Jun. 12, 2007

The good news for GNU GPLv3 (General Public License version 3) supporters is that Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, thinks the final draft is better than the earlier ones. The bad news is that he has "yet to see any actual reasons for licensing under the GPLv3."

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In a discussion on the LKML (Linux Kernel Mailing List) over the possibility of using both GPLv2, the open-source license now used by Linux, and GPLv3, which is scheduled to be finalized on June 29, Torvalds weighed in saying, "I consider dual-licensing unlikely (and technically quite hard), but at least _possible_ in theory."

While Torvalds said he was "impressed [by the latest GPLv3 draft] in the sense that it was a hell of a lot better than the disaster that were the earlier drafts," that doesn't mean he actually likes it. "I still think GPLv2 is simply the better license," Torvalds continued.

Besides, he dismisses most of the arguments for the GPLv3. "All I've heard are shrill voices about "tivoization" (which I expressly think is ok) and panicked worries about Novell-MS (which seems way overblown, and quite frankly, the argument seems to not so much be about the Novell deal, as about an excuse to push the GPLv3)." In "Tivoization" a device-maker uses GPLv2 code, such as Linux, but doesn't release sufficient details of the system to enable users to install modified source code on the device (for example, signature keys required for modified binaries to run), under the argument that the appliance's software was never meant to be user accessible.

In a latter message though, Torvalds concedes that there is at least one thing that might make him consider recommending Linux's copyright owners to change to the GPLv3. "If Sun really _is_ going to release OpenSolaris under GPLv3, that _may_ be a good reason. I don't think the GPLv3 is as good a license as v2, but on the other hand, I'm pragmatic, and if we can avoid having two kernels with two different licenses and the friction that causes, I at least see the _reason_ for GPLv3. As it is, I don't really see a reason at all."

Sun has gone back and forth on its commitment to place OpenSolaris under the GPLv3. After the news first broke that Sun was planning on dual-licensing OpenSolaris under the GPLv3 and its existing CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), Richard Green, Sun's executive VP of software, denied that Sun had made any such hard plans.

Torvalds also doubts that Sun will place OpenSolaris under the GPLv3 but, "hey, I didn't really expect them to open-source Java either, so it's not like I'm infallible in my predictions."

Torvalds isn't the only Linux leader who sees little chance of the bulk of Linux code moving to the GPLv3. Andrew Morton, the lead maintainer of the Linux 2.6 kernel, said, "I have yet to see Linus make a statement on these matters with which I didn't agree."

With little, if any, real support inside the core group of Linux developers, it seems very unlikely that Linux will become covered by the GPLv3.


-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols