Its been over two years now since the Free Software Foundation started to seriously work on revising that key open-source license, the General Public License. On March 28, were finally going to get ... the next draft.
Ive got a bad feeling about this.
I always knew that there would be a lot of trouble getting the GPLv3 out the door. As I foresaw back in November 2004, the fight over what should, and shouldnt, be in the GPLv3 has turned into a "long, bitter dispute." I didnt think, however, it would be this bad.
The Free Software Foundation has insisted that the GPLv3 includes strong, clear language that addresses patent problems in general and the recent Novell-Microsoft patent agreement in specific.
The Novell/Microsoft deal has proven to be a real problem child, and it is the main reason why the GPLv3 is still lagging.
Now, Im no lawyer, but boy do I have a lot of friends who are lawyers. Their informal consensus is that getting clauses into the GPLv3 that will block similar deals from happening in the future while avoiding cutting legitimatize software patents uses off at the knees is going to be almost impossible.
I have all the respect in the world for Eben Moglen, the chief legal mind behind the GPLv3. But, Im willing to wager a small amount of money that hed agree that finding a way to block future Novell/Microsoft patent deals has been extremely difficult.
In fact, some of the legal eagles Ive talked to think that its impossible. They may be right. If you look closely at how the FSF (Free Software Foundation) is proposing to handle the revision process for the GPLv3, the earliest wed see a final for GPLv3 will be mid-summer 2007.
It could be longer. It could be a lot longer.
Theres room in that schedule for almost endless debates, and I think thats exactly what were going to have.
And, lest we forget, Linus "Linux" Torvalds has no use for the GPLv3 for Linux. On the other hand, he is mild-mannered compared to many of the other core Linux developers who think that the GPLv3 could kill open source.
Now, there are some, like free software leader Bruce Perens who believe that, while "Linus Torvalds and some other kernel team members dont like it today," in one or two years the kernel team might see fit to switch Linux to GPLv3.
I dont think they will. For them, the GPLv3 will be dead on arrival whenever it shows up. But you know what? At this point, I have no idea when were really going to see a GPLv3.
If you think back, you may recall that companies, even open-source friendly ones like HP were still not happy in general with the last GPLv3 draft patent language. Are they going to be happy now? With the carefully restrictive language that will be needed to block another Microsoft/Novell patent deal? I doubt it. At this point, I quite seriously dont expect to see the GPLv3 arrive for another year, at the earliest. And you know what? I really wouldnt be surprised if were still fussing over whats what in the GPLv3 in 2010.