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We Don't Need the GPL Anymore 919

Posted by Zonk
from the man-with-the-plan dept.
jpkunst writes "In a lengthy interview with Eric S. Raymond by Federico Biancuzzi at O'Reilly's onlamp.com, ESR defends his position that 'Open source would be succeeding faster if the GPL didn't make lots of people nervous about adopting it.'" From the article: "I don't think the GPL is the principal reason for Linux's success. Rather, I believe it's because in 1991 Linus was the first person to find the right social architecture for distributed software development. It wasn't possible much before then because it required cheap internet; and after Linux, most people who might otherwise have founded OS projects found that the minimum-energy route to what they wanted was to improve Linux. The GPL helped, but I think mainly as a sort of social signal rather than as a legal document with teeth."
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We Don't Need the GPL Anymore

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  • Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:30AM (#12959924)
    Yeah, this guy is sensible [google.co.uk]. Dismiss him with the contempt he deserves, and go do something more worthwhile - like reading Dilbert [dilbert.com] or hating on Intarweb Exploder [msdn.com]...
  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:31AM (#12959931)
    If it were under the BSD license, Microsoft would have adopted it by now, under the hood, invisibly. Windows popularity would soar even more, and its reputation for stability and speed would have made Linux distributions obsolete, thus putting a stop to all independent peer-reviewed Linux development, leaving it to Microsoft, where it belongs. Then, with the lack of competition, Microsoft would stumble, dropping the ball, possibly scoring yet another own goal, and another Unix-lookalike would spring up, only this time the developers would be so mad about Microsoft's embrace extend extinguish of Linux that they would adopt a new license, called ... the GPL!

    And ESR would have another chance to get it right.
    • by millahtime (710421) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:34AM (#12959960) Homepage Journal
      If it were under the BSD license...

      If what you said were true why didn't Microsoft take say FreeBSD and do the same thing? It's BSD Licensed, UNIX based and a pretty solid system.
      • by Darth (29071)
        When Microsoft sold Zenix to SCO (back when they actually were in Santa Cruz), part of the deal was that Microsoft agreed to a non-compete clause that prohibited them from creating or marketing a unixlike operating system.

        I am kinda curious who retains that contract. I imagine it follows the os portion of old-SCO and would now be in the care of McBride & Co.
    • by dj28 (212815) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:37AM (#12959990)
      That's a ridiculous argument.

      FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and all the other operating systems based on the BSD license were not made obsolete by Microsoft, even if they do use some BSD code. The introduction of BSD code into Microsoft Windows did not magically make it a superior operating system. Neither would Linux code in Windows.

      Your entire argument is a straw man.
      • by team99parody (880782) on Friday July 01, 2005 @11:54AM (#12961328) Homepage
        Parent wrote: "That's a ridiculous argument."

        This whole thread is rediculous.

        The OSI (open source initiative - a california nonprofit org, funded largely by industry) & members including ESR
        has always been at odds with
        the FSF (Free Software Foundation - a massachusetts nonprofit organization, funded & staffed largely by academia) & members including RMS regarding free/open software. Each compete for donations, developers, mindshare, etc just like any other two organizations.

        Please take anything the OSI says about the GPL, and anything the FSF says about the CDDL with a large grain of salt rubbed in the wound.


        (opinionated rant: To ESR and the rest of the OSI - I don't give a damn how much Sun paid you from their Microsoft settlement to get the pattent-encumbered CDDL approved, please stop bashing the FSF and trying to divide and conquor the F/OSS community)

    • Oh for Pete's sake! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:39AM (#12960000)
      Can't any of you responders recognize satire when you see it? Are you all so brain dead and numbed out that you have to take everything seriously?

      Sheesh.
    • Apache doesn't use the GPL and last time I checked [netcraft.com] IIS was losing group to Apache.
  • GPL Teeth? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by millahtime (710421) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:31AM (#12959937) Homepage Journal
    Can anyone tell me if the GPLs teeth have been tested or evaluated? How sharp are they?
    • Re:GPL Teeth? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cortana (588495) <`sam' `at' `robots.org.uk'> on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:54AM (#12960155) Homepage
      It's strong enough that those who have fallen foul of its conditions in the past have always settled out of court.

      Here is what would happen if someone infringing upon the GPL ever refused to settle:
      Plaintiff: Your honour, the defendant is distributing my copyrighted work without a license. Please make him stop.

      Judge: Stop it, defendant!

