Symbian Foundation: To EPL or Not to EPL?

By choosing the Eclipse Public License as the license for the software to come out of the Symbian Foundation, the group takes a road safely chosen. The Eclipse Foundation welcomes the foundation's support. But what about the GPL?

LONDON-With the Symbian Foundation throwing its weight behind the Eclipse Public License, the cache of that license has grown a great deal.

But what prompted the foundation to go with the EPL? Was it just a total aversion to the GNU GPL (General Public License)? Well, Nokia's David Rivas will not say that, exactly.

"The GPL is a very viral license," said Rivas, vice president of S60 software, product and technology management, and devices at Nokia, which is the charter member of the Symbian Foundation. The foundation chose the EPL to govern software created out of the open-source Symbian Foundation, he said, because "it allows us to have open-source software and use that with proprietary software" without any undue constraints.

Symbian focuses on the developer. Read more here.

Rather than the ABM approach, where many end users and developers say, "Anything But Microsoft," it appears the Symbian Foundation is using the ABG, or "Anything But GPL" (and its variants), approach.

Whatever the case, Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, is not complaining. Milinkovich, who is attending the Symbian Smartphone Show here, said he welcomes the Symbian Foundation as a supporter of the EPL.

"For the EPL, the last few months have been really positive," Milinkovich said. "A few months ago, the Eclipse Foundation was the only organization using the EPL, and recently we've had a whole lot more attention for it."

Not only has the Symbian Foundation, an organization founded by Nokia after its acquisition of Symbian and the subsequent open-sourcing of the Symbian OS, S60 software and more, taken notice of the EPL, but Google has also given the EPL its props.

Initially, the Google Code group, which falls under the Google Open Source Team, refused to recognize the EPL. More precisely, Google would not recognize applications hosted on Google Code if they were licensed by the EPL as well as the Mozilla Public License. However, that has changed in both cases. The initial rejection was that Google is against open-source license proliferation.

However, in a late August blog post, Chris DiBona, who heads up the Google Code effort, said:

""Eclipse is an important, lively and healthy project with an enormous plug in and developer community that uses an otherwise duplicative license. They aren't interested in using the BSD or other open source licenses that are readily combinable with EPL code. We have decided that after nearly 2 years of operation, that it was time to add the EPL and serve these open source developers.""

Milinkovich said he believes the Symbian Foundation will be successful in its effort to open-source proprietary technology and maintain the lead that Symbian has in the smart phone space. "But there will be a lot of hard work and probably a few stumbles along the way based on the sheer size of what they're starting from. It could be unprecedented."

Indeed, Rivas, who worked at Sun Microsystems and watched that organization deal with the open-sourcing of a substantial code base while dealing with a huge installed base, said, "This is something nobody has done before," speaking of the effort to open-source what has been a large revenue-generating technology and turning it into an open-source wedge to drive toward new opportunities.

"I think the biggest problems will be social and cultural," Milinkovich said.

He also noted that since the Symbian Foundation decided to base its work on the EPL, "We have had several conversations, and we'll keep having them. For the Eclipse community, we think it's to our benefit-having a large foundation's work based on the EPL can only be good for Eclipse."