GPL Undergoes Major Revisions

FSF to release road map for R3 of free-software license.

Details of the first rewrite of the GNU General Public License in 15 years are beginning to trickle out, and the documents authors say that it will include important changes to what is the most popular free-software license in the industry.

The Free Software Foundation is just weeks away from announcing the road map and process that will govern the release of Version 3 of the license, which governs the use of the Linux kernel. 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.

Eben Moglen, the FSFs general counsel, who is writing the new license with its creator, Richard Stallman, said in an exclusive interview before the Open Source Business Conference in Newton, Mass., this week that he will also be releasing within the next month a process document that tells the community what the rules are going to be for the discussion and comment submission process around GPL 3.

A number of people have been invited to help with the process, and the criteria behind the selection of that first round of invitees will also be detailed. "We would like to put all that information out publicly at one time, and we expect this will take place sometime in November," Moglen said.

The first draft of GPL 3 is expected early next year, and while the date, place and time of its release will be made public in November, "I want people to absorb the rules we are going to use before we start talking about the substance. I want everyone to have seen that the process is open, transparent and fair and have gotten used to the rules that are available and how to play them, and then we will put the document down on the table and start talking," he said.

Some Linux users, such as Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource Pty. Ltd., a Linux and open-source solutions company in Melbourne, Australia, said trust is a critical issue that extends beyond the IT industry.

"We, as IT professionals, must act as stewards for the coming century, which, more than any previous era, will be built atop information technology," Zymaris said. "If we want a free society in the future, we must prevent any organization or collective from attaining such a level of immense control over the platforms of the future."

Moglen said that a firm end date for the process around GPL 3 will also be announced, and that will be about a year from the announcement. The plan is to "hit the ground running," with an opening international conference, followed by regular public meetings around the world, he said.

There will be eight people working full-time on all the processes around GPL 3, but there will also be some 60 other people chairing committees and playing major public roles in the discussions. "But they will be outsiders with interests and stakes and concerns. I also expect there will be many thousands of people who want to be heard, and they are all important to the process," Moglen said.

Companies and other parties that want to help hold international meetings will be allowed to do so as hosts, and some resources will be raised as travel money so that those members of the community who need to participate but cannot afford their own travel will have the opportunity to do so, Moglen said.

"But this is not going to be a sponsored process. We cannot allow that, so the Software Freedom Law Center, acting for the FSF, and the FSF itself, will staff and provide the necessary logistics for this process," he said.

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, has told eWEEK that while the GPL is not perfect, and one of his issues has been how verbose it is, "nothing is ever perfect. So while I may have some niggling concerns with the GPL, they are in the details, and, in the end, I actually think that the GPL simply is the best license for the kernel."