Sun CTO: New License Protects Developer Rights

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-02-07

Sun CTO: New License Protects Developer Rights

Sun Microsystems chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos on Monday added his voice to the chorus of Sun executives explaining their rationale for using the newly created Common Development and Distribution License for their Open Solaris project.

"Open software is fundamentally about developer freedom," Papadopoulos said.

But many in the open-source community, including Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds, believe that Sun chose to create the CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) to specifically avoid letting its Solaris code be able to be combined with code licensed under the GPL (GNU General Public License).

"We want developers to freely use any of the Open Solaris code that we developed for their purposes without any fear of IP [intellectual property] infringement of Sun: either patent or copyright. We chose a license, the CDDL, an improvement of MPL [Mozilla Public License], that clearly and explicitly gives that freedom," he said.

But Torvalds said he sees no such freedom in the license choice, telling eWEEK recently that Sun "wants to keep a moat against the barbarians at the gate."

"I think there are parallels with the Java well control the process model," he said. "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."

In comments posted to his first "official" blog on Monday and titled "My views on open source," Papdopoulos disagreed, further defending the CDDL by saying that complementary to developer freedoms are developer rights. He said code developers do have rights to the code they have developed, as this is, after all, the fruit of their labor.

"By choosing to place that code under an open-source license, a developer surrenders some of those rights to the community in the hopes of a beneficial exchange. No open-source license surrenders all rights. The way you do that is to place code in the public domain," he said.

Adding fuel to the fire of which license is more open, Papadopoulos said the CDDL is "more liberal in its IP license than even the GPL, because it gives a clear patent license and doesnt demand the same viral propagation."

"Yes, I know thats a view divergent from many who believe GPL is open source, but I happen to believe choice and freedom go hand in hand," he said.

Next Page: Playing by the rules?

Playing by Rules

He said the GPL is more explicit than the BSD license—which is essentially a simple copyright grant—about IP grants and the duty to republish any changes or improvements that are made to the code, he said.

"Its all about community-building. But its not a free beer license," Papadopoulos said. "If you dont play by the rules, then you neither are afforded the IP protection nor are you entitled to copy the code.

"Just to be clear, you cant take code under GPL that you havent written and place it under another license. And you dont get a patent grant for any of the ideas expressed in that code that you choose to recode under a different license," he said.

"Even so, by putting something under GPL, you still have a lot to say about what can and cant be done with it," Papadopoulos said.

The reason other open software licenses are being developed is because the terms of the GPL are often considered too restrictive. The MPL (Mozilla Public License), for example, removed the viral requirement, and it allows code of different licenses to be co-mingled.

Some of Suns largest competitors are welcoming the dissention over the CDDL. Efrain Rovira, worldwide director of Linux marketing at Hewlett-Packard Co., in Palo Alto, Calif., told eWEEK that 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," he said.

But Papadopoulos said developers could take any or all of the Solaris modules and, if they respected the basic license terms of propagating it and making public any improvements or bug fixes, they could "do with it as they please."

"Embed it any product. Build your own custom distributions. Intermix with any other code you wish—assuming that code lets you do it. You can do any of that, and you get a grant to any patents we might have covering our code. Thats an explicit part of the license," he said.

The only thing Sun asks in exchange was the same thing that Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and author of the GPL, and Torvalds and every other open-source developer asked in exchange: "that the license be honored," he said.

But some users said they disagree with that assessment. "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."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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