Enterprise Unix Roundup: Another Day, Another License

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Dec 9, 2004


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Sun contributes yet another open source license to an already long list and keeps Linux out of the Solaris sandbox. We get the scoop on Penguin Computing's latest offering. With whereami, a few keystrokes will let you glide between wireless networks.

Last Week we discussed the upcoming revamp of that most venerable of free software licenses, the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Once upon a time, the GPL was one of the three best known free software or open source licenses, the others being the BSD license and the MIT license (which governed the distribution of X11).

Things got more complicated as variations of those basic licenses began to appear. Instead of debating the merits of "the GPL vs. the BSD license," people began arguing over "GPL-like vs. BSD-style" licenses. Then they started wondering if the Perl Artistic License wasn't more apt. Some people got so tired of arguing about licenses that they left little notes in their source code that pretty much said "do what you want with this, and I don't want to hear about it if you hurt yourself with this code," and then they found themselves dragged back into the debate screaming because, well, that was awfully BSDish of them.

To outsiders, all this license bickering seemed like an awful lot of energy spent on different ways to say "here ya go ... it's yours," but to the people doing the bickering, it was very, very important: There are, it turns out, many ways to share. And everyone has a lawyerly streak in them.

Sun is able to play the open source game while avoiding the risk of benefitting its biggest competitor in the x86 space.<

Then the Great Open Source/Free Software Schism happened, thanks to a collision between two kinds of idealisms: The Free Software Foundation's belief in a moral imperative to share knowledge and software vs. the open source movement's belief that more eyes on a body of code makes good engineering sense and the fact that corporations weren't comfortable with ideas like "it's a moral imperative to share knowledge."

The open source movement's marketing successes meant "real" enterprises with real legal departments had to confront the license question. Then, what was already a mildly bewildering multiplicity of licenses got even more complex: Netscape cooked up the Mozilla Public License to govern its release of the Navigator codebase to the open source community, sparking a license craze among enterprises struggling to come to grips with the fact that their Herman Miller Aerons didn't signify the hipness they had in 1998.

We won't even name them all. As of this writing, the Open Source Initiative, which "approves" licenses as open source or not, lists more than 50, ranging from the Academic Free License to the zlib/libpng license.

And now Sun, which already has two licenses to call its own, hopes to add to the glut with the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), under which it plans to release Solaris 10 some time early next year.

Sun's Claire Giordano summed up the CDDL offered in correspondence to an OSI mailing list. She describes the license as "similar to" the Mozilla Public License, noting that "files made available under the CDDL can be linked together with files made available under another license, as long as the other license does not prevent such linkage."

Giordano goes on to note that the CDDL will enjoy compatibility with a wide array of licenses, "including code released under 'academic' licenses, such as BSD, AFL, Apache, and X11." The one exception to the CDDL's ability to play well with others is the GPL because the CDDL includes requirements the GPL does not.

In effect, the CDDL is fairly inoffensive to anyone comfortable with the wide array of open source licenses already in use: It permits bits of Solaris to be shared around, and it allows people to share bits from other pieces of software with Solaris.

It will also serve to keep Solaris code out of the GPL'd Linux kernel, which means that, to almost no one's surprise, Sun is able to play the open source game while avoiding the risk of benefitting its biggest competitor in the x86 space.

The CDDL is a great open source license: It doesn't inconvenience the company using it, it will enable outsiders to participate in the development process with fresh ideas and bug fixes, and it will help Sun look good in its war against Red Hat.

What the CDDL most manifestly isn't is a free software license. It's written so some sharing can take place, but not too much, and not with the wrong crowd.

Waddling in a Linux Wonderland

December is the time of year it seem companies are more focused on what's going into the eggnog than what's in their OS. While we at Roundup enjoy eggnog as much as anyone else (preferably with brandy), we appreciate the slowdown in news and enjoy being able to take the time to speak with companies with whom we wouldn't normally get the chance.

This week we had the opportunity to speak with Penguin Computing, a company from the dot-com heyday that weathered the bust and has found a niche for itself being all Linux all the time.

The company sells Intel-based 1U and 2U servers optimized and certified for Fedora Core, Red Hat Linux, and Beowulf.

Penguin's latest offering, unveiled on Wednesday, is BladeRunner, a blade server designed for entry-level high-performance computing (an oxymoron at best) clustering and data center consolidation. Penguin is preconfiguring the blade server with its Scyld Beowulf technology and throwing in one year of support for a solution it has named Cluster-in-a-Box. The base solution pack is priced from $23,400 and features a 4U (7.0") Rackmount Chassis with one master node blade that contains dual 2.4 GHz Intel Xeon LV Processors, 2 GB of PC2100 ECC Reg. DDR RAM, and a 60 GB Fixed 2.5" IDE Drive. The chassis holds five compute nodes, each of which has dual 2.4GHz Intel Xeon LV Processors, 2 GB of PC2100 ECC Reg. DDR RAM, and PXE Boot Enabled Diskless Nodes.

We must admit that our initial reaction to Penguin was a series of whys. In this era of heterogeneous server rooms, why base an entire business model (including your company name) on a single operating system? And why then enter a space that presents little room for secondary and fledgling players?

While we still don't have an answer on the first one, we'll admit Penguin (which we can best sum up as being a notch or two above the white box vendors) must be doing something right. Not only is it still standing some six years after its launch, but it has made acquisitions along the way. In 2003, Penguin merged with Scyld Software, which is best known for its cluster computing software for managing Beowulf. This alone rachettes up the value of BladeRunner.

As a pure Linux play, Penguin seems to have all the ice floes lined up. The bigger question to ponder is who should walk across them.

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