February 2, 2000 9:10 AM PST

Sun eases limits on networking software

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New Sun open source plan raises control issue

February 1, 2000
NEW YORK--Sun will release a key component of its networking software under a new license that allows developers more freedom to modify code than allowed under previous agreements.

As reported, Sun will release the source code for key parts of its Network File System (NFS) standard for sharing files over networks. But unlike previous Sun efforts, the license that governs the software lets programmers freely modify the source code--the underlying programming instructions--as long as the end result still conforms to the definition of how NFS is supposed to work, Sun said in a statement today.

But one prominent member of the open-source community has reservations about the current version of the license.

The software, a code component of NFS version 4 called Transport-Independent Remote Procedure Call (TI-RPC), will be released within 30 days, the company said.

Sun will release the source code under a new license, the Industry Standards Source License, which Sun has submitted to the Open Source Institute for its consideration. The OSI has blessed open-source licenses from Apple, IBM and others.

The license addresses many concerns voiced by open source advocates about the licenses Sun has used to share the source code of other software such as Java, Jini and Solaris. Under those licenses, Sun retains ultimate control.

Under the new NFS license, programmers are allowed to deviate from the standard as long as they provide a public description of what the new version does, along with a publicly available working version of the modified code, Sun said.

However, Eric Raymond, cofounder of the Open Source Institute, so far isn't satisfied with Sun's new license. Discussions with Sun are continuing and Brian Behlendorf, another member of the Open Source Institute Board, said the institute will make an official decision later. Behlendorf said he saw positive elements in the license plan.

"Attaching conformance requirements to the license is too easily abused," Raymond said. New specifications for the software could be written in such as way as to "lock down" the actual software, he said.

Sun made the announcement at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, held here. Linux includes support for an earlier version of NFS, which originally was developed by Sun in 1985.

Sun also said it will release rights to the NFS trademark and double funding for a project at the University of Michigan begun last year to develop a working instance of NFS version 4 for Linux.

It's still unclear if the new license allows developers to incorporate the new version of NFS directly into the heart of Linux, known as the kernel, or if it will have to run as a separate package. The Linux kernel itself is released under the Gnu General Public License, which requires that other software incorporated into a GPL package also be covered by GPL.

Raymond said the code from Sun could not be included in the Linux kernel because Linus Torvalds, founder and leader of the Linux effort, "has a requirement that anything mixed in the kernel be GPL."

Unlike the GPL, Sun's license allows programmers to make modifications to the source code without publishing them. Some have criticized this publishing requirement of the GPL, arguing that it discourages companies that might have proprietary enhancements they want to add. But others argue the publication requirement helps keep an open-source project unified sinstead of "forking" into different versions with different characteristics.

Version 4 of NFS improves the security and performance of previous versions, Sun said. The new version also works better on the Internet instead of just private networks and has been adjusted to work better on different types of computer systems.

 

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