February 9, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Sun likes what it sees in the new GPL

Sun likes what it sees in the new GPL SAN FRANCISCO--When it comes to open-sourcing Solaris and Java, patents and politics are leading Sun Microsystems toward a change of heart.

The question is which open-source license should govern the building of projects out of the company's technology crown jewels. The open-source Solaris project began with a Community Development and Distribution License (CDDL), and open-source Java employs version 2 of the General Public License (GPL).

Now, though, Sun likes the idea of governing both projects with the upcoming GPL version 3, Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz said in a speech and an interview at the company's analyst summit here Tuesday.

"Will we GPL Solaris? We want to ensure we can interact with the GPL community and the Mozilla community and the BSD community," Schwartz said, referring to three major open-source licenses. "I don't think we've been as effective as I'd like to be in going after the GPL community, because there's an awful lot of really bright people who think that's the license they prefer. That discussion is incredibly central to recruiting more developers around the world."

And regarding Java, Schwartz said in an interview: "We did version 2 with Java because version 3 wasn't out. When we have version 3, Java will likely go to 3."

Sun is considering the GPL 3 because it wants to appeal to developers who favor the GPL. Another factor is a patent protection expected to feature in the new version of the license, Schwartz added.

The direction marks a new tactical approach for a company trying to find the best way to engage with members of the open-source programming community, which is influential but diverse. Specifically, Sun is working with one significant party--the Free Software Foundation, which invented the GPL and is overseeing the creation of version 3.

"Sun has now asked for our thoughts on moving the Solaris operating system to GPLv3 and what they would need to do to engage the free software developer community. Specifically, they see the advantages of creating a GNU system, utilizing the kernel of Solaris," FSF Executive Director Peter Brown said in an interview.

GNU and Solaris
GNU, which stands for Gnu's Not Unix, is the FSF's attempt to create a nonproprietary clone of Unix. Right now, that effort is based on the Linux kernel. But Solaris is another possibility for the core part of the GNU operating system.

"A distribution of GNU utilizing the kernel of Solaris would certainly receive at least as much support (from the FSF) as GNU with the kernel Linux," Brown said. "The fact that Sun are considering using GPLv3 would be of particular interest to us."

But the release of Solaris under GPL 3 would be unlikely to bridge a licensing divide that currently separates Solaris from Linux. Linux is covered by GPL 2, and the operating system's leader Linus Torvalds and his deputies have spurned GPL 3. Using GPL 3 for Solaris likely would preclude Linux programmers from using Solaris software, and vice-versa. That would make it difficult for Solaris to benefit from hardware support built into Linux, or for Linux to benefit from performance tools built into Solaris.

Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice sees "artfulness with a little bit of jujitsu" in Sun's open-source licensing decisions. When the company chose the GPL for open-source Java, "it prevented the mining of that asset by IBM. It's the same thing with Linux--it prevents the Linux community from strip-mining Solaris capabilities," Eunice said.

For his part, Schwartz said patent protections expected in GPL 3 make it more appealing than the current GPL 2. It's a "license you can use without fear of a patent attack," he said.

And he's not concerned with a repeat of the criticisms aimed at Sun when it picked the CDDL instead of the one used by Linux. "We're in a different position now. The community is a lot more comfortable with Sun now," Schwartz said.

A variety of ripple effects could stem from Sun's licensing choices. Done right, it could invigorate and broaden developer support and consequently improve the software itself. Done wrong, it could alienate those who already are involved or scare away potentially interested parties.

Sun has a strong interest in a vibrant open-source community, which the company believes will lead ultimately to stronger sales of its software and hardware. Developers were the first to embrace Linux, and Sun believes the same formula can apply to its own products.

Sun may have more clout than in the past--but licensing influences where allies can be found. Apache Harmony, an open-source Java project under the Apache License, is continuing in parallel with Sun's project rather than joining forces, in part because Sun chose the GPL for its Java.

