Debate Looms for GPL 3 Draft

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-01-08 Print this article Print

The first draft of GNU General Public License Version 3 will be unveiled next week.

The first draft of GNU General Public License Version 3 will be unveiled next week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., but that milestone is likely to be more of a beginning than an ending. The release of the draft will kick off months of debate over the content and exact wording of the license that will govern much open-source software for the foreseeable future.

This is the first time in 15 years that the GPL, which governs many open-source projects, including the Linux kernel, has been updated to reflect the current IT environment.

Sources said that the first draft will contain some type of patent protection and address the issues of intellectual property licensing, trusted computing and how to deal with software used over a network.

The authors of the first draft, Richard Stallman, the licenses original author, and Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation—both of whom will address attendees at the GPL event—would not confirm details of the draft, but it is expected to be fairly technical and complex in nature.

Click here to read more about the GPL Version 3 from Eben Moglen. Moglen told eWEEK that the license needs to be changed to acknowledge that the art of computer programming has changed dramatically since 1991. "Those changes in programming paradigms are neither better nor worse than the paradigms they replaced, or of those that will replace them going forward," Moglen said.

The license revision process is not expected to be without some controversy and disagreement, particularly about Web services and whether the new license is a strong "copyleft" one. Copyleft is a method for making a program, and all its successive versions, free.

"I do not believe that we will reach consensus on this front, so I believe the license will have to accommodate options as to the question of Web services, but this must be squared with the ideological pursuit of freedom," Moglen said.

The next version of the LGPL (Lesser GPL) will be completed in the same cycle as GPL Version 3, Moglen said, but it will be taken a little out of phase. The issues around GPL 3 will likely be first discussed and then a draft version of LGPL 3 will likely be released, although no final decisions have been made on that.

The final version of GPL 3 will come out following a year of input, discussions and compromises from all relevant communities and just about anyone who wants to participate. The goal is to have the new license in use by early next year, about the time Windows Vista ships and before Windows Server "Longhorn" heads out the door, thereby putting pressure on Microsoft Corp. and its proprietary licensing policy and constant-upgrade model, a source said.

Some Linux users, such as Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource Pty. Ltd., a Linux and open-source solutions company in Melbourne, Australia, said they believe that the GPL has precipitated a sea change in the understanding of IP.

But Zymaris cautioned that "it is because of this great importance that the next version of the license has to be seen to be the best possible implementation of the wishes and needs of the free software community. It cant impose painful measures, and it cant deviate from the spirit of the previous license, or it risks reduced uptake. Developers will still be able to resort to Version 2 of the GPL."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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