Torvalds: GPL Needs Minor Work

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-11-29 Print this article Print

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, weighs in on the upcoming challenges facing GPL Version 3.

The GNU General Public License, which is the most widely used free-software license and is used to license the open-source Linux kernel, is set for its first revision in 13 years. Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, last week weighed in on the upcoming challenges facing GPL Version 3 in an e-mail interview with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli.

There are reports you have had problems with the GPL and, at one point, were looking at another license for Linux. Is this correct?

I dont think the GPL is perfect, and one of my issues has been how verbose it is. Another is just the politics involved, which I havent always enjoyed. For example, for another small project, I use the Open Source License (OSL), which is more to the point and not as political, but [it] has otherwise similar approaches as the GPL. But, hey, nothing is ever perfect. So while I may have some niggling concerns with the GPL, they are in the details, and in the end, I actually think that the GPL simply is the best license for the kernel.

Eben Moglen [general counsel for the Free Software Foundation] says the priorities for GPL Version 3 should be intellectual property licensing and patent issues, network software issues, trusted computing concerns, and international copyright law. Are these your priority issues as well?

Im a big-picture thinker when it comes to licenses, which really means that in the end, I dont care as much about the actual details as Eben [Moglen] does. So, no. My concerns about a GPL [Version] 3 arent the same as his. My biggest concern is that licenses are something ... personal to developers, and even trivial modifications to the GPL will cause endless debates, and that can easily derail any attempts to improve it. In the end, while I certainly dont tend to agree with the FSF on all the politics, I think the fact that the FSF does control the license and [FSF founder] Richard Stallman has a lot of respect in the community means that a new license is possible.

Click here to read an column calling for revisions to the GNU Public License. Moglen says the FSF is committed to open discussions about changes to the GPL. Do you think this is the way to go?

In the sense that its going to waste a ton of time, no. But in the sense that anything else would be a total disaster and much, much worse, then a huge resounding yes. I dont think the FSF can afford anything but a very open discussion on the issues.

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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