Dual-license debate
It's not likely Sun would scrap the current CDDL for Solaris and move to GPL 3. Instead, the Santa Clara, Calif. company is considering a dual license--a move that's possible because Sun owns the copyright to all the code in Solaris.

Stephen Harpster, director of open-source software at Sun, asked OpenSolaris programmers on a mailing list last week what they thought of dual CDDL and GPL 3 licenses. "We're wondering if this would increase participation. There are a lot of GPL bigots out there. If OpenSolaris were available under GPL, would there be more people willing to participate who have to date ignored us because we're CDDL only?" he asked.

The question triggered a long and sometimes emotional discussion.

"It's the latest fad to sell the project to the mad rush of people that are not joining in and not getting involved," said Dennis Clarke, who operates the Blastwave repository of Solaris software.

Rich Teer, president of Rite Online and a member of the OpenSolaris Community Advisory Board, also cast cold water on the change. "If this is some misguided attempt to appease the GPL worshippers, I think it is doomed to failure. Most of the GPLists I've seen are staunch supporters of v2, and are unlikely to embrace v3. Given that, their attitudes towards OpenSolaris are unlikely to change," he wrote.

And one Sun Solaris programmer on the list saw no need to look for the approval of Linux fans.

"This is not the playground, we're not kids any more; we should not need them to like us," wrote Sun programmer Casper Dik. "We didn't used to be so insecure at Sun; why has this changed?"

But not all were down on the idea. Erast Benson, one of the core developers behind a project to build an open-source operating system called Nexenta, which would be based on OpenSolaris, believes a dual license could attract more programmers.

"I bet Sun would like to increase outside contribution too. But with CDDL alone, it is just not possible in the foreseeable future," Benson said. "I believe if GPLv3 dual-licensing is done right, it will improve this situation drastically."

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4 comments

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Separate GPL's could be good
There are enough differences between Unix and Linux that parallel development makes sense. It will mean more work (the licencing difference will reduce code sharing) by programmers, but in the long run that is healthier. Each OS will have it?s own strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited by System Architects for whatever project is at hand.
As long as Solaris is open-sourced in a reasonable manner, I think it will be the right way to go.
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Statement from the OpenSolaris CAB/OGB
In the ee eeeintrstofcompltnss, if you are going to go cherry picking comments from the discussions, you really should have included the position statement from the OpenSolaris CAB/OGB.

Taken from <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.opensolaris.org/jive/thread.jspa?threadID=23699&#38;tstart=0" target="_newWindow">http://www.opensolaris.org/jive/thread.jspa?threadID=23699&#38;tstart=0</a>

CAB/OGB Position Paper # 20070207 version 0.6

Topic: Should OpenSolaris be dual licensed via CDDL and GPLv3

Published by: OpenSolaris CAB/OGB current members:
Casper Dik, Al Hopper, Roy Fielding, Simon Phipps, Rich Teer

Background: Over the past week or so a heated and passionate debate
has taken place on the opensolaris-discuss mailing list [1] relating
to the possibility of dual-licensing OpenSolaris, and in particular
with GPLv3 as the 2nd license, in addition to CDDL, under which
OpenSolaris is currently licensed. The CAB/OGB (henceforth referred
to as simply the OGB) has observed this discussion carefully and
individual OGB members have been active participants.

Now that this discussion is winding down, the OGB, as the elected
representatives of the OpenSolaris project, will render an OGB
statement of position and provide guidance to the community to bring
closure to this discussion and to determine the communities near term
future licensing direction.

Discussion summaries (the pros and the cons):

The Pro dual licensing community members assert that dual licensing
will:

- increase developer mindshare

- attract active developers currently working on other FOSS projects

- promote code exchange across FOSS boundries

- end the constant anti-CDDL campaign waged by GPL* license
proponents


The Anti dual licensing community members assert that dual licensing
will:

- increase licensing complexity and futher complicate this already
legally complex licensing landscape

- lead to endless continued debates related to various "what if" code
inclusion/exclusion scenarios

- allow a one-way code fork by acquiring the OpenSolaris body of
code, manipulating, removing or modifying the (eventual, but
currently unknown) GPLv3 license terms in a way that prevents or
impedes the changes being propagated back to OpenSolaris.