      Defendant: Golly, I just spend thousands on legal fees to appear in a case I had no hope of winning.
      (Paraphrased from a talk given by Ebden Moglen [wikipedia.org]. I don't remember which it was, but I think it was one of the ones linked from that article.)
    • Re:GPL Teeth? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dgb2n (85206)
      What I can tell you is that at least on the program I work (a major middleware software development for the Army being written by a "major" defense contractor"), the corporate attorneys are scared to death of the GPL.

      LGPL is fine. Dual licensed open source products are fine where you can pay the developer for a license other than compliance with the GPL.

      There are lots of reasons that companies and government entities don't want to expose all their source to the GPL including security considerations, prot
  • by rajeshgoli (881014) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:32AM (#12959947) Homepage
    Agreed that GPL may not have been the most important ingredient in linux's success. But can you imagine how many people would take away your code and claim as their own, sell it and not give back to the commnuity had it not been for the copyleft "GPL"?
  • RTFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hieronymus Howard (215725) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:33AM (#12959949)
    I know that this is going to degenerate into a licensing argument about his comments on the GPL (which I don't agree with), but please read the whole interview, as ESR talks about a lot of other interesting non-GLP issues too.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:15AM (#12960378)
      I've read the article and some of what he said is just plain wrong. For instance:

      > NetBSD is a worthy project, but, let's face it,
      > the fan base for it simply is not large enough to
      > justify spending marketing effort to recruit them.

      I agree that NetBSD is cool and appreciate all their hard work. It's allowed me to have a modern desktop on my Solaris 8 system at work without having root privileges. No Linux, not even Gentoo can claim to be able to do that.

      That being said, the xBSDs were actually ahead of Linux in the late 1990s. The xBSDs were more widely deployed for enterprise systems. But Linux still overtook them. The initial fan base isn't really an issue.

      It's also not the applications issue. NetBSD can pretty much run any app that's on Linux. There may be a bit lag (since the apps are developed on Linux most of the time and there's a bit of a porting effort), but the apps get there without too much time.

      It's not the compile your own source code culture of the xBSDs since pkg_add supports binary packages, and Gentoo has more popularity than the xBSDs. There is also version of Debian for the xBSDs.

      It's not even the kernel. A few years back, the BSD was superior in many ways, but Linux still outstripped it.

      When all is said and done, there is only one key difference between Linux and BSD, the license. Companies like IBM don't mind GPLing their technology for the same reason TrollTech doesn't mind GPLing Qt....If anyone wants to use it in a commercial product, they have to pay IBM, TrollTech, Sleepycat, etc for the right to take the code prorietary. And although your competitors may have access to your source code, they can't do anything with it without releasing their changes so you can benefit from it. When a company GPLs their product, they haven't really given it away.

      GPL is a quid pro quo license (you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours). Businesses understand quid pro quo and use it every day as a means of getting things done.

      BSD is a charity license. As far as businesses are concerned, charity is good, but business is business and the last thing you want to do is give charity to your competitors.

      It's not politically correct to say this, but "it really is the license, stupid".
      • > It's not even the kernel. A few years back, the BSD was superior in many ways, but Linux still outstripped it.

        I have one word for you. kswapd

        Pick a BSD, any one. Their virtual memory subsystem far outstrips the unstable mess that Linux's has been since at least 1998. VM ain't just swap, it's virtually every every single memory access you make in protected mode. And Linux, across kernel versions and distributions, has consistently made a dogs breakfast of it.

        I am dealing with the kswapd issues
      • Linux got a headstart in marketshare because of the AT&T lawsuit. The BSDs always had fewer people because of that. Linux hit a critical mass sooner, and became a buzzword for marketing dorks. The money spent marketing linux just made this gap bigger. There's no reason IBM wouldn't have done the same thing to FreeBSD they did with linux, had FreeBSD been the buzzword du jour. IBM was smart and decided to ride the hype, and help push it more. They will do it again for the next buzzword, regardless
  • by DarkHand (608301) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:33AM (#12959959)
    We don't need that pesky constitution thing anymore, either. I mean, it was nice at the beginning and all, but it's just getting in the way of corporate profits now. What with the DMCA, the Patriot act, and others like it, it's mainly a sort of social signal rather than a legal document with teeth.
  • ESR on drugs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:34AM (#12959962) Homepage Journal
    Looks like ESR has gone over the edge, finally. I've always been more a fan of Free Software than of Open Source, but in the end I always thought OS is just the marketing name for FS.

    The GPL is the one well-thought out licence, and AFAIK it's the only Free/Open-Source Software license ever to actually stand up in court.

