Founders Strive to Do No Evil in GPL 3 Process

To head off controversy, open-source founders will present the community with a set of guiding principals to govern the GPL 3 process, and a timeline to judge its progress.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—With patent pressures growing in the computer industry, the licensing foundation for a majority open-source projects is under review. On Wednesday, industry heavyweights here will seek to reassure the community over the process slated for the GNU General Public License 3, offering a statement of principals to govern that process, and a timeline to judge its progress.

The first discussion draft of the next version of the GNU General Public License (GPL) Version 3 is currently on track to be released in the first week of January 2006. Then, after a year of public comment and the writing of the final text, the final version should arrive early 2007—more than 15 years after GPL 2 was released.

But, even before that first draft version is released, will come a document that says how the process is going to take place and when it will be over. That process document is slated for release around the beginning of November this year, according to Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation.

GPL 3 aims to address a range of issues facing open-source developers and vendors, including intellectual property licensing and patent concerns, the question of how to deal with software used over a network, and trusted computing. However, the changes and its process present the potential to disrupt the Linux community, just as its gaining some traction in the enterprise.

The GPL, which is the most widely used free-software license, was created by Free Software Foundation (FSF) founder Richard Stallman, who last updated it in 1991. The initial draft of Version 3 is being written by Stallman and Eben Moglen.

"We are going to set the rules before we start the game. I want people to know how it is going to be played and I want people to know when it is going to be over. I want to limit uncertainties, not increase them," Moglen told eWEEK in an interview at the annual LinuxWorld San Francisco conference on Tuesday.

The FSF was also committed to conducting the GPL 3 process in a transparent way, with all the cards out on the table, he said.

Along with the release of the first discussion draft of the license would come a rationale document that would explain why every change was made and also why some things were not changed. "I want to give reasons, as this is a conversation we are starting, not an election," Moglen said.

"This is not going to be treated like an election campaign. This is a seminar and we are going to come to the table prepared, so that the conversation starts off in an intelligent and moderate and thoughtful way," he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about changes planned for GPL 3.

Also on the cards for September is the formation of advisory committees that will be organized vertically around major parts of the community, from vendors to major users to the major development projects and unaffiliated developers, Moglen said.

"We will use those committees first to consult with us about how to consult with the communities they represent, so as to help us with comment and the organization of the comment on the substance of the license. We will also use the best off-the-shelf free software technology that we know of in the world for e-deliberation," he said.

Moglen declined to be more specific about what that software might be, saying he was actively studying the matter and would soon announce what looked like the best solution. He has also been doing a large amount of research and studying to figure out what the scale of the process is likely to be.

"After studying a lot of large e-deliberation events in the Net, from the W3 Consortium to the Linux Kernel mailing list and the Debian process, I have concluded that we ought to forecast for as many as 150,000 individuals to have comments on GPL 3 and there could be as many as 8,000 organizations, governments, foundations, groups and businesses around the world that may want to contribute. This is an enormous number of people, who have a vast diversity of opinions," Moglen said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about how changes in business models are changing open source.

As such, three guiding basic principles would be established at the outset of the process: first, do no harm; second, adopt no provision whose consequences you might not understand; and third, respect all stakeholders equally, he said.

Next Page: Downplaying the Expectations