Sun License Thumbs Nose at GPL

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-12-13 Print this article Print

Sun's open-source license proposal for Open Solaris will surely be unpopular.

Sun Microsystems Inc. has already raised the ire of many in the open-source and Linux community with its submission of a new open-source license proposal for Open Solaris.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company last month quietly submitted for approval the new CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) to the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit group that reviews licenses and awards official open-source status to those that meet the OSIs Open Source Definition.

The problem, sources said, is that the CDDL will have conflicts with the GPL (GNU General Public License), which will discourage developers from participating in the Open Solaris project, further shunning Sun from the open-source community.

The CDDL is a modified version of the MPL (Mozilla Public License Version 1.1). In an official statement accompanying the CDDL proposal, Sun officials said none of the more than 50 open-source licenses currently approved by the OSI was acceptable to Suns specific needs.

"The MPL came closest to meeting our needs," the proposal reads. "We felt that it had a number of issues, though, which prevented us from simply using that license or one of its variants."

The OSI will announce in the next few weeks if the license meets the Open Source Definition. The fact that a license is not compatible with the GPL does not preclude it from being certified as open source, as long as it meets the OSI criteria for being "open" and the code can be shared among contributors and redistributed by them.

Eric Raymond, president of the OSI, in Malvern, Pa., would not comment on the CDDL submission but expressed doubts to eWEEK earlier this year about the usefulness of many open licenses. "Most of the new licenses weve seen in the last five years are acts of vanity that didnt actually solve any substantive or legal problems," he said at the time.

Sun officials, including Chief Operating Officer and President Jonathan Schwartz, have long said that they will seek a license approved by the OSI for Open Solaris and that they have reservations about using the GPL. But they have not said they are considering a license that is incompatible with the GPL, the most widely used open-source license, which governs the Linux kernel.

Claire Giordano, a member of Suns CDDL team, said in a letter accompanying the submission that "like the Mozilla Public License, the CDDL is not expected to be compatible with the GPL, since it contains requirements that are not in the GPL. Thus, it is likely that files released under the CDDL will not be able to be combined with files released under the GPL to create a larger program."

Simon Phipps, Suns chief technology evangelist, said that the CDDL is open to comment and that Sun is still working on it. Phipps would not comment on the issue of its GPL compatibility except to say that the Mozilla license and several other open-source licenses are incompatible with the GPL. "The debate isnt finished," he said. "There are still multiple Opinions inside Sun on which license to use for Open Solaris, and we are still looking at other options."

Click here to read about Suns upcoming Solaris 10 operating system. Some open-source developers are angered by the CDDL move because Sun has already integrated some GPL technologies into Solaris. Now, they said, Sun merely wants to stop its own technologies licensed under the CDDL from getting into GPL-licensed software projects. "I suspect Sun would be overjoyed if open-source software continued to flourish, but Linux somehow vanished from the scene," said Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource Pty. Ltd., a Linux and open-source solutions company in Melbourne, Australia. "I will now have to choose between supporting development and adding momentum to Open Solaris or to Linux. I will choose Linux. Our customers have."

Some of Suns largest competitors are welcoming the dissention over the CDDL. Efrain Rovira, worldwide director of Linux marketing for Hewlett-Packard Co., in Palo Alto, Calif., said he enjoys competing with Sun when it continues to make mistakes such as this.

"They will not be able to build a viable community to support Open Solaris if they use the CDDL," Rovira said. "What they are saying to the community about their support for open source and Linux is that they are half pregnant. There are no half measures here: You either are or you arent. This is part of the schizophrenic attitude we continue to see coming out of Sun."

Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds also weighed in, saying he believes that, from Suns perspective, the CDDL had to be incompatible with the GPL. Sun "wants to keep a moat against the barbarians at the gate," he wrote in an e-mail interview. Torvalds said he does not expect developers clamoring to start playing with that source code.

"Nobody wants to play with a crippled version [of Solaris]. I, obviously, do believe that theyll have a hard time getting much of a community built up," Torvalds wrote. "I think there are parallels with the Java well control the process model. I personally think that their problem is that they want to control the end result too much, and because of that they wont get any of the real advantages of open source."

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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