    ESR, shut the fuck up, you've done your good deeds, now don't start destroying it all just because you're not in the spotlight anymore.
  • by SpaceLifeForm (228190) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:35AM (#12959968)
    It's the attack against GPL via FUD and software patents that make people nervous.

  • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:35AM (#12959972) Homepage Journal
    As a semi-open source developer (most of my code is closed, but some is open) I have noticed a big swing away from the GPL in many areas. The Ruby on Rails project is MIT licensed, and most Rails developers who release their code also use the MIT or BSD license.

    Major projects like Apache, MySQL, X11, Perl, and PHP eschew the GPL in favor for homebrew alternatives, and while the GPL offers a single license for a disparate range of software.. I agree with ESR, and I believe that licensing of open source software may be better done in a simpler, less arcane way.
  • -1 Flamebait (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lejade (31993) * <olivier@mekensle ... minus physicist> on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:36AM (#12959983) Homepage Journal
    ESR is such a troll.

    He's just sour he couldn't come up with the GPL in the first place. All he has done with his so-called "open source initiative" is try to steal the FSF's thunder. The guy is chronically jalous of RMS.

    If not, he would acknowledge that the GPL is far more than the licence of Linux. Truth is, the GPL is the constitution of the Free Software movement. As such, it protects all software under it. Not just Linux.
    • Re:-1 Flamebait (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joib (70841)

      ESR is such a troll.


      While I don't consider myself an ESR fan, reading TFA, I got the impression that the one doing the trolling was in fact the interviewer. IMHO his questions are constantly trying to sucker ESR into saying something stupid (more page views => more advertising revenue?), but this time ESR manages to keep his head cool and answers pretty rationally.
  • Amazing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sphealey (2855) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:40AM (#12960013)
    It is amazing how a person can do a small amount of good work (and edit a book based on the contributions of others), which is fine, gain a small amount of fame as a result, which is fine, and then abuse that tiny amount of fame/reputation to make pontificating pronouncements for years afterward, possibly doing a lot of damage to the cause that orignally made him notorious.

    sPh
    • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by squiggleslash (241428) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:07AM (#12960299) Homepage Journal
      In fairness, the guy's been pontificating for years. People who pontificate a lot usually end up being the same types of people who go out and end up leading particular projects, simply because they're the most outspoken. One of the biggest ironies of Open Source is that the movement was inspired, in part, by complaints that Richard M Stallman was "too political." ESR swept in as an anti-Stallman, not anti-Stallman in the sense of being non-political, but in having many opinions that gelled easier with the general libertarian-streak popular amongst the computing community of the time.

      I'm not a great fan of ESR. I think the OSI almost passed into irrelevence under his reign (and was staggered after they choose Russ Nelson to succeed him to find out Nelson, at the time at least, was "more of the same, only with even less tact and social skills") While "Open Source" made an impact with the name, the OSI itself seemed to have relatively few successes under its belt, with often the most promoted successors being absurdly controvertial. It's interesting that one of the first messes Nelson and his successors had to deal with, for example, were the number of incompatible licenses.

      Why were there incompatible licenses? Because, under ESR's active encouragement, every major business dipping a toe in the water were producing their own customized licenses that usually only minimally furfilled the requirements of the Open Source definition, usually being some form of "copyleft for you, proprietary if we want it for us." This severely damaged the usability of much of the code entering the Free Software world. The worst case were the original APSL (Apple) "Open Source" licenses, which even contained provisions allowing Apple to arbitrarily stop people from distributing APSL licensed code in the future. Only after heavy lobbying from the FSF and a war within the OSI did Apple fix this and other headline issues.

      Raymond's saying the GPL isn't necessary now. I can't say I agree. The GPL remains the perfect license for both Open Source and the wider area of Free Software. A company that releases code under it knows any competitor using it will have to contribute any advances they make back. In the real world, where 90% of commercial programming is done in-house to create in-house applications, no license comes closer to meeting corporate requirements. And Raymond's wrong about Linux. The problem with Linux is not that it's protected under the GPL, it's that it hasn't been protected strongly enough - that is, there's not enough enforcement of the GPL when it comes to Linux. There are still frequent attempts to sneak proprietary device drivers into the kernel, for example. This directly hurts free software, because information about how those drivers work becomes unavailable. Users aren't able to fix bugs. Users of other, less famous, free operating systems are unable to create compatible drivers themselves.

