Phoronix: Super! Patented Mesa Floating-Point Is Merged!
Here's quite a pleasant surprise to wake up to this morning: OpenGL floating-point textures and render-targets support has finally been merged to mainline Mesa master! The drawn-out process that began more than a month ago is finally over...
The Linux Foundation is only good at issuing PR statements and contests.
And paying Linus's bills? Troll fail.
Back on topic: This is very cool, because you can quickly switch between mesa libs, even for a specific application, so it's pretty easy to compile mesa in your home dir and run games with it.
You could already do this before, but now the code is always integrated, you don't have to worry about bitrot, and maybe intel and nouveau will add support too!
This is great news, but it raises a lot of questions.
Is this essentially the same situation as ffmpeg is in with patented codecs? If so, third party apt and yum repositories will probably start building mesa with these config options turned on before long.
If "I" (hypothetically) live in and host a server in a country where software patents are outlawed, is it legal for me to distribute compiled binaries of the program containing patented algorithms, to: (a) people who are *also* in countries where software patents are outlawed; and (b) people who are in countries where software patents are *legal*? Further, what is my risk of getting sued in foreign courts by patent holders who accuse me of distributing it to people in category (b), whether or not I ever have?
Finally, would it be possible for someone to go "the Fluendo route" (alluding to their work with their Gstreamer codecs), and legally license the patents in such a way that SGI/S3/Apple/Nvidia/Matrox get their fscking money, while still allowing people to use the latest and greatest Mesa with all the patented algorithms enabled?
Maybe they could set up an automated build system that does a git pull from mesa every hour, and provides the builds in an authenticated FTP directory for people who buy a subscription to their Mesa-patent-licenses. To be strictly legal, they would have to use the company's provided binaries because the users themselves aren't licensed to produce works based on the patents, only to consume works produced by the patent licensee. So if you want a new feature in Mesa, you don't even have to go beg your distributor: just get the feature committed to master, and within the hour your distributor will build blessed-Mesa for you, providing a fully licensed ClosedGL implementation.
So you would basically just rely on this company to provide you with builds that are blessed by the patent holders, and each build would just be considered a release of the same software with an improved version. I doubt the patent holders would consider it any different if you make a software release every hour or once a year -- what they want is a continuing revenue stream from the user base.
Zack Rusin said that this can't be done while respecting the four freedoms of Free Software in his blog, but what if it's just a subscription to a build service whose only job is to broker the patent deal between you and the licensors, and then provide you with a legal build from git master? Can you say that you don't have the source code if it's sitting right there in master? It seems an awful lot like free software to me! The big question would be whether patent holders would be OK with this kind of licensing terms. I think they would, because as long as you make a real effort to prevent unlicensed users from downloading your blessed builds (e.g. SFTP or HTTPS downloads), the patent holders know they'll get their money.
Unless they just want to say "no" in order to stonewall free software, and no other reason. I could definitely see Nvidia doing that, and maybe SGI. Apple actually releases and relies upon significant open source software, so I think they might agree to let go of their patent under these terms.
My last question: Does anyone seriously think that a patent holder on a ClosedGL patent is going to go after end-users for compiling this software themselves, for their own personal use on their own computer, without distributing it to anyone? The number of end-users they would be able to sue would probably be measured in the hundreds or low thousands -- that's not nearly as lucrative as the music and video copyright cartels and the hundreds of millions of users out there who've ever downloaded a song. Considering that a lawsuit in this area costs a ton of money, the lawyers would end up keeping most of it, and the company would get very little out of your average person. With so few people willing to compile Mesa themselves, this doesn't seem likely to ever become a real issue for personal users.
But I'd still err on the side of caution -- you never know...