The BusinessWeek article is valuable in that it touches on some incompatibilities amongst the parties speaking up about the GPLv3 drafts. Unfortunately some of the conclusions the article draws give undeserved credit and misreport others’ intentions.
- Contrary to what the Slashdot poster maintains, there is no
hold-upin getting GPLv3 out. GPLv3 is on schedule. The documents that lead up to the public releases of the draft GPLv3s specify when (L)GPLv3 work will be released (all documents concerning GPLv3 work can be found online).
- The GPL is properly credited as a free software license. It was written by RMS (chiefly), Eben Moglen, and others at the Free Software Foundation. This is the first version of the GPL that anyone from the open source movement has had any say in because prior versions of the GPL were released before there was an open source movement. The Open Source Initiative started the open source movement in 1997, years after the first two GPLs came out. The Open Source Initiative placed the GPLv2 on a list of approved licenses. Placing a license on a list of approved licenses hardly compares with writing the license and starting a social movement which uses the GPL as a constitution of sorts. If any organization is to be credited as “becom[ing] even more irrelevant”, as BW maintains, it’s the Open Source Initiative, not the Free Software Foundation. So much for the idea that we’re dealing with a meritocracy as so many open source advocates like to say.
Torvalds has shown repeatedly that he doesn’t care about software freedom either for himself or others (and the BW article touches on this). Better to take the counsel of Eben Moglen who has a profoundly deep understanding of what’s going on with GPLv3 and software freedom in general. The BW article addresses Moglen’s work, but still gives Torvalds’ views more significance than they deserve. Torvalds’ maintenance of a popular fork of the Linux kernel should not be conflated with expertise in matters of ethics, social movement building, or license writing. Torvalds deserves no credit for writing “an open-source operating system”. He deserves credit for writing the initial versions of the Linux kernel. Linux is and was a kernel, a part of a complete OS that allows other programs to harmoniously share hardware resources.
Contrary to what BusinessWeek maintains, the Linux kernel is under GPLv2 because Torvalds didn’t do the work to collect copyright assignments. Torvalds made that choice early on, the consequences of which Linux kernel users are now seeing. So the Linux kernel will remain GPLv2 not because Torvalds objects to GPLv3 but chiefly because he won’t do the relicensing work necessary to make Linux GPLv3. Perhaps someone else will do this relicensing work and create a GPLv3-covered Linux kernel; only then will Torvalds’ (often wrong) criticisms of GPLv3 come to bear. If he maintains his objections when the final GPLv3 is published, others can remove Torvalds’ code and replace it with new code. In other words, Torvalds can be replaced. BusinessWeek places Torvalds on an unjustifiably high pedestal in their article.
- Contary to discussions on Slashdot and descriptions in the BW article, Richard M. Stallman wants all published software to be free and he has no problem with making a profit publishing free software commercially or selling services tied to free software. RMS did this to support himself financially. The free software movement isn’t anti-business, in fact a license can’t be considered free if it prohibits commercial users from engaging in the freedoms of free software (one of the reasons some versions of PGP are semi-free software is that PGP only allows educational users to change the program and distribute changed versions for non-profit purposes). According to Brad Kuhn, former Executive Director at the FSF now a techie at the Software Freedom Law Center, some consultants charge hundreds of dollars an hour for GCC modifications and they have a long waiting list.
The Slashdot poster writes:
[…] the ever-more-likely possibility that the newest version of the GPL just isn’t relevant.
With TiVOization going on GPLv3 is more relevant than ever. Proprietors would like the free software community to stick with GPLv2 now that they have the means to exploit some holes in GPLv2 enforcement and GPLv2 wording. But that really gets to the heart of what proprietors fear: they see a large and growing volume of GPL-covered software they’d like to take advantage of, but they realize that if the GPLv3 prohibits them from keeping the user locked up through DRM, proprietors will have to build a system from new BSD and MIT X11-licensed software, or write their own code instead. Judging by the work embedding the Linux kernel in various devices, that’s not what these manufacturers apparently want. Eben Moglen covered this extensively in his talk at the 2006 Free Software Foundation member meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
BusinessWeek has much to learn about all of the players involved here: the free software movement, the open source movement, RMS, and Linus Torvalds.