      One can probably make a whole bunch of ad-hominem comments here about why he isn't supportive about the GPL, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. We're going through problem after problem caused by people thinking they're being "practical" and screwing it up for everyone else. Linus adopts Bitkeeper. X11 users use nVidea drivers. If no-one else will, at least we'll always have the FSF to "get it" if those who like little centralized pockets of meritless power don't.

  • Counterpoint (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vondo (303621) * on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:40AM (#12960016)
    The part of his interview summarized by the post is that he essentially argues that since open source software is so popular now, it can be BSD licensed because no one has the resources to outperform the OS community with their own fork. This is demonstrably false, just look at the KHTML/Apple situation. If they could truly go their own ways without Apple showing anything they did but KDE showing everything, I think it's pretty clear Apple could run ahead of KDE.

    KHTML isn't the biggest project out there, but it's in the top few % for size and complexity, I'd bet. Imagine what a private company could do to a smaller project.

    • Re:Counterpoint (Score:5, Insightful)

      by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:13AM (#12960358) Homepage Journal
      just look at the KHTML/Apple situation

      Yes, do, because this is a great example of where the GPL doesn't make any difference. Apple effectively forked KHTML (as near as I can tell, accidentally), but it was legal to do so under the GPL... they didn't need to do anything more than release the source code. Instead, in response, they opened up the CVS and the bug database. Not because the GPL forced them to, but because the chose to.

      If KHTML had been under the BSDL, would Apple have taken it away completely? Legally, they could have, but they haven't done that for other open source components in Mac OS X... the source trees at opensource.apple.com and opendarwin.org include code under BSDL, APSL, GPL, and more.

      AT&T took BSD code and forked it, and nobody cared until USL tried to shut down the open-source BSD... and that BSD code turned out to be just the lever that Berkeley needed to bring USL to heel.

      Microsoft's using GPL code and BSD code in Interix, and that has neither let them "outperform" Cygwin nor forced Microsoft to open Interix one skerrick more. Microsoft's been using BSD code in Windows for years, but that same code was re-implemented in Linux... if the code had been GPLed, would Linux somehow be more outperforming BSD in the market, would NT have been less successful? Personally, I wish Microsoft had used more of the BSD stack rather than mostly borrowing userland tools, it would have made socket programming in Windows a lot easier... and more compatible.

      So, over and over again, we see that it's not the license that matters, it's the attitude of the people using it.

      The GPL doesn't stop you from forking the code base. The GPL doesn't stop different open source groups from forking the code base. The GPL doesn't stop groups using the same code base from developing functionally equivalent packages on top of that GPLed code. Heck, sometimes the only way to bring a code base forward is to fork and switch, and Nokia at least seems to think that's a great idea...

      If they could truly go their own ways without Apple showing anything they did but KDE showing everything, I think it's pretty clear Apple could run ahead of KDE.

      But instead, Apple is voluntarily choosing to take part on the open market of ideas to a far greater degree than any license commits them to. They could easily pull a Sveasoft and release source code grudgingly enough that KHTML would forever remain the junior fork.

      What ESR's saying now is what BSD advocates have been saying for years. Companies that are interested in being productive partners will be productive partners no matter what license you use, and companies that aren't will find ways to stick to the letter of the license while completely gutting its spirit.
      • Ugh... no (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcc (14761) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Friday July 01, 2005 @11:24AM (#12961029) Homepage
        Okay... to clear up...

        KHTML is NOT GPLed. It is under the LGPL. The names sound similar but this is a really, really serious distinction. The LGPL is much more loose and is a lot closer to BSD than GPL-- it basically says "you have to release changes you make to these files in this project, but you can take these files and dump it into something larger and you don't have to do anything to the rest of your project, so long as these files when taken as an independent unit still work". This means that changes and fixes to the LGPLed work must be contributed back, but additions, well, contributing those back are pretty much optional.

        If KHTML had been GPLed, the entire Safari situation would have been different. For one thing, it very possibly wouldn't have happened. The GPL probably asks enough that Apple wouldn't have found it acceptable-- they're apparently OK with releasing source to WebCore or WebKit or whichever it is, but they probably wouldn't have been happy with having to open source Safari, or having to force any OS X developers linking against WebCore[Kit?], a system service, to open source. If KHTML had been GPLed Apple would have just gone and used their other option for a plug-in rendering engine, the mozilla/firefox project, which is available under the MPL (and soon the LGPL as well)-- which is even less restrictive than the LGPL from Apple's perspective.

        But, let's hypothetically say KHTML had been GPLed and Apple had accepted this. What then? Well, then the situation vondo describes couldn't have occurred. Apple could have forked and written better code than the open source community, but that would be okay-- because they would have no control over their fork. I or you or anyone else in the world could have just downloaded safari.tar.gz, forked apple's fork, made one tiny improvement, and released it on the internet. Tada! The open source community has outdone Apple!

