For the past couple of weeks, I have been more than a little
pensive about the nature of the new GNU General Public License
(v3). Since the last set of drafts have come out, I have been
concerned that the whole thing seems obstructionist to what I
believe we should be focusing on: getting computers to work
together and moving past this whole will-they-won't-they
Lately, certain events have made me stop and see the problem
more from the side of the free/open source software developers. The
GPLv3 may, at first, seem like a legal bouncer to keep Microsoft
and other vendors out of the open source club. I must admit, that's
how I felt about it. Perhaps, looking past that analogy, the real
purpose of the new license is to let the proprietary vendors
in--but make darn sure they behave themselves.
Microsoft's own efforts to extol Open XML as an open standard to
various institutions reminded me this week that throughout all of
it's history, the company's primary goal is to get and retain as
much of the IT market share as it can, by hook or by crook. This
has cast the efforts of the GPLv3 framers as less obstructionist
and more protectionist. If proprietary vendors want to play in the
open source sandbox, then they need to know that they have to share
the toys fairly.
That said, I'd like to address another concern about the
aforementioned Open XML "standard." While I agree that
interoperability is important, why is it so important that said
interoperability has to be on Microsoft's terms? In all of the
hullabaloo about Linux vendors making patent protection agreements
for their customers, we may have missed the real reason for
Redmond's largess: getting those vendors to opt to work on Open XML
translators for OpenOffice.org.
It should have been the other way around. Xandros, Linspire,
Turbolinux, and Novell should have stood their ground and insisted
the interoperability work be to get Microsoft Office to work with
the Open Document Format (ODF). Now we have the untenable situation
where Linux vendors are implicitly endorsing the proprietary
(because that's what it is, make no mistake) Open XML format.
And you know how that will play out: if anyone actually wakes up
and starts to ask real questions about the openness of Open XML,
all Microsoft has to say is "look, even Linux vendors recognize how
important Open XML is. They must think it's better than ODF!"
So, by threatening everything and promising
nothing (because would Microsoft really
sue anyone for patents, knowing how many competitors in the Linux
community have patents of their own?), Microsoft has skillfully
managed to get open source players to endorse Open XML. A variant
of the classic Badger Game if I
ever heard one.
Faced with cons like this, I am beginning to realize that having
something like the GPLv3 around is a very good idea. Even though
the new GPL could not have prevented this scam, it may help in the