The Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center on Wednesday released the road map for the long-awaited revision of the GNU General Public License.
The GPL is the single most important open-source license. The FSF estimates that almost three-quarters of all open-source software is distributed under it.
The current version, Version 2, however, is over 15 years old and doesnt deal with issues such as software patents that have become increasingly more important to developers.
In addition, as research house Gartner Inc. has pointed out, since more than 75 percent of IT organizations will have formal acquisition and management strategies for open-source software by 2010, business managers will also need to work with the GPL.
So, after much discussion, the FSF will be releasing the first draft of the new license for comment at the International Public Conference for GPLv3 at MIT on Jan. 16 and 17, 2006.
"The guiding principle for developing the GPL is to defend the freedom of all users," Richard M. Stallman, FSFs founder, said in a statement.
"As we address the issues raised by the community, we will do so in terms of the four basic freedoms software users are entitled to—to study, copy, modify and redistribute the software they use. GPLv3 will be designed to protect those freedoms under current technical and social conditions and will address new forms of use and current global requirements for commercial and non-commercial users," Stallman said.
After publishing this draft, the FSF will begin a structured process of eliciting feedback from the community, with the goal of producing a final license by the spring of 2007.
The complete process is described on the FSFs Web site under "GPLv3 Process Definition."
"It is an exciting time in the history of software, particularly in the history of the Free Software movement," Eben Moglen, general counsel to the FSF and founding director of the SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center), said in a statement.
"Through this process, all voices will be heard. We will evaluate every opinion and will consider all arguments in light of the GPLs goals. The process is accessible, transparent and public for all those who want to participate."
The exact details remain to be hammered out during the year-long process. For example, there has been some discussion of including a patent retaliation clause, but nothing has been decided yet.
"We welcome the FSFs announcement of efforts to improve the GPL through an open, inclusive and international public process committed to the software freedoms that have made the GPL successful," said Michael Cunningham, general counsel for Red Hat Inc.
Still, for all that creating a new GPL will be an open process, it will not be a democratic process. As Moglen said at the recent Open Source Business Conference in Newton, Mass., the rewrite of the GPL is not an election and there will be no voting on its clauses. Instead, the FSF will have the final decision on the shape of GPL 3.