Sun Proposes New Open-Source License

 
 
By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-12-03
 
 
 

Sun Microsystems Inc. has proposed a new open-source license to the Open Source Initiative, but Linus Torvalds and others doubt that it will help Sun create an open-source community.

The new Common Development and Distribution License, or CDDL, is based on the MPL (Mozilla Public License 1.1). Although there are more than 50 open-source licenses currently approved by the OSI, Sun said in the proposed licenses executive summary that none of them was acceptable.

"We have carefully reviewed the existing OSI approved licenses and found none of them to meet our needs, and thus have reluctantly drafted a new open-source license based on the Mozilla Public License, version 1.1."

In the proposal, Sun said that it worked hard to make the CDDL as reusable as possible. "Additionally, we have attempted to address the problems we perceived in existing open-source licenses that led us to conclude that reusing those existing licenses was impractical," the company said in the proposal.

Sun will presumably use the new license for its long-promised release of an open-source Solaris, but company officials have not spelled out what the CDDL would be used for. "Were not linking this license to any product here at Sun," said Russ Castronovo, a Sun spokesman.

In early November, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz seemingly contradicted what he and other Sun executives have said about the lack of suitability of using the GNU General Public License for Open Solaris. "We have not ruled out the GPL in the least, and the odds are as good for such a license as for any other type of license," Schwartz said at the time.

According to Claire Giordano, a member of Suns CDDL team and the person who submitted the new license to the OSI, the new license wont be compatible with the GPL.

"Like the MPL, the CDDL is not expected to be compatible with the GPL, since it contains requirements that are not in the GPL (for example, the patent peace provision in section 6). 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," Giordano said.

Some developers arent happy with this move.

"It seems to me that the CDDL, as currently articulated by Sun representatives, should be named the One Way Street license," said Jason Perlow, an integrator and developer.

"The fact that Sun has chosen various GPL technologies to be integrated in Solaris, such as the GNOME desktop, but now seeks to prevent [pertinent] technologies of Sun origin licensed under CDDL from making their way into GPL-licensed systems and software projects, such as GNU/Linux and the GNU tool set, would tend to dissuade the open-source software community at large from participating in the open-source Solaris project and related ports as a whole," Perlow said.

"If [Sun] proceeds in such a selfish fashion I would write off any community-driven efforts on Suns behalf completely," he added.

Click here to read about the efforts underway to revise the GPL.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds shares some of Perlows concerns, but he doesnt think the license itself is the biggest issue. "I think the real problem Sun faces is not the license details as much as trying to build up enough of a community around the source base that the license would matter," Torvalds told eWEEK.com.

"The problem Sun has in that regard is actually somewhat visible in the license: They are not going to open-source everything, and the reason I say that is visible in the license is that the license clearly allows linking with other proprietary code, something Sun needs to be able to do itself," he said.

The decision not to open-source everything in the license was likely the result of a combination of issues, Torvalds said. Its "partly Sun wanting to maintain control, and partly … Sun not being even legally able to release those parts of Solaris that they dont have full ownership on."

As a result, Torvalds said, it will be tough for Sun to find support in the open-source software community. "The community that Sun must be hoping to gather round Solaris will likely always play second fiddle to Sun itself. … Theyll have a very hard time getting any real community."

He contrasted Suns CDDL with the wide-open nature of the GPL. "One of the beauties of the GPL," he said, is that "you have to totally give up control over the project (because everybody literally has the same rights to the whole project), but exactly because nobody can control it, it makes everybody feel like true owners."

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