Novell has welcomed the provisions of the fourth, and final, draft of the upcoming GNU General Public License 3.0, which allow it to include technologies under this license in SUSE Linux Enterprise, OpenSUSE and other Novell offerings.
On May 31, the Free Software Foundation released the fourth and final draft of GPL Version 3, referred to as the “final call” draft, which will be open for comments for 29 days. The final license will be released after that.
While the fourth draft says that distributors that make discriminatory patent deals after March 28 may not convey software under GPLv3, it does not stop Novell from distributing software under GPLv3 “because the patent protection they arranged with Microsoft last November can be turned against Microsoft to the communitys benefit,” FSF Executive Director Peter Brown said in a statement.
That news was welcomed by Kevan Barney, Novells senior public relations manager. “We will continue to distribute Linux and other GPLd technologies,” he said. “Nothing in the last call draft of GPLv3 suggests that the final version of that license will inhibit Novells ability to include GPLv3 technologies in SUSE Linux Enterprise, OpenSUSE and other Novell offerings as these technologies become available.
“We note that the language which grandfathered the Novell–Microsoft agreement remains in the draft. All of this is good news for our customers,” he said.
The terms of the “last call” draft also suggest that the final version of GPLv3 will not interrupt Novells partnership with Microsoft, Barney said.
“We remain committed to that partnership, which we believe will help grow the Linux market and satisfy longstanding customer needs. We look forward to providing the fruits of our joint technical interoperability to our customers and our fellow community members in accord with our previously outlined road map,” he said.
For its part, Microsoft would only reiterate its commitment to building a bridge between proprietary and open-source software, as well as its accusation that the FSF wants to destroy that bridge.
“Microsoft has been, and will remain, focused on building a bridge between the worlds of proprietary and open-source software. This is something customers have requested to address their interoperability and IP needs in a mixed-source environment and something we are committed to continuing,” said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsofts vice president of intellectual property and licensing.
“It is unfortunate that instead of encouraging industry collaboration to solve problems for customers, going forward the FSF wants to burn down this bridge,” he said.
But Richard Stallman, the FSFs founder, laments in an article he penned about why people should upgrade to GPLv3 that the explicit patent protection users get from the programs contributors and redistributors in GPLv3 does not go as far as he would have liked.
GPLv3 gives users explicit patent protection compared with the implicit patent license in GPLv2, which provides that the company that gives them a copy will not sue them, or the people they redistribute copies to, for patent infringement.
“Ideally, we would make everyone who redistributes GPL-covered code surrender all software patents, along with everyone who does not redistribute GPL-covered code. Software patents are a vicious and absurd system that puts all software developers in danger of being sued by companies they have never heard of, as well as by all the megacorporations in the field,” Stallman said.
GPLv3 prevents further patent deals like the Novell-Microsoft deal, he said, noting that Microsoft made a few mistakes in that deal—mistakes GPLv3 is using against the Redmond, Wash., software maker by extending the limited patent protection given to Novell customers to the whole community.
To take advantage of this, programs need to use GPLv3. “Microsofts lawyers were not stupid, and next time they may manage to avoid those mistakes,” Stallman said. “GPLv3 therefore says they dont get a next time. Releasing a program under GPL Version 3 protects it from Microsofts future attempts to make redistributors collect Microsoft royalties from the programs users.”
While the FSF believes that the only way to make software development safe is to abolish software patents, and it aims to achieve this someday, a software license is not the way to realize that goal, Stallman acknowledged.
“Any program, free or not, can be killed by a software patent in the hands of an unrelated party, and the programs license cannot prevent that. Only court decisions or changes in patent law can make software development safe from patents. If we tried to do this with GPLv3, it would fail,” he said.
Stallman also said that users will be able to choose whether or not to upgrade to GPLv3 as GPLv2 will remain a valid license and that there will not be a “disaster” if some programs remain under the old license while others advance to the new one.
However, the two licenses are incompatible; there is no legal way to combine code under GPLv2 with code under GPLv3 in a single program, since both are copyleft licenses and each says that “if you include code under this license in a larger program, the larger program must be under this license too,” he said. “There is no way to make them compatible. We could add a GPLv2-compatibility clause to GPLv3, but it wouldnt do the job because GPLv2 would need a similar clause.”
But Stallman is convinced that keeping a program under GPLv2 will not create problems and that the reason to migrate is because of the existing problems that GPLv3 will address, such as tivoization—where computers, called appliances, contain GPL-covered software that cannot be changed because the appliance shuts down if it detects modified software.
“Freedom means you control what your software does, not merely that you can beg or threaten someone else who decides for you. Tivoization is the way they deny you that freedom; to protect your freedom, GPLv3 forbids tivoization. The ban on tivoization applies to any product whose use by consumers, even occasionally, is to be expected. GPLv3 tolerates tivoization only for products that are almost exclusively meant for businesses and organizations,” he said.
In the area of digital restrictions management, essentially features designed to restrict the use of data in a computer, competition is of no help because relevant competition is forbidden, Stallman said.
“GPLv3 ensures you are free to remove the handcuffs. It doesnt forbid DRM, or any kind of feature. It places no limits on the substantive functionality you can add to a program, or remove from it. Rather, it makes sure that you are just as free to remove nasty features as the distributor of your copy was to add them,” he said.