to incompatible versions of the GPL and that reached inappropriately into the domain of hardware designers.

Torvalds is noncommittal about whether he might try to move the Linux kernel to GPL 3--a change that would require the permission not just of Torvalds but also of all other Linux kernel copyright holders. Torvalds didn't rule it out, however.

"The current draft makes me think it's at least a possibility in theory, but whether it's practical and worth it is a totally different thing," he said. "Practically speaking, it would involve a lot of work to make sure everything relevant is GPLv3-compatible even if we decided that the GPL 3 is OK."

HP, which earlier was outspoken about a patent-related complaint, isn't commenting on the third draft. But the draft appears to have addressed at least one of its concerns.

CONTINUED: Barriers remain…
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Just what open source needs-- another license
"We've got lots of software (projects) around that's free software,
yet we can't mix them. It's like friendly-fire casualties. We need
to do something about that, but it seems clear that GPL 3 is not
going to be the vehicle by which we do that."

Duh! In fact, GPLv3 will make things much, much worse in this
respect. I guess GPLv2 was getting just a little too successful
and Stallman decided he had to do something to prevent it from
getting too popular.

Here's to hoping that nobody uses GPLv3.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Internal Contradictions
The FSF has accomplished what had to be a big goal -- to keep Torvalds from dismissing v3 peremptorily. But a huge gulf remains between Torvalds & FSF. As Torvalds said in an interview recently, he believes in open source because he thinks it is a better way to write better code, not because he hates IP or thinks proprietary software is evil. To him, the GPLvANY is simply a tool to ensure reciprocity among contributors, designed to ensure that no one appropriates their work (actually, a very owner-like view).
The FSF despises IP in all its forms -- proprietary code, DRM for content, patents, whatever -- and views GPLv3 as a way to impose this view on the world. See <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> I do not see how the twain will meet.
Posted by jdelong (1 comment )
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The double edge sword
If FSF didn't attempt to protect the property, likely we'd seen companies make moves like Microsoft did with Novell, while assuring protections. In result giving a few distributions or applications advantages over others because of a bizarre partnerships that could be devised. Resulting killing ideals of sharing new developing ideas and actually creating competition. Imagine only having maybe 2 to 3 types of linux to use, where as you may be one who finds a new one popping up with things you like better, or they do things better. No more Redhats. No more Novells.

All and all this will help keep the core of the playing field still open for innovation.
Posted by bradyme (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
it's all good
It's all good, Novel is a MS puppet and RedHat is too communist, let
them all die off.
Posted by rmiecznik (224 comments )
Link Flag
Imagine only 2 or 3 Linux distros
Hell, corporate IT might be able to get Linux projects on a huge scale past the mahogany suites if there were only 2 or 3 distros, rather than the chaos the previals today.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
I just don't get it
I claim lots of ignorance here but I'd really like to understand. Isn't open source license something of an oxymoron, unless the license says "do whatever you want with this software?" What is the intended purpose of the GPL or any other "free software" license? What do OSS licenses try to accomplish that a free market won't handle? If I violate an open source license, who comes after me? Who owns copyrights on open source software? Why are there copyrights on open source software? Shouldn't OSS advocates and producers desire copyright free software?

These are serious questions. Help me understand please.

Posted by tgrenier (256 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Free Software Foundation maintains licensing and IP rights for the linux kernel.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
"Isn't open source license something of an oxymoron, unless the license says "do whatever you want with this software?""

Obviously there are degrees of openness, the most open be public domain or "do whatever you want".
Open source is open in the sense that anyone in theory can get the source code and modify it and/or add to it if they have the skill. It doesn't mean the original author has to completely gives away their copyright interest if they don't want to.

What is the intended purpose of the GPL or any other "free software" license?

The GPL like any other license tells people that get the source code what the conditions are on it use. In the case of the GPL, if a person modify the code and distributes it they must release the source code of their modifications under the GPL or compatible license. Copyright serves as a means of enforcing the terms of the license. For example, in 2004 a German court ruled that SiteCom's use of netfilter/IPtables was in violation of the GPL and order the company comply with the GPL.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

"What do OSS licenses try to accomplish that a free market won't handle?"

Open source is a free market.

"If I violate an open source license, who comes after me?"

It depends on the project, but anyone with a copyright interest in the project you violate the license for could sue. Whether they will or not is another question, and depends on their resources and how hawkish they want to be about enforcement.

"Who owns copyrights on open source software?"

Unless there are other agreements in place, the people who contribute code, own that code. In the case of the GPL and some other OSS licensed projects they've agreed to make their contribution available under the GPL as well.

"Shouldn't OSS advocates and producers desire copyright free software?"

Open source isn't necessarily against copyright since it prevents other people and companies from just ripping off their code. Certainly a developer could put their work in the public domain if they wanted.

