Open-Source Advocates Ask for Patience in GPL 3 Debate

News Analysis: Open-source advocates are calling for patience and calm in the often-heated debate about many of the provisions in the first discussion draft of the GNU General Public License version 3.

Open-source code advocates are calling for cooler heads to prevail in the often-heated debate about many of the revised terms in the first discussion draft of the GNU General Public License Version 3 that was released in early January.

While there are many opinions and questions about how the draft should be revised, there is one issue on which many in the free and open-source community agree: It is just too early in the process for people to take a definitive position on whether they can accepts its provisions.

Given that the discussion process around the provisions, terms and very wording of the proposed new license is expected to last for much of this year, making definitive statements about future actions based on the current draft license is just premature, industry players say.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about the open-source communitys goals for GPL 3.

"This is a development process, not a finished product. By the nature of the free and open-source software community, there are a variety of opinions, and the process is designed to allow a maximum of comment and consideration before a final result is reached," Mark Webbink, the deputy general counsel at Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., told eWEEK.

Simon Phipps, the open-source officer at Sun Microsystems, agrees that it is just too early in the discussion process to reject the current draft provisions outright.

While Dan Kusnetzky, the executive vice president of marketing for Open-Xchange of Tarrytown, N.Y., says most companies arent even thinking about whether they will re-licensing of code or products under the new license.

Some organizations that use open source-licenses other than the GPL for the software that falls under their auspices, such as the Eclipse Foundation, are not contemplating a move to GPL 3, but are rather hoping for better compatibility between their licenses and the next version of the GPL.

The foundation went through the pain of one licensing move already, when it switched in 2004 from the Common Public License to the EPL (Eclipse Public License) for open-source software published under its auspices.

"For Eclipse, the real hope that we have for this process is for version three of the LGPL [Lesser General Public License]. If that license can be made compatible with the EPL to the point where LGPL code could be used within Eclipse projects, the status quo is dramatically improved in our view.

"Unfortunately, only time will tell if this will come to pass, as the revision process for the LGPL has not even started yet," Mike Milinkovich, the foundations executive director, told eWEEK.

It was also important to realize that when the Free Software Foundation referred to "compatibility," they meant that GPL 3 code could consume EPL code, "not the other way around. So its a one-way street," he said.

While the new terms in GPL 3 for dealing with patents went a long way to making the licenses compatible, an area that the FSF itself had identified as an issue between the current GPL and the EPL, the foundation was still doing its own compatibility evaluation, he said.

"We owe it to our own community to be completely satisfied that we agree with the FSFs position. Early results indicate that there are still some areas that need to be worked on," Milinkovich said.

With regard to Open-Xchange, Kusnetzky said it was built on top of a range of open-source software, which used different licenses, from Apache to MySQL.

"It is hard to take a view at this early stage of how we will be affected by version three of the license or whether we will move to it," he said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about how Open-Xchange Server 5 blends proprietary and open-source components.

But, the calls for restraint and patience with the process aside, there has already been a heated and controversial early response from the community to the draft license.

Linux luminary Linus Torvalds, the Linux kernel project leader, announced within weeks of the release of the draft document that he was unlikely to re-license the Linux kernel.

Next Page: Calm reflection.