Proliferation of Proliferations

Seems open source license proliferation is the topic of the week - obviously some memo went round that I didn't get. Here are the paths I have seen proposed so far to end license proliferation:

  1. Just use the GPL for everything (and kill the rest). This is actually not a solution as I explained in my earlier essay. The GPL is not miscible with other licenses and thus offers no path for open sourcing software of mixed heritage. In addition, it does not have a strong mechanism to deal with the issue of protecting developers from patent indemnification issues. Both of these will get fixed I hope when licenses "proliferate" a little more with the creation of GPL v3.
  2. Analyse the licenses and build a chart showing which licenses have which effects so that new licenses appear less necessary and old ones can be recycled. SFLC are offering to do this and it will prove useful to lawyers seeking to license new projects, but the effect it will have on proliferation is small if there's no license model that actually meets their needs.
  3. Close down OSI, or at least prevent it approving any more licenses. The latter seems to be what Martin Fink from HP and SJVN want to do, but it would solve nothing. Licenses proliferate because existing ones don't fit people's needs (or at least so their lawyers tell them), not because OSI exists and keeps approving new ones (or as a rapper might put it, "licenses don't kill software, lawyers do"). Having said that, the new ideas OSI is having for including necessity as one of the approval criteria are good.
  4. Create a small set of generic, miscible licenses that need no modification to suit most needs and which can be gently modified without creating new non-miscible 'fragments' of the open source code space. This is what CDDL set out to do, and I believe what GPL v3 sets out to do, and is in my view the best solution to license fragmentation. It's also something that OSI could adapt itself to regulate.

So why are people (and there are plenty) who know better trying to paint CDDL as part of the 'license proliferation' problem? Are they too afraid to be positive about it just because Sun had it written (largely by non-Sun open source experts, by the way). If the term 'proliferation' applies to CDDL, it will also have to be applied to GPL v3.

CDDL was designed from day one to be a possible solution to the problem of license proliferation, which is largely the result of corporate lawyers wanting to use the MPL for their software but being unable to do so because of issues with the license. CDDL intentionally deals with those issues in a generic way, so that others can use CDDL where they need an MPL-style license. Indeed, John Cowan pointed to the license during the approval discussion at OSI as a replacement for the MPL and went on to justify it.

So it can't be that the CDDL is part of the problem - it's way too much part of the solution for that, as John Cowan just asserted. Maybe the people slinging mud at CDDL are actually slinging mud at Sun, for some other reason? Maybe there's another agenda? The politics of competition, maybe?


"The politics of competition, maybe?" Not maybe--absolutely. It is very hard to dismiss Solaris 10/OpenSolaris on merit, so it has to be done with good ol' fashioned FUD. This is perfectly understandable from Red Hat, IBM, HP, and Microsoft, but more interesting is the reaction from some people in the Linux community. There are very likely a few hurt egos out there, because their pet project is no longer the big boy on the block. Egos heal in time, however, and true Open Source advocates will come to welcome OpenSolaris, I think. I'm not sure if Sun is advertising the legal implications of the CDDL to customers (I'm way out of this loop), but Sun could gain tons of support if companies could be convinced that OpenSolaris is safe from "patent terrorists", as you described earlier. If a project manager gets a thumbs up from their lawyers about OpenSolaris and the CDDL while the lawyers might hesitate about Linux, that could be really big for OpenSolaris adoption. Unfortunately, legal issues of patents and copyright tend to be subtle and hard to communicate. Well, then, I guess I'm glad it isn't my job to do so ;)

Posted by Anonymous on February 19, 2005 at 12:16 PM PST #

No it isn't competition, nor that the CDDL is a new license with 1670 attached patents granted by Sun. In itself this is all a very positive addition to FOSS. It isn't even that the CDDL is GPL incompatible. We haven't burned down Apache for for being incompatible. Sun's problem, IMO, is not their technology (which is very sound), nor their intentions, those seem to be decent. Sun's problem lies in their public presentation. Sun's public mouthpiece is arrogant, schizophrenic and very indecisive when it comes to their current roadmaps and strategies. From time to time that mouthpiece is very abrasive towards other technology companies, not shy of presenting Sun warped FUD. Sun's exaggerated, broad sweeping public statements simply fly right against the FOSS culture. Improve Sun's public image and be upfront about what you are doing. The "We are releasing 1670 patents to the Open Source Community" was another exaggerated, warped depiction of what Sun did. Say it like it is. If Sun had said "We are granting every developer access to 1670 of our patents, when they develop code under the CDDL." we wouldn't have the debates we have now. OpenSolaris is a boon for all those who use Sun infrastructure. It is just a pity that the "Mouthpiece" caused OpenSolaris and the CDDL to be tarred and feathered before anything useful came out of it. Fix that and you'd be one of FOSSes darlings.

Posted by r_a_trip on February 21, 2005 at 07:59 PM PST #

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