I am by no means an expert
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
RE: Oxymoron
First it's important to note the difference between free as in freedom and free as in without cost. Open source is concerned with freedom.7

Open source licenses are designed to ensure that software REMAINS free. Otherwise $BIGASS_CORPORATION could basically steal $LITTLE_PROJECT and claim it as their own or release it under a non-free license or whatever.

An example: There's a lot of good stuff in Linux. If this were simply unlicensed, then Microsoft for example could just lap it all up and incorporate it into their own (non-free) product. When you think of the time and effort that the free developers have put into the software, it's unfair that MS should profit from it.

The GNU GPL (General Public License) basically states that:
- You may redistribute the GPL'ed software for free or for a price, provided you attach a copy of the GPL with it.
- All modifications you make to the software must also be licensed under the GPL (ie, made free).
- All software that INCLUDES the GPL'ed code must also be licensed under the GPL. Ie, if it's been incorporated into a larger project, then that project must be licensed under the GPL... Made free.

So if Microsoft (for example) DID use some GPL'ed code in their operating system, then the whole OS would have to be licensed under the GPL.

"Freedom is something you fight for. And when you obtain it, you must defend it with your life." OSS Licenses are designed to protect freedom of software.

Posted by ayteebee (32 comments )
Link Flag
The inevitable, insurmountable weakness to the "free software model" is that it isn't free at all...;) Somebody spends money developing it, and in every case that "somebody" is going to try for revenue and profits wherever they can get them. Contrary to popular, misguided "open source" mythology, programmers do not--indeed cannot--work for free. Open Source Software does not literally grow on trees, in other words.

The fact is that the entire OSS movement, wherever and however it becomes organized (and I'm not talking about individuals who write the odd public domain program here and there), is nothing less than the proverbial wolf hiding in sheep's clothing. While pretending to be "free," the fact is that the software costs as much money as anything else to develop and its creators are simply masking their revenue machines behind the OSS label. That's *exactly* why there are so many "licenses" attached to OSS, and why there will be many more in the future.

The only thing that OSS does, in my opinion, is to mask the identity of the creators while at the same time it masks their revenue sources, and also their licensing restrictions and manipulations. With software by Microsoft and other companies who openly sell their products under their company names, you know exactly who makes it and what they charge for it, and ultimately what they get out of it in terms of revenue. The whole reason for the rise of the "OSS" paradigm, in my view, is simply to conceal all of that from the public.
Posted by Walt Connery (89 comments )
Link Flag
Budging FSF
The market players will budge the FSF - maybe not in the GPLv.3 language, but where they vote their dollars and resources. If the market is cool with it, then it'll take off, or find broader acceptance. If not, oh well...

My beef is not there - the private-to-private arrangements. Rather, were governments to seize upon the language - as they have attempted with previous GPL - endorsing it as being THE model for development, and attempting to base their procurements only on it, then we - the IT industry, innovation, government users and taxpayers, lose. Period. Less choice in this manner will not result in more or better quality choice in software solutions.
Posted by mwendy (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No, the GPL drafts are an open process.
The FSF responds to the community that makes the software licensed under the GPL.

It is in fact the FSF's greatest strength that the Open Source community is not only allowed, but is freely encouraged to participate in the process, and that [i]they listen to their communities[/i].

I like the idea of governments endorsing the GPL - being an open model, the GPL adds transparency to government, which is a Good Thing. (e.g. no one company can hold any government hostage if the government in question uses GPL software, because the source code is right there).

The best part is, everyone is free to participate in writing, selling, and/or servicing GPL code... even your buddies at MSFT. How's that for choice?

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Excluding Novell deals would be a dramatic change?
Bruce Perens and others have been talking about excluding Novell-Microsoft like deals since the deal was made back in the Fall. That deal, while technically legal according to the GPL v2, is against the spirit of the license and they wanted to make sure that it was clearly stated in this version. According to Bruce, that's why there is the necessity of updates to the license from time to time, since circumstances and times change.

That deal takes code that was contributed with a certain understanding and does things with it that are quite shady - which is why those who work on Samba who worked for Novell went to work for Google and Red Hat recently. That's why Novell should be worried. They should not have agreed to such an agreement because it was NOT their decision to make unilaterally. It is not their code. That is a decision for the community to make. If it is determined that it is a retroactive license, which I believe it should be, then the gnu c compiler, samba, and several other foundational projects will be gpl 3, and Novell, will have some enormous problems to work out. However, it will cause companies to rethink such unwise decisions with such unscrupulous companies such as Microsoft.
Posted by jeromatron (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The FSF, Stallman
... and you have to quit thinking of Microsoft as the big bad wolf. Personally, I would like to see a version of Samba with Microsoft APIs for tighter integration. But that's me.

Stallman has to give up his NIMBY approach to software licensing, and go get a real job.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft's behind the lines scrimage plan
Microsoft's behind the lines scrimage plans finally come forward.

So this is what Microsoft was planning all along...

It's sick how they devilishly continue to thwart competition without even getting their hands dirty!

Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
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