        But that isn't an option here in real life. In real life, Apple's released WebKit/KHTML, but that's not a full product. It's a rendering engine. It can't really do anything by itself.

        And what this means is that even though Apple's released their source, the Open Source community can't keep up with them. You could technically take WebKit and stuff it into Konqueror (and it would be interesting to try, I'm suprised no one has yet). But this would require some integration work, plus it still wouldn't at all stand up to Safari due to the value added by the parts of Safari which remain proprietary.

        So while the LGPL, a less-"pure" license than the GPL, lead to a commercial use of an LGPLed library which is beneficial to the commercial user, beneficial to the open source project, and beneficial to others [slashdot.org]-- this is the exact thing ESR is trying to encourage!-- use of the LGPL in this case has still created an effective barrier to the open source product being as useful or successful as the commercial project which is using its code. RMS, were he here and someone had let him off his leash, would probably point out that this is one of the reasons you want to be using the GPL instead of the LGPL or BSD or MPL licenses in the first place!
        • Re:Ugh... no (Score:4, Informative)

          by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Friday July 01, 2005 @12:19PM (#12961582) Homepage Journal
          it still wouldn't at all stand up to Safari due to the value added by the parts of Safari which remain proprietary.

          What parts are those, precisely? I don't know of any parts of Safari which remain proprietary that are any kind of barrier to competition, or that are technically difficult to implement. Safari is a very thin shell around Webkit, and there are at least two open-source replacement shells (Sunrise Browser and Shiira).

          use of the LGPL in this case has still created an effective barrier to the open source product being as useful or successful as the commercial project which is using its code.

          I'm completely unable to understand how you would come to this conclusion. Safari itself only uses standard Mac OS X APIs, so Apple could have open-sourced all of Safari (and Dashboard, but that came later) without open-sourcing any other part of OS X, no matter what open-source license KHTML or Webkit was released under.

          About all that placing KHTML (and thus Webkit itself) under the GPL instead of the LGPL might have done would be to keep Apple from using Webkit in Mail in Tiger, and make some third party products on OS X use one of the other HTML rendering packages instead. The only program I can think of that I use, that uses Webkit, is Adium. And that's already GPLed.

          So, Apple has in fact released all the code that is needed for a third party (be that the KHTML team or Nokia) to duplicate "the commercial project which is using its code", just as they would as if KHTML had been released under the GPL. Apple could have created the kind of barrier that you're talking about, but they chose not to.

          Unless there's some magic Safari goodness that programs like Shiira are missing (and I doubt that, Shiira already does more than Safari) I'm completely at a loss to understand what you're getting at here.
      • Re:Counterpoint (Score:4, Insightful)

        by endofoctober (660252) <jk.cole@NOsPaM.ifredsayred.com> on Friday July 01, 2005 @12:06PM (#12961437) Homepage

        "Yes, do, because this is a great example of where the GPL doesn't make any difference."

        I think it actually /does/ make a difference, although it's not obvious - the GPL kept Apple from legally sucking up source code and not releasing it per the license. The GPL sets a minimum standard of behavior for companies. The GPL may have started as a way to subvert the system and give the code freedom, but it's evolved into a set of legal protections. That's the point Raymond seems to be missing.

        "So, over and over again, we see that it's not the license that matters, it's the attitude of the people using it."

        If you're talking about companies who choose to go over and above what the license requires, then sure, I agree with you. But for every company like Apple, there could be a dozen others who take the code and don't give back their source. For those companies, it's the license /and/ the attitude that matter.

        I don't think forking is the issue of greatest concern. You're right that companies likely to contribute will do so regardless of license...when they don't, though, at least the license holders have some way of defending themselves in court through the GPL.

        • Re:Counterpoint (Score:3, Insightful)

          by argent (18001)
          the GPL kept Apple from legally sucking up source code and not releasing it per the license

          The GPL did no such thing. You can't say "this license or law stopped X, Y, or Z" unless there's a likelihood of X, Y, or Z happening. There's a law against my pulling out a gun and shooting my boss, but you can't say "the law kept me from shooting my boss" unless you had reason to believe that I would have done that if the law didn't stop me.

          Yes, there are companies for which this is true. There are, for example,
  • by MindPrison (864299) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:46AM (#12960077) Journal
    Thanks to GPL weve got thousands of pieces of codes that the community can both learn from and distribute amongst each other.

