The New Yorker: The GNU Manifesto Turns Thirty

I think it’s indicative of how pervasive Open Source has become when a traditional non-technical mainstream publication such as The New Yorker writes an in-depth article about the GNU manifesto turning thirty. A well done, fair, factually accurate, and balanced article at that. You should read the article, but a few quick comments:

* While there’s been a lot of anti-GPL sentiment recently, whether you agree or disagree with the direction GPLv3 took, I think it’s important to remember that the technology and licensing landscapes would almost certainly look quite a bit different if it wasn’t for GNU and the GPL. Stallman was significantly ahead of his time in codifying much of this, so early on it changed perception and perspective, which is easy to forget now. Later on, the GPL served as an extreme left example which helped move where the center was for other more permissive Open Source licenses.

* I had forgotten Stallman was at the M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory thirty years ago. Apropos of a recent Bad Voltage discussion, I think it’s misunderstood just how difficult AI is and how long we’ve been at it.

* If you haven’t read the “ten-thousand-word document [sent] to prepare his hosts for his arrival” you should. That’s all I’ll say about that.

* It’s not just that “Stallman does not own a cell phone, nor does he use Facebook, Twitter, or many of the programs most of us take for granted. ” It’s how he does his computing, especially web and email.

* It is interesting to me how many staunch hardcore Free Software advocates are willing to completely forgo their ethos when it comes to mobile, despite it being such an important part of computing. It’s a testament to how nice some feel the Apple ecosystem is; but it’s also quite worrying IMHO. We’ve fought long and hard to get where we are. It would be a shame to have to start the battle all over again.

It’s easy to forget how important the fundamentals of Open Source are sometimes. Even after doing this for almost twenty years, I continue to think Open Source has the profound ability to change the world for the better. That makes it humbling, fascinating and inspiring all at the same time.

–jeremy

BusyBox Developers and Monsoon Multimedia Agree to Dismiss GPL Lawsuit

It’s great to see that the first U.S. GPL lawsuit filed has been settled with fairly little fanfare. From the press release:

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and Monsoon Multimedia today jointly announced that an agreement has been reached to dismiss the GPL enforcement lawsuit filed by SFLC on behalf of two principal developers of BusyBox.

BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. Monsoon Multimedia uses BusyBox in its HAVA TV place-shifting devices.

As a result of the plaintiffs agreeing to dismiss the lawsuit and reinstate Monsoon Multimedia’s rights to distribute BusyBox under the GPL, Monsoon Multimedia has agreed to appoint an Open Source Compliance Officer within its organization to monitor and ensure GPL compliance, to publish the source code for the version of BusyBox it previously distributed on its Web site, and to undertake substantial efforts to notify previous recipients of BusyBox from Monsoon Multimedia of their rights to the software under the GPL. The settlement also includes an undisclosed amount of financial consideration paid by Monsoon Multimedia to the plaintiffs.

“Although we really hated having to ask our attorneys to file a lawsuit to get Monsoon Multimedia to abide by the GPL, we are extremely pleased that they worked so hard and so fast to come into compliance,” said Rob Landley, a developer of BusyBox and a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The settlement did include a monetary piece, as the initial speculation indicated. As a whole, the outcome should serve to deter other companies from violating the GPL for fear of real damages being brought against them. Kudos to Monsoon for doing the right thing, but I’d still like to see the product they produce support Linux from a client perspective.

–jeremy

Microsoft Statement About GPLv3 II

To answer a question I posed in a previous post about how Novell was going to handle the fact that Microsoft does not want to be a party to the GPLv3 (from the Novell PR Blog):

Shortly after the GPLv3 license was released, Microsoft issued a statement in which they expressed their view that Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 and it is therefore not applicable to them. Yesterday, they also articulated that, “to avoid any doubt or legal debate on this issue, Microsoft has decided that the Novell support certificates that we distribute to customers will not entitle the recipient to receive from Novell, or any other party, any subscription for support and updates that includes the receipt of any code licensed under GPLv3.”

