April 5, 2005 5:05 PM PDT

Sun criticizes popular open-source license

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz on Tuesday proclaimed ardent support for the open-source software realm but criticized the General Public License, a widely used foundation of the programming movement.

The GPL governs Linux and countless other projects in the free and open-source software arena. But a key tenet of the license creates a situation that amounts to economic imperialism, Schwartz argued at the Open Source Business Conference here.

Naturally, Schwartz presented an alternative, Sun's Community Development and Distribution License, or CDDL, an open-source license that's a variant of the earlier Mozilla Public License (MPL). Sun has begun releasing its Solaris source code under the CDDL in a project called OpenSolaris. Solaris is now free, though Sun sells support.

Schwartz singled out the GPL provision that says source code may be mixed with other code only if the other code also is governed by the GPL. That provision is intended to create a body of software that must remain liberated from proprietary constraints. But Schwartz said that some people he's spoken to dislike it because it precludes them from using open-source software as a foundation for proprietary projects.

"Economies and nations need intellectual property (IP) to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I've talked to developing nations, representatives from academia and manufacturing companies that had begun to incorporate GPL software into their products, then...found they had an obligation to deliver their IP back into the world," Schwartz said.

The GPL purports to have freedom at its core, but it imposes on its users "a rather predatory obligation to disgorge all their IP back to the wealthiest nation in the world," the United States, where the GPL originated, Schwartz said. "If you look at the difference between the license we elected to use and GPL, there are no obligations to economies or universities or manufacturers that take the source code and embed it in (their own) code."

The GPL is being modernized, but its creator, Richard Stallman, has said the core tenet isn't going to change. And that tenet hasn't deterred programmers so far: The GPL is used in 68 percent of the thousands of projects tracked by the Freshmeat indexing site.

Representatives of the Free Software Foundation, which oversees the GPL, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sun is trying to ally itself with the open-source programming movement as part of a strategy to turn around its ailing fortunes. The company's revenue and stock price have remained largely flat in recent years despite a recovery in Sun's core market, powerful server computers at the heart of corporate networks.

Open-source software, despite being available for free, will help Sun financially, Schwartz said. "We're expecting more revenue," he said, citing historical parallels with the company's support of the now universal TCP/IP networking standard and the widely used Java software.

Schwartz also took on critics--and there are several--who have objected to Sun's refusal to release Java as open-source software. "Our refusal has nothing to do with Sun being proprietary and everything to do with wanting to keep Java from forking," he said, mentioning that Microsoft is not among the 900 companies that govern the technology's future via the Java Community Process.

One Java critic is Linux seller Red Hat, whose operating system competes directly against Sun's Solaris. Schwartz has said more than once that Sun has Red Hat squarely in its competitive crosshairs.

Tuesday, though, Schwartz tried to present a more collegial view.

"There is a community of communities in the open-source world. The open-sourcing of Solaris just increases the number and diversity of the community," he said. "It's not about being a predator on one set of people; it's about validating open source."

Schwartz also predicted that companies that pledge support for open-source software but that keep their own products proprietary will eventually be exposed as hypocrites and fall by the wayside

He mentioned no specific targets for this accusation, but Sun has leveled a similar criticism at IBM. Its WebSphere, Tivoli and Lotus software remains proprietary despite Big Blue's programming help with Linux and creation of the open-source Eclipse programming tools.

21 comments

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Spastic drivel
"Schwartz also predicted that companies that pledge support for open-source software but that keep their own products proprietary will eventually be exposed as hypocrites and fall by the wayside"

Hah! Last time I checked the Sun LDAP Directory, web server, messaging, et al is proprietary software.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Author replies: Yes, but more open source is likely
You're right that Sun has plenty of proprietary software. However, more open-source software is likely. Schwartz has discussed an open-source database (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Sun+floats+open-source+database+idea/2100-7344_3-5562799.html" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Sun+floats+open-source+database+idea/2100-7344_3-5562799.html</a>), and Java Enterprise System server software, which includes the LDAP and other components you mentioned (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Sun+warms+to+open-source+server+software/2100-7344_3-5550457.html" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Sun+warms+to+open-source+server+software/2100-7344_3-5550457.html</a>). And today, Schwartz said to expect more open-source projects from Sun.
Posted by Shankland (1858 comments )
Link Flag
Meet the New Boss
Same as the Old Boss

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
What?
So he doesn't like the GPL because corporations can't use GPL code for their proprietary projects? What sense is that?

So they want to climb on the backs of others who wanted there code shared, but not share any resulting code, and the GPL is the problem.

That is just too much irony to take.
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Using GPL'ed code has a price
What most people don't understand is that when you use GPL'ed code, you must pay the price. The only difference is that the price isn't money, it is the code you create with the GPL'ed code.

So if you don't want to release your proprietary code under GPL, don't use GPL'ed code when you create it. Yes, it really is that simple.
Posted by ebbek (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No need to pay
It's public domain. You are not paying a price. You can pay a price if you start working on the code but you don't have to.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
release if sold / distributed
I'm sorry if I have misunderstood GPL. But from what I understand is you only have to release the code if you're distributing the software to other people.

Anyway, I think us third world countries don't mind sharing and contributing. I think it's a win-win situation and a fair deal.

Mr Jonathan Schwartz has kind of insulted us. It's like he's insinuating that we only want free things in opensource and are not interesting in giving back to the community. (Sorry Jonathan Schwartz, not everyone is as stingy as you and SUN)
Posted by BuffaloSoldier (3 comments )
Link Flag
Pure Propaganda
Anyone who uses the term "intellectual property" is engaging in propaganda. I'll keep posting this quote until people understand that:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.