    Dont even think for a minute that the world is so "well-adapted" and would play nice if we took away GPL.

    Let me take http://www.blender3d.org/ [blender3d.org] as an example. The community bought this excellent piece of 3d software free from the grasp of shareholders and re-licensed it to GPL.

    Thanks to that, its relatively safe from its actual competitors such as Discreet(AutoDesk), Alias etc. This program is so powerful that it actually can compete with the big ones, I know... I use it commercially today to develop artworks for ad-campaings that bring food on the table, but the GPL license made it affordable for me to get a "start" on my own instead of having to invest thousands of dollars into expensive 3d-software.

    The big companies see us as potential customers as long as Blender where inferior to their software, but now as it has grown bigger...and more companies/personal users etc. are using it...

    Dont go thinking theyll play it nice forever...losing customers theyll look for an "edge" somewhere...such as a license infringement...maybe code or functions that are equal to theirs SUE SUE SUE!

    Darl McBride anyone?

    We need GPL, now more than ever!
  • Naive Optimism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:48AM (#12960094)
    "I don't think the GPL is the principal reason for Linux's success..."

    Someone's been hanging around too many honest engineers. This statement grossly underestimates the selfishness of people and corporations as well as the impact of a strong legal system. Look, I'm not saying the GPL is the only important factor but I can't logically see linux existing in anywhere near its current form without it. Even if most individuals would respect other people's work (and that's retardedly naive) some people and most corporations will not. In fact, corporate management has a fiduciary duty to make as much profit as possible for their shareholders and they're under a lot of pressure to do it. There are MUCH easier (and proven) ways to make high margin profits with software than the open source model. Without legal teeth to enforce keeping software in the community it simply wouldn't happen. It's pretty safe to assume that nearly all people and companies act in their short term self interest first and foremost. Always. No exceptions.
    • Re:Naive Optimism (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Twylite (234238)

      Corporate management has a fiduciary duty to maximize stakeholder wealth in the long term. Maintaining acceptable profit levels is only one aspect of that goal. Companies that go all-out to maximize return to shareholders find that their business model is unsustainable and they burn out.

      Contrary to your assertions regarding short term self interest, most people engage in long term planning and understand the risks of sacrificing long term returns for short term profits. Around the world most public com

  • If this were true... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Limecron (206141) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:49AM (#12960100)
    ...then why isn't one of the BSDs the more popular open-source OS?

    I think it's clear that the reason most open-source developers are inspired to work on Linux is the knowledge that their work won't be commercially exploited.
  • by Otter (3800) on Friday July 01, 2005 @09:57AM (#12960181) Journal
    The GPL isn't the problem. It's the mob who enforces "GPL violations" by:

    1) Not having the slightest idea what the GPl requires. (See countless "They don't have downloadable source code on their website! GPL violation!!!" stories here.)

    2) Declaring violations of "the spirit of the GPL" that pretty much cover anything "the community" decides it deserves and isn't getting.

    The recent Safari-KHTML brouhaha indicates why companies face risk from even the most careful use of others' GPL code.
  • by solios (53048) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:01AM (#12960235) Homepage
    Use a BSD. Stop whining.

    Talent and time are the only things holding FOSS back. :P
  • by _|()|\| (159991) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:01AM (#12960238)
    What you have to understand about Eric is his belief that open source is a superior development process. He states:
    As far back as 1998, I suspected that allegiance to the GPL is actually evidence that open source developers don't really believe their own story. That is, if we really believe that open source is a superior system of production, and therefore that it will drive out closed source in a free market, then why do we think we need infectious licensing?
    In effect, Eric is saying something like: if you're innocent, why do you need a lawyer?

    Much has been made of the difference in philosophy of the "free software" and "open source" camps (too much, perhaps); this is a pretty clear statement of Eric's perspective.

  • by iamacat (583406) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:04AM (#12960263)
    Although I have nothing against proprietary software, I am using GPL for stuff I release for free. This way I can be confident nobody will plagiarize and sell my stuff without even telling their customer where to get the free version. And if someone has more honest code reuse in mind, they can always ask - and compensate me as appropriate.

