Monday Nov 20, 2006

Simple Is Better

Leaf-fall at City Hall

In a fine article yesterday whose title I have appropriated for this posting, Frank Hayes exactly captures the thoughts I was thinking as we were going through the license selection discussion for the Java platform inside Sun. I don't agree with his comments on obsolescence, but when it comes to licensing:

Anyone knowing that history would have expected Sun to open-source Java on Sun’s own terms ... Amazingly, Sun didn’t do any of that. The Java open-source license is identical to the Linux license. No specialized terms. No strings. Nothing new. Sun actually did keep it simple.

Licensing simplicity was one of the goals of the Open Source Initiative. By having licenses pre-approved as "freedom promoting" by a group of experts, the plan was to save developers from having to make decisions about which licenses were OK and which were a problem. I regard it as a huge irony that this approach was so successful that the number of approved licenses has proliferated to the point where one needs legal advice to choose between them. So one of the very first things we did when I became Sun's Chief Open Source Officer in 2005 was to start the process of simplifying Sun's approach to licensing by retiring an old open source license, SISSL, which I assume no responsible company will now choose to use.

Following the OSI's lead, the time has come to further simplify, and I'm pleased to be able to announce that Sun has contacted OSI again and informed them that another license Sun created - the Sun Public License, or SPL - is no longer required by Sun and requested that they consider it "retired". We migrated the last large codebase from it last spring - NetBeans - and it's now a historical artefact.

It was a good thing in its day, but it was one of many licenses created from the Mozilla license out of necessity and now we have CDDL it's not needed - that license has provided the whole community with a long-term alternative to "vanity" licenses. I'd encourage the (many) other creators of Mozilla-derived licenses to take the same step. We owe it to our colleagues in the open source community to keep things simple.

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