- *not* entice or attract GPL* proponent FOSS developers, who want to
ensure that other Operating Systems (they actively work on) flourish,
to OpenSolaris.

---------------

The OGB, having heard arguments from both sides, concludes:

o Discussing GPLv3 is pre-mature as the license does not exist at
this time.

o That there is little, if any, benefit to dual-licensing OpenSolaris
with CDDL and the yet to be approved/upcoming GPLv3 license - aside
from possible short term good press for the project.

o There are significant downsides to dual licensing, including, but
not limited to, license complexity, confusion and the possibility of
long term bad press from any exception language that such a license
would inevitably require.

o GPL* licensing OpenSolaris would be yielding to a small vocal
minority of FOSS developers who use the lack of GPL licensing, purely
as a means of fostering FUD towards OpenSolaris and who will, in all
likelyhood, find some other workable mechanism to continue to foster
FUD towards the project.

o There are higher priority action items to be completed in order to
build developer mindshare and that this opinion is held by a large
number of current contributors and acts as a barrier to other
potential contributors.

-------------

The OGB having carefully weighed the available options concludes and
decrees that:

o any option related to GPLv3 dual licensing be re-assessed no sooner
than 6 months after the GPLv3 has been published and approved.

o Further discussions related to any form of dual licensing be
postponed until after the GPLv3 has been published and approved and
should take place on the OGB discussion forum only.

o Further discussion on GPL* is merely a diversion and distraction
that should be discouraged, so as to allow the community to
concentrate on the higher priority action items - especially those
that will improve developer mindshare.

-------------------

[1] begin here - it will take approximately 5 hours to read all the
related threads:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mail.opensolaris.org/pipermail/opensolaris-discuss/2007-Janu.." target="_newWindow">http://mail.opensolaris.org/pipermail/opensolaris-discuss/2007-Janu..</a>.

MOTION To adopt the CAB/OGB Position Paper # 20070207 version 0.6 by
Al Hopper seconded by Rich Teer. Motion carried unanimously (In
favor: Rich Teer, Casper Dik, Row Fielding, Al Hopper. Absent Simon
Phipps).
Posted by tpenta (4 comments )
Link Flag
This could spur the eventual replacement of Linux
GPL v3 will emerge over the next few years as being almost as prescient as the original GPL. First, GPL v3 will make possible DRM systems in which the IP owner can foot the bill for the IP "protection" that DRM supposedly delivers, and in which free systems can participate freely. Second, GPL v3 will deal with software patents in an explicit manner.

Eventually, GPL v3 will be a must-have for every large corporation wishing to participate in the creation of free software.

At that point, the serious players will want to switch to a pure GPL v3 regime, and Solaris will be the path they will take, if Sun decides to release Solaris under GPL v3. When they do, Linux will revert to "hobbyist" status. There are personal reasons behind the resistance to GPL v3 in the Linux camp, so don't expect that to ever change.
Posted by totosplatz (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
device drivers...
Solaris is pretty much in the same state as BSD when it comes to device drivers (actually probably worse). It will be years before enthusiasts port and test numerous drivers. Although much can be copied from Linux (just as Linux copied so much from BSD early on), the two systems just handle devices in such different ways that the job will never be simple. At least the people currently using various versions of Solaris will now have more freedom. This may be particularly important for people with very costly research equipment which run with Solaris but are getting a bit old for 'support'. Now if the instrument makers would only give the researchers their proprietary code for controlling those machines... But aside from the driver issue, Solaris has been a favorite for many computer folks for many years now. A friend of mine is testing OpenSolaris in his business and he's quite happy with it. He's also got Linux running for some jobs but he prefers Solaris.
Posted by pinniped (5 comments )
Link Flag
 

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