    A lot of people already wrote GPLed software before Linux was released for that and other reasons. I wonder how feature-rich Linux distributions would be if they accepted only BSD-licensed software. Even people who do serious kernel work might want to get paid if someone uses their kick-ass algorithms in a closed-source OS.
  • I have to disagree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:12AM (#12960348) Homepage

    I have to disagree with Eric. Certainly open-source would be more widely adopted if it didn't use the GPL, but it wouldn't be more successful. A lot of it's success is because of features that've gotten added over time as people needed them. The GPL is what enforces that add-back. Without it individuals would probably contribute back but corporate-sponsered development would've probably been locked up on the grounds of "protecting our precious IP". We would've lost a lot of features, and we would've seen a splintering like we did with Unix itself as companies fought to make their own subtly-incompatible versions of software to insure their customers stayed locked in and buying from them. We saw Microsoft try this with the non-GPL'd Kerberos software, and the only thing that prevented it was MIT getting nasty about trademarks. Without the GPL this would be the norm, not an exceptional example.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:21AM (#12960438) Homepage
    Does ESR sincerely believe that IBM, Sun, HP, Red Hat, Linspire, and Xandros would be feeding their enhancements back if it weren't for the GPL? Those are very pragmatic companies; they use Linux because they believe there is a competitive advantage to be had by doing so. If not for the GPL, they would be releasing proprietary extensions of Linux. Could the altruist community have brought Linux to where it is today in the same short time without the help of those companies? The GPL has done exactly what it was meant to do; "Here's a cool party. If you don't want to come, that's OK. If you do, it's potluck - you don't have to bring a dish if you can't cook, but you can't just take some food and leave."
  • Or, in other words (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcc (14761) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:26AM (#12960490) Homepage
    "Guy who has been trying to deemphasize the FSF within the open source movement for over a decade now trying to deemphasize the FSF.."

    The GPL has become the most popular free software license because it enforces a contract where you can't take without giving back. This may not be what you want for some programs, particularly programs which are platforms, such as Apache or Perl. But for most cases it is. It sends an important message to the people contributing to a GPLed project-- it says, your contributions won't be wasted, if people use this you benefit. It gives you a reason to contribute rather than boredom of philanthropy.

    Meanwhile the only people who would be made "nervous" by the presence of the GPL are the people who want, or think they might want in the future, to take from open source software without giving equally in return. Think about that for a moment.

    I tend to release my personal code under the LGPL because I feel the GPL is too restrictive, and I care more about the things I release being useful than I care about knowing I'll get something back. But that doesn't mean I'm going to deny how important the GPL is. The GPL made the open source development model as we know it today, with corporate and private interests sharing resources toward a common goal, possible-- we may be at a point now where lots of companies are contributing to open source purely voluntarily, but this is at least partly because open source is "hip" right now. There was a point in the past where it wasn't "hip" and companies sometimes had to be made to contribute, by holding the "you have to contribute to take" aspect of the GPL heads. There will be a point in the future where open source is not "hip" the way it is today. When that point comes, good luck convincing companies to contribute to your Apache licensed projects rather than just taking. It won't work all the time.
  • by cowbutt (21077) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:30AM (#12960521) Journal
    As far as I can see, there is a need for a minimal set of about four Free software licenses:

    BSD-like for code that either isn't terribly interesting or important enough to care about it being embraced and extended or code that represents a canonical implementation of a proposed standard that it is hoped will be widely adopted. Yes, even by Microsoft.

    GPL-like for interesting and unique code that presents a "Unique Selling Point" for Free-as-in-speech software. Organisations that want use it to reduce development costs and to later redistribute products need to accept the author's terms, or get off their arse and develop their own equivalent code.

    LGPL-like for code that would, if it weren't for its intended usage, be otherwise licensed as GPL-like above, but it's better if it's widely used. Yes, even by proprietary applications.

    MPL-like for 'donated' code for which the original author wishes to reserve rights for themselves that they don't necessarily wish to grant to others. Their code, their right to choose. If you don't like it, play somewhere else.

    None of what I've written above is original, even rms has said similar [lwn.net] things [gnu.org] in the past.

    Conceivably, I can accept (and even hope for) the theoretical possibility that the time will come when everyone accepts that Free software is here to stay and that no-one wishes to try to selfishly exploit it. Just like the possibility that one day humans will learn to treat each other with respect and consequently, police forces, weapons, property rights and even laws are no longer necessary to deter unwanted exploitation. Sadly, that day is not yet here. And that's where I disagree with esr.

  • by burnin1965 (535071) on Friday July 01, 2005 @10:57AM (#12960779) Homepage
    The answer to whether or not we still need the gpl:

    http://gpl-violations.org/ [gpl-violations.org]http://gpl-violations.or g/

    Nothing more should need saying, but I've got a couple more minutes. ;)

    I'm sure at some point the use of open source software will be so ubiquitous as to make the result of hording, thieving, and conspiring by individuals and corporations ineffectual.

