The final version of the GNU General Public License 3.0 should be published before the end of June, bringing to an end some 18 months of discussions around the new license, the Free Software Foundation said on May 31.
The FSF also released the fourth and final draft of GPL version 3 on May 31, referred to as the “final call” draft, which will be open for comments for 29 days. The final license will be released after that.
The most notable changes found in this latest draft include making GPLv3 compatible with version 2.0 of the Apache license; ensuring that distributors who make discriminatory patent deals after March 28 may not convey software under GPLv3; adding terms to clarify how users can contract for private modification of free software or for a data center to run it for them; and replacing the previous reference to a U.S. consumer protection statute with explicit criteria for greater clarity outside the United States, FSF executive director Peter Brown said in a statement.
This final draft comes just over two months after the third draft of the license was released in late March, and incorporates feedback from the general public and official discussion committees. Much of the discussion was about the issue of license compatibility.
“Weve made a few very important improvements based on the comments weve heard, most notably with license compatibility. Now that the license is almost finished, we can look forward to distributing the GNU system under GPLv3, and making its additional protections available to the whole community,” he said.
The final draft also comes hot on the heels of claims by Microsoft that free and open-source software infringes 235 of its patents, and Novells publication of redacted versions of its patent and interoperability agreements with Microsoft.
The “final call” draft of the license also does not prohibit 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,” Brown said.
Linux vendor Red Hat declined to comment on this final draft version of the license, saying it would only do so once the license was final. Novell and Microsoft had not responded to requests for comment by the time this article was published.
In a companion document designed to answer common questions about this latest GPLv3 draft, the foundation says that the various GNU licenses enjoy broad compatibility between each other. “The only time you cant combine code under two of these licenses is when you want to use code thats only under an older version of a license with code thats under a newer version,” the document said.
It has also provided a detailed compatibility matrix for various combinations of the GNU licenses, which gives an easy-to-use reference for specific cases that can be found here.
With regard to how the new terms of section 11 of the draft license affect the Microsoft-Novell deal, the FSF said that it attacks the deal from two angles.
“First, in the fourth paragraph of section 11, the draft says that if you arrange to provide patent protection to some of the people who get the software from you, that protection is automatically extended to everyone who receives the software, no matter how they get it. This means that the patent protection Microsoft has extended to Novells customers would be extended to everyone who uses any software Novell distributes under GPLv3,” the FSF said.
Secondly, in the fifth paragraph, the draft says that “you are prohibited from distributing software under GPLv3 if you make an agreement like the Microsoft-Novell deal. This will prevent other distributors from trying to make other deals like it in the future,” the foundation explains in the Q&A document.”
But, it also notes that there is some bracketed text at the end of the fifth paragraph that would let companies distribute GPLv3 software even if they have made such an arrangement, as long as the deal was made before March 28.
However, if that text is included in the final license, it will allow Novell to distribute software under GPLv3.
The FSF said that a number of companies in the free software community are concerned that the language the foundation has proposed would also target them because of other agreements theyve made, like broad patent cross-licenses, that dont harm the community.
“This would have the side effect of allowing Novell to distribute software under GPLv3. We are still evaluating the risks and costs associated with this text, and look forward to additional feedback,” the foundation said.
The issue of whether or not Novell can distribute GPLv3 code strikes at the heart of its agreement with Microsoft. In fact, when Novell filed its delayed annual report with the SEC on May 25, it said that Microsoft may be forced to stop distributing SUSE Linux coupons if the text of the third draft of the GPLv3 was included in the final license.
“If the final version of GPLv3 contains terms or conditions that interfere with our agreement with Microsoft or our ability to distribute GPLv3 code, Microsoft may cease to distribute SUSE Linux coupons in order to avoid the extension of its patent covenants to a broader range of GPLv3 software recipients; we may need to modify our relationship with Microsoft under less advantageous terms than our current agreement, or we may be restricted in our ability to include GPLv3 code in our products, any of which could adversely affect our business and our operating results,” the Novell filing said.
“In such a case, we would likely explore alternatives to remedy the conflict, but there is no assurance that we would be successful in these efforts,” the annual report said.
As to the question of why distributors only have to provide installation information for user products, the foundation said it has “compromised its strategy and not its ideals” in this regard.
Some companies effectively outsource their entire IT department to other companies, and while the computers and applications are installed in the companys offices, they are managed remotely by some service provider.
“In some of these situations, the hardware is locked down, only the service provider has the key, and the customers consider that to be a desirable security feature. We think its unfortunate that people would be willing to give up their freedom like this. But they should be able to fend for themselves, and the market provides plenty of alternatives to these services that would not lock them down,” the foundation said.
As such, a compromise has been introduced into the draft license that says distributors are only required to provide installation information when they are distributing the software on a user product and where the customers buying power is likely to be less organized.
“Digital Restrictions Management is focused largely in consumer devices, and everyone, including large companies, is becoming increasingly worried about the effects of DRM thanks to recent developments like the release of Microsofts Windows Vista—we think that the proposed language will still provide us with enough leverage to effectively thwart DRM,” the foundation said.
“We still believe you have a fundamental right to modify the software on all the hardware you own. If such problems [as locked-down hardware] arise substantially in other domains, we stand ready to extend this provision,” the explanation document said.