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Editor's Note: Runners, Take Your Mark

Mar 23, 2007, 22:30 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

There is a fair to middlin' chance that GPL v3 will be announced this weekend at the Free Software Foundation's annual associate member and activist meeting in Cambridge, MA. The theme of the conference is "Year of the Upgrade," and keynote speakers Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen are scheduled to discuss what issues will be important to the free software community after the release of GPL v3, whenever that is.

Given that this event is happening at just about the right time, it is reasonable to assume that the FSF will use the forum to make what is sure to be a historic announcement. Even if they don't actually release the final license, I would lay better odds that there will be at least another draft, or a final release date set.

But the question I have to ask is, will any of this be relevant?

I posed this question to Bruce Perens after his press conference this Monday, out on the front steps of the Shilo Inn, where a bunch of us had gathered after the actual press event ended. Some might say I was being a pain in the ass. (In fact, I prefaced my question with just that very characterization, though Perens said he didn't mind.) But here's my concern: I have become increasingly worried that the final draft of GPL v3 is going to be too polarizing, political, or radical for developers to adopt it.

Perens disagrees with me. In fact, he states that right now GPL v2, the current version, is a license that is the most business-friendly open source license that exists right now. He doesn't believe a new version will deviate from that general philosophy. Still, it's hard to ignore the ongoing negative comments from Linus Torvalds and the core kernel developers about the license's drafts. That could be a sign of things to come, I indicated.

But Perens thinks that Torvalds is absolutely wrong in his assertions about GPL v3, particularly the DRM concerns. This intrigued me, because I raised those DRM concerns myself in an article posted earlier this month regarding the future of the Linux desktop. Perens explained that it's a misconception that GPL v3 will forbid DRM altogether. Rather, he asserted, the license just specifies exactly where in the software stack DRM can reside. As long as DRM stays within one of four suitable locations between user, hardware, and code, then it's all good.

If this is indeed the case, then my arguments regarding DRM being used as a potential weapons against the desktop will have to be altered to include that fact. Just the presence of DRM won't trip up developers from using GPL v3 code--it will only be an issue if a DRM layer is not in a valid position in the stack.

There is an old military saying about the word "assume": it make an "ass" out of "u" and "me." And while I don't think anyone has completely reached the "ass" stage yet, there have been a lot of theories bandied about about a post-GPL v3 future. Some of them will be right and some will be wrong. What I think we will all need to do, when the license is eventually released, is pause, read, pause again, and read it one more time before running off opinions.

Myself, I assure you, included.