Microsoft’s current position, taken unilaterally, is intended to eliminate any perceived ambiguity about the applicability of GPLv3 to Microsoft. Nonetheless and independent of Microsoft’s position, we would like to make clear our commitment to our customers that Novell will continue to distribute SUSE Linux Enterprise Server with its full set of functionality and features, including those components that are licensed under GPLv3.

For those customers who will obtain their Linux via a certificate from Microsoft, Novell will provide them with a regular SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscription, regardless of the terms of the certificate provided by Microsoft. Customers who have already received SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates from Microsoft are not affected in any way by this, since their certificates were fully delivered and redeemed prior to the publication of the GPLv3. Novell will continue to put the needs of our customers first and ensure that they can take advantage of the latest version of SUSE Linux Enterprise to run their business.

Novell and Microsoft plan to continue our technical collaboration efforts which include our joint development work on virtualization, standards-based systems management, identity interoperability and document format translators. Regarding the applicability of the covenants not to sue in the Novell-Microsoft agreement and their applicability in a GPLv3 world, our respective customers will continue to have the benefit of those provisions. For Novell customers, all Novell products are covered by the Microsoft covenant not to sue, independent of their channel of distribution, including both server and desktop and whether they are licensed under GPLv2 or GPLv3.

Whether things end up playing out that simply remains to be seen. It should also be noted that just because Microsoft doesn’t want to be party to the GPLv3 doesn’t necessarily make it so. I’m not a lawyer and won’t venture a guess as to if certificate distribution binds them legally. The issue is getting plenty of coverage, though, if you’re interested. It does strike me as odd how much ambiguity the huge Microsoft legal team continues to leave, but if that’s intentional or accidental I’m not sure. I also surprised how short sighted and unimaginative Microsoft continues to be. I guess it’s all part of protecting the cash cows. Stephe sums it up nicely:

“The (July 5) Microsoft statement seems a bit premature and over reaching,” Walli said. “Stating outright that they aren’t a party to it, means they’ve cut themselves off from using it in some future circumstance where it might be genuinely business beneficial. They would need to unmake this statement. By saying they can’t envision such a situation arising shows a lack of imagination, and makes them as religious on the issue as (Free Software Foundation founder Richard) Stallman. They remain ‘committed to working with the open source community’ without actually wanting to participate in it.”

–jeremy

GPLv3 Coverage

For all the coverage the process has gotten to date, the final GPLv3 was released to relatively little fanfare on Friday, June 29th. The reality, as with any legal document, is that it’s going to take a while for company and project lawyers to read through and digest their perceived implications. As anyone who’s worked in a large corporation knows, legal departments take their time on this. That means the reality is that we won’t see adoption by major projects for a little while. That’s not a bad thing, it was to be expected.

One thing that struck me about the GPLv3 process is just how much mainstream press it got. We’re talking about a software license after all. This has to be a first. Also, whether or not you like the end result of the GPLv3 I think you have to give the FSF credit. The GPLv1 was pretty much just Stallman and even the GPLv2 process was fairly closed. The GPLv3 draft process, however, was much more open and it’s clear that feedback was considered very seriously. You can even see demonstrable evidence of RMS making compromises in some places. That’s significant and credit should be given where credit is due.

I’m not a lawyer and haven’t had a change to even read the final GPLv3 from beginning to end, so I’m not going to comment on specifics at this time. I hope to set aside time for that in the near future. In the mean time, here are some of the links I’ll be using to base my research on. Please feel free to add quality links you’ve found in the comments. Thanks.

–jeremy

Linus on GPLv3

Linus made a couple interesting comments on LKML a few days ago regarding the GPLv3:

I was impressed in the sense that it was a hell of a lot better than the disaster that were the earlier drafts.

I still think GPLv2 is simply the better license.