-- Thomas Jefferson

From the article:
The GPL purports to have freedom at its core,
but it imposes on its users "a rather predatory
obligation to disgorge all their IP back to the
wealthiest nation in the world," the United
States, where the GPL originated, Schwartz said.

So, he's standing the US as a representative of a US-based corporation and using scare tactics to frighten people into believing that the GPL is a US plot to steal their intellectual "property." What a bunch of tinfoil-hat-wearing crap! Predatory?? He wants the right to confiscate other peoples' hard work and make a profit from it without giving them anything in return and he has the audacity to call others "predatory??!!!" Holy Cow! This guy is completely deranged!
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Pure Propaganda
Indeed, if there was any slightest doubt left whether Sun was to be mistrusted or not, then the strongly misleading (FUDing) USA part of Schwartz's comment sealed it.

Sun's actions keep being deeply schizophrenic.

Whether this is the way to lead a business and to build public confidence in a company I don't know, but what I know for sure is that I for one will avoid Sun like the plague from now on.

(not that I really learned to like Java much before anyway, though...)
Posted by RandomUser (4 comments )
Link Flag
Of course some people dislike the GPL
"But Schwartz said that some people he's spoken to dislike it because it precludes them from using open-source software as a foundation for proprietary projects."

That's exactly the main reason why so many people are prepared to contribute to open source projects. They have reassurance that no-one can simply take their contributions for free and use them to bootstrap their own commercial enterprise without giving anything back.

Of course "some people" are going to dislike that! Why should anyone have or expect that right?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
"some people" = Schwartx & Gang
"But Schwartz said that some people he's spoken to dislike it because it precludes them from using open-source software as a foundation for proprietary projects."

some people = Schwartz and the gang.

Schwartz, please don't accuse us third world countries to be as shallow and stingy as you are.
Posted by BuffaloSoldier (3 comments )
Link Flag
And exaclty how is US going to monopolize GPLed Software?
I'm suprised that one of SUN's highest executives have this wrong view of GPL and Open source in gneral..

Let's see, Let's suppose I design a system that fullfils a need in my country (Mexico) and I decide to make it GPL or I developed it using GPLed software as a start point, so I have to give the code back to the community (here you can read "to the WORLD"), and the preferable way to dothat is by posting it on the internet.

Ok, now lets suppose that a town in Africa, Australia, Argentina o even Cuba or Pakistan have the same need and they realize that the GPLed software of my invetion is usefull for them.. HOW in the world is the US going to stop them to get use modify and upgrade my invention?.. They just can't, imagine the US trying to control Cubans and noth coreans from learning physics or math, its just a fool idea.

What this companies want is to profit from the hard work made by a lot or people, just for free (gratis). Sorry.. GPL was intended to be like that.. you can be sure that the C O D E you give to the community wont be profited bye no one, because everyone leggally have to give thier improvements back to the community.

What's the rush about GPL?, if you develop a single driver, process, deamon, etc for Linux (just to give an example)and you give it for free (libre),you can then enjoy an etire Operating System free as well as a payback.

I wonder why people think that is a bad deal.

Greetings from Mexico
Posted by (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I guess that fair considering...
several in the open source community have take jabs at Sun's license. The licensed used for a given peace of software is at the discretion of the author/copyright holder. There is nothing preventing an author who has released their code under GPL from granting a company a special license to use the code in closed source application. Sun's license also require that any software that uses CDDL licensed code that is distributed in executable form be made avaliable in source form. It also places contributed code under the CDDL license. It seems as though many of the criticisms being made of the GPL also apply to Sun's CDDL.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A Sun shareholder's view
HOLY *****! Schwartz is dumber than a bag of hammers. And I mean no offense to bags of hammers. Even if some of the drivel he's spewing is more or less coherent he's a fool for saying it. Does anyone really think IBM is a big proponent of Linux? IBM brings customers in the door because they appear open, friendly, and ready to educate about the latest trends in technology. IBM appears to offer everything IT without prejudice so their customers can decide for themselves. IBM then sells them what they really need, i.e. mainframes, aix unix, and OS/400. There are more corporate types that are ashamed of their IT systems than there are happy ones. Sun continues to marginalize themselves by being tech smart and public dumb. Dumber than dirt. Very, very disappointing. What benefits are bestowed upon Sun (and Sun's poor shareholders) by slagging off the GPL and further alienating the now gigantic linux community?
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: A Sun shareholder's view
You nailed it!
(gotta keep the hammer analogy, ya know ;-)

Sun is alienating every single person on earth with their outrageously dumb propaganda.

This is NOT how to do business.

If we look at IBM (as you said), they're not doing overwhelmingly much for the OSS community (at least AFAICS, considering weak hardware support), yet they're still doing their fair share and, most importantly, don't spread dumb criticism.
Posted by RandomUser (4 comments )
Link Flag
From 3rd world country. SUN +CDDL = Th real Imperialist.
Jonathan Schwartz must have thought that the people and leaders of 3rd world countries are idiots. His remarks are an insult. He thinks that we are blind!

The truth is the actual imperialist is SUN and their CDDL license. Having people reporting bugs on their software for free and then retaining the control of the software. Jonathan Schwartz is a classic colonist and invader.

Mr Jonathan Schwartz sir, you and your company are best out from Malaysia.
Posted by BuffaloSoldier (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How is this different?
I recall a MS representative (Ballmer?) called the GPL "viral'. This story here just sounds like Sun has figured out the same thing, just years later.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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