Editor's Note: Which Road To Take?
Dec 08, 2006, 23:30 (27 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
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By Brian Proffitt
It could be just me, but why does the thought of adding a clause
to the GPL 3 just to keep deals like the Microsoft-Novell
collaboration from happening seem vaguely... wrong?
I think what's making me uncomfortable is something I recall
from Government class in high school--that to create a law against
one person or group in the US is supposed to be unconstitutional.
Granted, writing a license like GPL 3 is not like writing a law,
because unlike a law, people have a choice to use software licensed
under GPL 3 or not. It's not universally applied to users of any
software, so it can be avoided, if the user so chooses.
So why, deep in the corners of my brain, does this just feel
I understand the potential dangers posed by a litigious
Microsoft aiming their patent portfolio against commercial open
source software vendors. I really do, and I am not advocating that
the business and development communities should sit placidly on
their hands and wait for said portfolio to go off. But is adjusting
the new GPL 3, already seen by some in and outside of the community
as a non-starter, really the answer?
I honestly don't know.
I don't usually see myself as indecisive, but I am of two minds
on this topic. On one side, I have a simple motto, directed at
Redmond: prove it. Bring it. Raise, call, and show that hand.
Personally, I don't think you have anything, because if you did you
would have destroyed Linux long before it became a
multi-billion--with a B--dollar industry. (Unless Microsoft blew
Linux off like they blew off the Internet until the late 1990s.)
And I am not alone in the assessment. Right after making his
comments regarding potential patent infringement, the IT industry
basically said the same thing to Ballmer: put up or shut up. The
outcome of a negated patent threat is clear: Windows and Linux
would find themselves competing on the basis of cost and
technology, instead of possible legal threats. In such a
competition, Microsoft would find itself at a disadvantage.
This approach, then, is to ignore the legal stuff and build
But, on the other side, we are living with the vague innuendo
put out there by Microsoft and some have seen it necessary to
compete with Microsoft on that level. If Microsoft gets litigious,
then Linux will respond in kind--adjusting its licenses to actively
prevent legal battles. If Novell wants to stretch the GPL 2 to its
limits, then make it impossible to do so with the GPL 3 and let
them be hoist on their own petards.
Actively negating legal attacks is the other approach that some
Which is correct?
Clearly, the latter is making me edgy, and I find myself asking
is it because of my disinclination away from politics? Or is
something genuinely wrong with the legal approach?
One facet of the change-the-GPL argument that I don't agree with
is the assertion by some that Microsoft and other corporate types
are out to kill the GPL altogether. I don't buy this argument,
because as I've written before, I think that it's actually
commercial Linux and open source software products--which takes
money directly out of proprietary vendors' wallets--that are the
real targets. From my perspective, making this about the license is
the wrong approach, because efforts are being deflected away from
the arenas where OSS can readily win. It's distracting.
The only thing that keeps me from outright decrying the GPL 3
alterations as a bad idea is the notion that maybe, just maybe, its
is time to draw the line in the sand. It's been too easy in the
past to label the position of the Free Software Foundation as
"reactionary" and "zealous." Maybe, when all is said and done, they
have a point and it will take a legal stand against proprietary
vendors to give OSS the room it needs to thrive.
One thing I do know, as we all negotiate the path of our choice:
care must be taken to avoid overreacting to events as they happen.
I have talked to a number of people who have expressed surprise at
the vehemence and swiftness that people have chosen sides. You are
either for Novell or against Novell these days, and any one on the
other side is the Enemy.
People are having trouble expressing that they are all for Linux
and open source--a divisiveness that is very likely not escaping
the notice of the proprietary vendors.