Ximian Makes License Switch

Linux desktop developer will release the first pieces of the Mono Project under, not the GNU GPL, but the MIT X11 license,which some developers say gives nothing back to the open-source community.

One distributor of the Linux operating system is switching to a less traditional licensing program for part of an upcoming development platform, indicating a major shift in the mainstream open-source philosophy.

Linux desktop developer Ximian Inc. this week will announce that the first pieces of the Mono Project—an initiative to deliver a Unix- and Linux-compatible version of Microsoft Corp.s .Net development platform—will be released under a license that some developers say gives nothing back to the open-source community.

Ximian will announce that it has chosen the MIT X11 license over the GNU GPL (GNU General Public License).

The Boston company originally intended to release the Mono Project, created last summer, under the GPL and Lesser GPL, which mandates that changes to source code be submitted to the public domain.

Now, Ximian officials said, the Mono class libraries, due in the near future, will be issued under the X11 license, which lets contributors use open source code in proprietary products without having to publish modifications of source code to the community. The news could be a sign of things to come as more large vendors add open-source software to their products. Ximians chief technology officer, Miguel de Icaza, said the change was due to the GPL provisions.

"Theyre a barrier to companies pursuing embedded software development or the provision of software to OEM partners," de Icaza said. "We felt it was more important for us to get the class libraries well deployed, especially through companies like Intel [Corp.] and [Hewlett-Packard Co.], who are working with us on Mono. They feel it is important that the base code they contribute to the class libraries is open for anyone to use in any product."

Ximians move has upset some open-source developers and users, who see it as a betrayal of the fundamental principles of the open-source software development model. "It is insulting that Ximian expects open-source developers to give our time and effort without remuneration working on code only to have this then used by large companies like Intel and HP in their proprietary applications," said a Linux developer who requested anonymity.

Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, signed a statement last year expressing support for GPL, which was under attack by Microsoft. "[GPL] is a fair exchange of our code for yours and one that will continue as you reap the benefit of improvements contributed by the community," the statement said.

But large vendors such as HP and Intel see no conflict in X11. Martin Fink, HPs general manager of Linux Systems Operations, in Palo Alto, Calif., said he supports the license changes. "Its a practical move that will enable developers to leverage community efforts and offer companies greater flexibility and competitive differentiation when creating new products," Fink said.

Colin Evans, director of Intels Distributed Systems Lab, in Hillsboro, Ore., said open implementations such as Mono would enable a broad base of research and development that "should accelerate innovation."

Ximians de Icaza said that while the plan is, at least "for the moment," to continue licensing the other Mono components—including the C# compiler and Common Language Runtime just-in-time compiler—under the GPL and Lesser GPL, respectively, this could change.

Some Linux technology users are wary of GPL. Greg Olson, chairman of Sendmail Inc., in Emeryville, Calif., whose company uses an IBM Linux mainframe for development and runs a host of Linux servers, said he has been embroiled in licensing controversy for a long time.

"Sendmail does not use the GPL license, as we do not want to be forced to have to publish and give away all the enhancements to its code and products," Olson said. "We feel this is ... an impediment to progress. We dont feel this is a good restriction or in the interest of fostering innovation."