Enterprise Unix Roundup: More GPL 3 Back and Forth

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Aug 4, 2006

Main     In Other News
The second draft of GPL 3 is out, and Torvalds isn't amused. Does it matter? Red Hat green lights Xen but leaves XenSource at the intersection; PostgreSQL is less pervasive; Wind River Linux goes real time; and it's patches galore for Mac OS X.

Brian Proffitt

Amy Newman

It all started innocently enough. Last Thursday, the Free Software Foundation released the second discussion draft of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3. What followed was an interesting and overblown media misunderstanding, though we can hardly say that no one followed the "discussion" very well!

After the draft came out, the first thing most reporters in the technology arena did was contact Linux kernel developer Linus Torvalds. Torvalds, who has licensed the Linux kernel under GPL version 2, was notably unimpressed when the first discussion draft of the GPL 3 came out. So, what was his reaction to this new draft. Decidedly the same.

The sticking point seems to be how software will relate to hardware on which it's installed. The classic example is the Tivo box, which currently ships with a Linux-based operating system. What Tivo does, however, is sell its Tivo machines without the ability to easily gain access to that operating system, nor its source code. The operating system is essentially sealed, though there are several ways to hack a Tivo system anyway ... not that we would know anything about that.

Under GPL 2, this is allowed (though not appreciated), because unless you are distributing the software as a separate unit, you don't have to show nobody nothin'. Also, there are no provisions for the digital rights management (DRM) technology used to "lock" the specific GPL'd software to the Tivo hardware.

In the proposed GPL 3, a new clause has been added that would prevent DRM software from being used in such a manner to keep GPL'd software closed. The upshot is, if you GPL your code, it's going to be open — whether you distribute it or not.

Torvalds objects to this requirement, saying that as a software developer, he should not have the ability to affect the hardware on which his code is sitting. Initially, his statements to the media were firm but politely worded. By late Thursday night, he threw all caution to the wind and started slapping the FSF around for having a political agenda for the GPL 3 in an "anonymous" posting on the legal analysis web site Groklaw.

"[The GPL 3] no longer works in the 'fairness' sense. It's purely a firebrand, and only good for the extremist policies of the FSF. It's no longer a nice balance that a lot of people can accept, and that a lot of companies can stand behind once you explain it to them," Torvalds wrote.

While we can't argue with the desire to keep everything open in the spirit of free software, we also agree with Torvalds that this license so far conveys the strongest political ideals of the FSF and its founder Richard Stallman.

Torvalds is not the only one fussing about the draft license. HP, which is involved in the license revision process, is none too thrilled about the patent provisions included in the draft. Essentially, these clauses eliminate the ability for anyone with GPL 3-licensed software to sue for patent infringement. This has led many analysts to start crying "fork!" because there's a good chance many software coders will not opt to update to version 3, and stay with version 2 instead.

It's looking likely that will be the case with the Linux kernel, since Torvalds has specifically licensed it under version 2 only, not version 2 and later, which some software makers have used. The "and later" clause may mean changes in GPL 3 may be retroactively applied to currently GPL'd software.

Despite what you may read, a fork of the GPL, if that's what you can call it, would not be the end of the world. Any attempt to say otherwise is a Chicken Little activity.

No matter which side of the discussion you are on, though, it ultimately may not matter. At the end of the revision process, the FSF has revealed, it will ultimately be Stallman, and Stallman alone, who decides what the next version of the GPL will be.

So we aren't worrying about these discussions at all, since they could become ... moot.

In Other News

» One minute it was "Red Hat rejects Xen"; the next it was, "Red Hat's affair with XenSource is back on." Well, not literally, but our eyeballs felt they were at a tennis match, swinging from one side to the next.

When the dust settled, it turned out Red Hat is behind Xen, which it anticipates being ready for widespread deployment when Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.0 ships later this year. It is not, as previously stated, however, ready to partner with XenSource, something which rival SUSE has already done. We're still a bit confused, and we suspect someone over at Red Hat needs to figure out the difference between Xen and Xen Source.

» We can't help but enjoy the puns flying about over Pervasive Software's withdrawal of support for PostgreSQL. Yes, PostgreSQL is now a little less pervasive. And, yes ... we're here all week.

In an open letter to the PostgreSQL community last week (which flew under the radar until early this week, it would seem), Pervasive President John Farr explained why the company is stepping away from the PostgreSQL initiative it was so gung-ho on last year, as, "In this environment, we found that the opportunity for Pervasive Software to meaningfully increase adoption of PostgreSQL by providing an alternative source for support and services was quite limited."

The company plans to turn over any intellectual property, white papers and other collateral to the open source community.

The Register has an interesting theory on why the venture didn't live up to expectations, "Farr's decision is a warning for Silicon Valley startups trying to build businesses based on support for open source. Not only is support a costly business activity that is difficult to scale, but companies must convince users they should spend money on something they have downloaded for free."

We don't buy it lock, stock and barrel, but it should serve as a warning to Web 2.0 ventures thinking they can make a quick buck off of the backs of open source developers.

Those looking to pay for support should consider contacting Sun, which says it will continue to support PostgreSQL, as it sees significant potential in the open source database.

» Wind River Linux has gone real-time. The newly released version 1.3 of the Wind River General Purpose Platform, Platform for Consumer Devices and Platform for Network Equipment will issue real-time patch updates.

Wind River is laying claim to being the first embedded operating system vendor to use the 2.6.14 kernel. In addition, its Platform for Network Equipment, Linux Edition 1.3, is one of the first to be Carrier Grade Linux 3.2-registered.

» Not a good week Apple users. The systems' vendor issued 21 security updates to address problems, or potentially exploitable problems, in its Mac OS X operating system. Many of the fixes address potential system crashes and unauthorized access to files.

If anyone out there (and we know you're smarter than that) still thinks of Mac OS X as airtight and immune to viruses and hacker attacks, well, it's not.

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