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Microsoft-Novell: "Free Has To Have A Price" – "That's Nonsense," Says Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz

"Free software can be free of royalties, and free of impediments to broadscale, global adoption and deployment"

"Those that say open source software can't be safe for customers - or that commercially indemnified software can't foster community - are merely advancing their own agenda. Without any basis in fact." That, according to Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz (pictured), is why the executive executive from Microsoft or Novell who said "free has to have a price" is talking "nonsense."

Writing in his industry-leading blog, Schwartz was giving some of the background philosophy to Sun's following through last week on its promise to "join hands with the free software community," and its choice of the Free Software Foundation's General Public License (GPL) as the governing license for the future evolution of the Java platform.

Schwartz openly admits that "one of the strongest motivations to select the GPL was the announcement made last week by Novell and Microsoft, suggesting that free and open source software wasn't safe unless a royalty was being paid."

Here Sun's CEO went on the offensive:

"As an executive from one of those companies said, 'free has to have a price.' That's nonsense.

Free software can be free of royalties, and free of impediments to broadscale, global adoption and deployment. Witness what we've done with Solaris, and now, what we've done with Java. Developers are free to pick up the code, and create derivatives. Without royalty or obligation." 
The choice of GPL version 2 had been "a very complex task," Schwartz noted. He wrote: "we took an enormous breadth of issues to heart in making the selection, from protecting our customers and licensees, to continuing to foster a wildly successful developer community. We had to worry about device manufacturers, media standards, big enterprise systems, government and military deployments - remember, more businesses and devices leverage Java than any other development platform. This was no simple feat."

"So to the legal team at Sun," Schwartz concluded, "and our friends at the Free Software Foundation - I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Roland Turner 11/20/06 04:44:30 AM EST

What Sun's actually done, and what almost no company before them has done, is to bend over backwards to do this right. They've resisted the siren-song of corporate counsel who feel the need to FUD their employer into paying them to invent entirely new legalise, which doesn't interoperate with anyone else's legalise. (My own failure to convince Zawinski that a GPL dual-license was a good thing for Mozilla still smarts; it meant that for the first couple of years of the Mozilla project (until dual-licensing took place, after Zawinski quit), Gnome developers were shut out completely. This experience has perhaps biased me, but to see a major corporate source drop done right is fantastic.)

Further, note that Sun hasn't merely pinned the tail on a politically-correct GPLv2 donkey, they've gone through this in excruciating detail to get it just right. Instead of taking the "obvious" LGPLv2.1 option for the libraries, they've taken note of the existing practice by other open-source Java projects and adopted GPLv2 with "the classpath exception". With respect to the transition period for their own libraries (they hold outright copyrights in the compiler and VM, but the libraries contain encumberances which will take time to remove, so they've not made a library release yet), they've worked with the Software Freedom Law Center to craft a specific exemption that avoids trapping applications atop the standard APIs becoming GPLv2 encumbered when shiped _with_ the open-source Sun VM under GPLv2 and closed Sun libraries.

The legal groundwork that they've done is exemplary; it's really, really impressive. Someone inside Sun has asked some open-source/free-software advocates how it _should_ be done, and then listened very closely to the answer(s).

v2 vs v3 11/20/06 04:42:40 AM EST

Gnu GPLv2 is now 15 years old and covers substantially _ALL_ software that's under any version, but how about v3?

Ted Tso 11/20/06 04:37:34 AM EST

According to this FAQ, the trick which Novell/Microsoft used to sidestep the section 7 of the GPLv2 was that covenant not to sue was not given to Novell, but rather directly to Novell's customers. Very clever.... of course, that means that if you are a Novell customer, and you rely on this pledge (which hasn't triggered yet since Microsoft hasn't sued anyone over any patents which MS might (or might not) have covering Linux), then you won't be able to share Linux with any of your friends; once it happened, you would be violating the GPL if you did so.

Novell FAQ is here: http://www.novell.com/linux/microsoft/faq_opensource.html

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