January 16, 2007 10:32 AM PST

Torvalds: 'Hot air' in debates on GPL, content control

SYDNEY, Australia--Digital rights management and the General Public License cause a lot of "hot air" to be exchanged, but they are not a "big deal," according to the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds.

DRM is a technology used to control the copying and distribution of content such as music and films, while GPL 3 is a software license drafted by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and intended to govern how free and open-source software can be copied and changed.

According to Torvalds, both DRM technology and GPL 3 will cause many arguments, but in the bigger scheme of things, neither will stop good technology from prevailing.

Linus Torvalds Linus Torvalds

"I suspect--and I may not be right--(that) when it comes to things like DRM or licensing, people get really very excited about them. People have very strong opinions," Torvalds said during an interview at Linux.conf.au here Tuesday. "It ends up in a situation where people really like to argue--and that very much includes me."

For all the fervor, though, the debates may not really matter that much.

"I think it is going to cause a lot of hot air; it's going to cause a lot of hurt feelings; there (are) going to be a lot of arguments about it. But in practice, will it be a big deal? I suspect it is not going to be that big. But time will tell," he said.

Torvalds admitted that he has a particular dislike for DRM technology because it makes life more difficult for users.

"One reason I really dislike DRM is that it is technologically an inferior solution to not doing DRM. It actually makes it harder for people to do what they want to do. It makes it harder to do things that you really should be able to do," Torvalds said.

Still, he said he is tolerant of other people using the technology.

"At the same time, on a completely different tangent--forget about technology--I am a big believer in letting people do what they want to do. If somebody wants to do DRM, it is their problem. I don't want anything to do with it," he said. "It is something that sometimes puts me at odds with people in the technical area who have an agenda that they want to drive."

When asked about GPL 3, which is due for release in the first quarter of this year, Torvalds said it was noteworthy but also not earth-shattering.

"It is certainly interesting, since the GPLv2 has been a de facto standard in the open-source, free-software group for 16 years, or something like that. It's a long time, and in that sense, it is a watershed event," he said.

"At the same time, if you look at the number of licenses that people have been using over the years, it is just another license. It is not that big a deal. It depends on how you look at it," he added.

The current version of the GPL, version 2, was published in 1991 and applies to about two-thirds of free and open-source software.

Torvalds said that despite all the arguments about which technology or software development methodology is better, "good technology" will win in the end.

"One of the issues I have is that the most important thing is good technology. It's not about being commercial or noncommercial, open-source or closed-source. To me, the reason I do open source is, it is fun. That is the most basic thing," he said.

"I also happen to believe that it is the best way to, eventually, get the best end result. Part of that is the 'eventually.' At any particular point in time, it may not always be the best thing right then," he said.

Munir Kotadia and Chris Duckett of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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Linus Torvalds, GPL 3, GPL, digital-rights management, argument

 

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