    However, I still believe that we have not reached that cross roads yet. There are still a number of people and corporations who have the desire and the ability to plunder the hard work of those who produce the code and then conspire to both denegrate the open source offerings while profiting from that same well.

    I like to call these entities the Robber Barons of the Information Age. They are filled with childish and immature emotions and characteristics. They see themselves as icons of a vast empire they built and they are justfied in their actions. Of course the truth is that no one man or even the entire clique of Robber Barons created the information age. In fact it has been the nameless and faceless masses of electronic/software engineers in the background producing all the fantastic hardware and software which makes the information age possible. These men who are supposed to be leaders instead have become filled with themselves. And it all comes down to human nature and the corruption of power.

    The way I see it the GPL and the idea behind it is a tool that can be used to take back what has been stolen by the Robber Barons. Many of these same nameless masses who made the Barons are also producing open source code under the GPL and the GPL is poison to the thieving Barons, that is why they despise it to no end.

    The GPL is a tool to help keep the Robber Barons human nature in check. I think the end result is that instead of having icons in the open source development circles there are leaders.

    Anyhow, thats enough ranting for now.

    burnin

    p.s. Just a note on the mention of engineering. Not having a degree in engineering does not mean you are not an engineer and conversely having a degree in engineering does not make you an engineer. If you really want to know what an engineer is and determin if you are an engineer just look up the definition of engineer and engineering.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Friday July 01, 2005 @11:17AM (#12960976) Homepage Journal
    This is stupid. Both the GPL and BSD licenses are open source. They're both valid approaches. One prevents proprietary forks from coming into existence, the other doesn't. Which license you choose depends solely on whether you, as a developer or software publisher, are ok with that. That's all. Nothing else.
  • by melted (227442) on Friday July 01, 2005 @11:28AM (#12961073) Homepage
    and a clown to boot. Now if Stallman said something I'd listen. But Stallman won't air such bullshit. GPL is the sole reason why Linux exists and progresses. It doesn't allow lage companies to create and extend their own closed flavors of linux, kinda like it happened with UNIX two decades ago. More precisely, they can create and extend their own flavors (like Google does), they just can't redistribute them without giving away the new IP.
  • by HawkingMattress (588824) on Friday July 01, 2005 @11:52AM (#12961315)
    Oh wait, we never needed him, only him thought so.
    This guy has 0% credibility from my point of vue, just like any stoopid politician who tries to push his agenda while telling you he's defending your freedom or whatever...
    Get a job, and stop annoying us.
  • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:12PM (#12962737) Homepage
    Leaving aside the question of whether or not the GPL is good, isn't this a pointless moot thing anyway given that extricating Linux out of GPL and putting it into something else isn't possible anymore?

    Firstly there's the problem with all the little itty bitty utility programs that are GPLed that while technically not part of linux since linux is just the kernel, are still rather necessary for a distro of Linux to behave like a Unix - things like "grep" and "cat" and "bash" and so on. To un-GPL a distro of linux would require finding replacements from the ground-up for all of those tools. Secondly, the kernel itself is GPL'ed anyway, with masses of developers adding their own code into it under the understanding that it is GPL. To legally produce a new version of the the kernel at this point under a different license would require either the express consent of ALL THOSE DEVELOPERS WHO EVER ADDED A LINE OF CODE to the kernel, or a way to cut out just those bits contributed by the developers who refuse to put their code under a different license, and then replace them with something that isn't just an exact copy of the same code. There's just no way that is going to be practical. That's just not going to happen. And even then you'd be leaving behind the GPL version of the kernel that I'm sure would grow on its own and become its own fork of the kernel.

    So in other words, the whole debate is moot. Like it or not, Linux is GPL to stay.
  • by guidryp (702488) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:49PM (#12963261)
    And make that corporate behavior as well.

    Linux is successful because of GPL. GPL is an incentive to share, you know that your sharing will result in more sharing. You know that when you contribute to GPL, you are encouraging more people to do the same. In the end you benefit as well.

    There is a strong analogy with Bit Torrent. Same human nature factors. Bit Torrent works so well because of enforced sharing.

    The alternative is what? The "honor system". Well that really doesn't work if you understand human nature.

    The "honor system" completely opposite to the way corporations "MUST" act. Must in that if they can take it for free and give nothing back, then then must to maximize profits as they are obligated to do. GPL frees corporations of the necessity to not give anything back. There now is a case for sharing that is compatible with corporate governance.

    GPL is a necessity.

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