I consider dual-licensing unlikely (and technically quite hard), but at least _possible_ in theory. I have yet to see any actual *reasons* for licensing under the GPLv3, though. All I’ve heard are shrill voices about “tivoization” (which I expressly think is ok) and panicked worries about Novell-MS (which seems way overblown, and quite frankly, the argument seems to not so much be about the Novell deal, as about an excuse to push the GPLv3).

and

Btw, if Sun really _is_ going to release OpenSolaris under GPLv3, that _may_ be a good reason. I don’t think the GPLv3 is as good a license as v2, but on the other hand, I’m pragmatic, and if we can avoid having two kernels with two different licenses and the friction that causes, I at least see the _reason_ for GPLv3. As it is, I don’t really see a reason at all.

I personally doubt it will happen, but hey, I didn’t really expect them to open-source Java either(*), so it’s not like I’m infallible in my predictions.

If you’ve been following this you’ll notice that Linus’ opinion of the GPLv3 has gotten slightly more positive with each draft, which is a good indicator that the FSF really has been proactively responding to criticisms and valid objections. I’d guess that the definitive addition of Apache compatibility will lead to some additional adoption (which is my guess on why they added it in the end). Linus is pragmatic as usual in his above comment about OpenSolaris. If Sun does indeed release it under the GPLv3 and Linux is able to follow, that would be a huge win for both. There’s a ton of innovation on both sides that would finally be able to flow back and forth. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but at least now it’s a possibility.

–jeremy

Open Source Business Models: a Taxonomy of Open Source Firms' business models

If you’re looking into starting a commercial Open Source company, here’s an in-depth look at the various current business models.

Within the context of the FLOSSMETRICS project we are performing a study on the business models adopted by companies that are leveraging FLOSS source code, and how the model changes with respect of licenses and commercialization approaches.

In this post I present a draft of the result of 80 FLOSS-based companies and business models, conducted using only publicly available data. Feedbacks and suggestions are welcome!

It still seems to me that we haven’t found the ideal commercial Open Source play, but this is still a relatively nascent industry. It’s remarkable how far we’ve come so fast. There’s still a lot to figure out, which is part of what makes it so exciting to me,

–jeremy

GPLv3, Linux and GPLv2 Compatibility

Allison continues her fantastic coverage of the GPLv3 process in this post.

A third possibility is that the Linux kernel developers will decide that it’s not worth the hassle and just accept the GPLv3. I suspect that this is what the FSF is hoping will happen. Depending on the changes in the next two drafts of the GPLv3, it still might. But, it’s not looking likely that the kernel developers will yield. Frankly, if I were in the kernel developers shoes, I wouldn’t either. The GPLv3 serves to further the goals of the FSF, but the current draft actually hinders Linus’ goals and the goals of Linux in general.

Another possibility, complete speculation on my part, is that the Linux Foundation becomes more than just a loose consortium of companies sponsoring Linux kernel development. It becomes the copyright holder for the Linux kernel, not taking copyright assignments from contributors like the FSF, but copyright licenses like Apache does, so the kernel developers still hold their copyright on the code. The Linux Foundation releases a license with basically the same terms as the GPLv2, but without the legal ambiguities, obscure language, and anachronisms. Like the GPL, this license is copyleft. Like the GPL, this license requires the release of modified versions under the same license. This license clearly defines the concepts of linking and modified works, making it easier for Linux distributors to be sure that their segmented distribution trees are in compliance. Over time, more and more projects currently released under the GPL adopt the Linux license, because it is more legally precise and more comprehensible to the average developer than either the GPLv2 or GPLv3. Eventually, Linux distributions switch over to the Linux license, leaving only a small branch of GPLv3 (or v4 or v5) code to be downloaded separately (if the user chooses to do so).

It had occurred to me that it might be nice if the FSF did a sort of updated draft of the GPLv2 that included very minor improvements while not introducing the major fundamental shifts of the GPLv3. It’s clear they wouldn’t do this now, as it would hinder the adoption of the GPLv3. I hadn’t thought of the possibility of someone else improving on the GPLv2. Seems unlikely, but maybe just the thought of it will smooth some things over in the GPLv3 process.

–jeremy

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