The Open Source License Debate

I hit SVN's article at eWeek this morning. Some want to address the issue of licenses creating "communities of code" that can't be intermixed. Some just think that many of these licenses are redundant and create confusion. I find this whole "too many licenses" topic interesting although I admittedly delegate most of the core analysis to others (as most of us do). I'll also admit that I am out of my element here, but SVN's article does get me thinking (that's a good thing).

I find SVN's opinion of "OSI Should Close Open-Source Licenses" an oxymoron. IMHO, if the OSI closes off licenses, that won't close off new licenses. The discussion will simply go elsewhere. If someone has a business or "expression" goal in mind and they don't think an existing OSI license covers their intent, they are not going to cram their code into a license that exists. They'll create another license, OSI compliant or not.

Is the role of the OSI to simply sign off on what they think will be a "popular" license? Isn't that counter to what "open" is all about? Perhaps the role of the OSI is as a place for the discussion and evolution of "open" licenses to occur. Seems like a reasonable position, doesn't it?

On a slightly different topic, SVN states the CDDL is controversial. My take is that it isn't the CDDL that is controversial. The controversy is OpenSolaris being placed under the CDDL. If CDDL was a vehicle for Brazil or FreeTTS, would anyone have cared?

Comments:

Where was all of the outrage when Netscape created the Mozilla Public License. There was a brief increase in noise on Slashdot and the like, but it died down quickly once ESR gave his "blessing" to the MPL.

[Sidebar: I find this whole idea of genuflecting to ESR and RMS as if they are Gods both ridiculous and frightening.]

However, there was no large scale public discussion in the IT press over whether it was right or wrong to introduce a new license for Mozilla, or if Netscape should have released the code under the GPL.

One, or both, of two things have happened: Things have changed; or there is a double standard.

Clearly things have changed, as Netscape's release of the Mozilla code was a watershed moment of a publically owned software company releasing its intellectual property under an open source license.

Clearly also there is a huge double standard. Sun has released millions of lines of code under the GPL (7.5M lines in StarOffice), no doubt more than IBM, HP, Oracle, Red Hat, and Novell/SuSE combined. However, Sun still gets no respect at all in the open source world, primarily because the Linux community, ever since it started targeting servers, has seen the installed base of Sun's SPARC/Solaris platforms as the bourgeoisie enemy.

That all said, Sun screwed up by coupling the CDDL to OpenSolaris. Sun should have worked the license out a year ago, released it, put the myriad of Sun's open source software under the CDDL, retired the half a dozen or so other Sun licenses (SPL, SISSL, etc.), let the debate over CDDL happen, and more importantly, blow over, then released OpenSolaris.

There is no doubt if CDDL was out there on its own, being compared to SISSL and MPL derivatives, it would have gained more support. By being exclusively tied to OpenSolaris (which may not be its intent, but it is the fact at this moment), it forces a comparison of CDDL to the GPL, because OpenSolaris is seen as a competitor to Linux.

It could have been even better if Sun has worked with other ISVs who released their code under MPL derivatives, solicited input, and announced CDDL alongside several other ISVs. Perhaps even a CDDL community could have been created to manage improvements and changes to the license.

Because Sun did not do this, the debate is not if CDDL is a better MPL than MPL, but why it is a worse GPL than GPL.

Posted by guest on February 18, 2005 at 01:56 AM PST #

The sad part is that we are all techs and, every minute we waste discussing lawyer stuff, it's a minute we wont spend discussing interesting things.
Sun is free to use whatever licence it want's to do anything. Every people has to make the personal decision in what projects it wants to be involved.
Seeing people (and news reporters) discussing licences, it looks like seing a football game in some public place, everyone knows best how to make it's team win, better than the trainer, better than anyone

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on February 18, 2005 at 04:14 AM PST #

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