Tuesday, June 19, 2007

GPL v3 and Free Software Foundation vs GPL v2 and Linus Torvalds

In reponse to a discussion of this kerneltrap thread on the New Zealand linux users group mailing list, I wrote the following. More updates as the thread matures...

Indeed FSF (Free software Foundation) seem to argue the main point of difference is that situations such as Tivoisation should not happen, and that in order to gain the influence they need for v3, want the linux kernel to come under the v3 umbrella. Linus on the other hand disagrees somewhat violently with this ethic and protests that software and hardware should not necessarily be tied by the same licencing agreement, indeed this severely restricts some of the key advantages companies see in contributing to the linux kernel.

To me, the issue of hardware and IP is increasingly important when we see so many companies starting to litigate just to stay afloat. The patent laws were never designed to be a complete protection for even the smallest ideas. By using open standards some companies are finding their licensing burden to be significantly reduced. But in order for such open standards to exist and continue to exist, we need a new approach to sharing ideas. I suggest that social bookmarking/publication sites[1] might be the beginning of a sharing/knowledge environment that encourages such an approach.

What this might mean for the v3 licence is that if companies [have] opened their hardware technology to competitors, then the remaining place they can make money is in service offerings, by enforcing some kind of lock in (private keys etc) for the sake of consistency between their hardware and the software that runs on it.

So I generally think that while the software should be modifiable and 'free' to everyone, preventing the possibility of commercial gain is a bad idea. With retail margins for common devices so small, my feeling is that the services are where most companies are making their crust now. If the kernel adopted v3 then where would that leave businesses wanting to use linux?

[1] http://www.bibsonomy.org is one experimental example I've come across.

Update 20th June: Linus had this eloquent statement to represent his point clearly

Update 21st June: We are reminded that Linus recently performed a quick pole of 30 primary maintainers of kernel code and for varying reasons, few dissimilar to Linus's own standpoint, all said that they would not support the adoption of the v3 license.

Update 30th June: GPL version 3 has been officially released!

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