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Think Linus Torvalds Will Defer to Sun on GPLv3? The Answer May Hinge on a Bottle of Wine

I didn't really expect them to open source Java either so it's not like I'm infallible in my predictions

Linux creator Linus Torvalds thinks the last GPLv3 draft is better than earlier drafts, but he still doesn't like it much, preferring the existing GPLv2 that the Linux kernel is currently licensed under.

He has problems with the GPL 3's ban on so-called "tivoization" - Tivo shuts down if users mess with its DRM software - and deals like the Microsoft-Novell pact.

" All I've heard are shrill voices about 'tivoization' (which I expressly think is OK)," he wrote Sunday on the Linux development mailing list, "and panicked worries about Novell-MS (which seems way overblown, and quite frankly, the argument seems to not so much be about the Novell deal, as about an excuse to push the GPLv3)."

However, he told the mailing list that he might move to GPLv3 if Sun puts OpenSolaris under the GPLv3 like it's been saying it wants to so it can have a standard license.

"I have yet to see any actual reasons for licensing under the GPLv3, " Linus said. But "if Sun really is going to release OpenSolaris under GPLv3, that may be a good reason. I don't think the GPLv3 is as good a license as v2, but on the other hand, I'm pragmatic, and if we can avoid having two kernels with two different licenses and the friction that causes, I at least see the reason for GPLv3. As it is, I don't really see a reason at all. I personally doubt it will happen, but hey, I didn't really expect them to open source Java either so it's not like I'm infallible in my predictions."

Not that Torvalds is particularly enamored of Sun.

Nope.

To someone on the listing mail he wrote:

"Umm. You are making the fundamental mistake of thinking that Sun is in this to actually further some open source agenda.

"Here's a cynical prediction (but backed up by past behavior of Sun):

"First off: they may be talking a lot more than they are or ever will be doing. How many announcements about Sun and Linux have you seen over the years? And how much of that has actually happened?

"They may like open source, but Linux has hurt them in the marketplace. A lot. They almost used to own the chip design market, and it took quite a long time before the big EDA vendors ported to Linux (and x86-64 in particular). But when they did, their chip design market just basically disappeared: Sparc performance is so horribly bad (especially on a workstation kind of setup) that to do chip design on them is just idiotic. Which is not to say that there aren't holdouts, but let's face it, for a lot of things, Solaris is simply the wrong choice these days.

"Ergo: they sure as hell don't want to help Linux. Which is fine. Competition is good.

"So they want to use Linux resources (especially drivers), but they do not want to give anything back (especially ZFS [Sun's Zettabyte File System], which seems to be one of their very, very few bright spots).

"Ergo: they'll not be releasing ZFS and the other things that people are drooling about in a way that lets Linux use them on an equal footing. I can pretty much guarantee that. They don't like competition on that level. They'd much rather take our drivers and not give anything back, or give back the stuff that doesn't matter (like core Solaris: who are you kidding - Linux code is better).

"End result:

"They'll talk about it. They not only drool after our drivers, they drool after all the people who write drivers. They'd love to get kernel developers from Linux. They see that we have a huge amount of really talented people. So they want to talk things up, and the more 'open source' they can position themselves, the better.

"They may release the uninteresting parts under some fine license. See the OpenSolaris stuff - instead of being blinded by the code they did release under an open source license, ask yourself what they did not end up releasing. Ask yourself why the open source parts are not ready to bootstrap a competitive system, or why they are released under licenses that Sun can make sure they control.

"So the last thing they want to do is to release the interesting stuff under GPLv2 (quite frankly, I think the only really interesting thing they have is ZFS, and even there, I suspect we'd be better off talking to NetApp, and seeing if they are interested in releasing WAFL for Linux).

"Yes, they finally released Java under GPLv2, and they should be commended for that. But you should also ask yourself why, and why it took so long. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that other Java implementations started being more and more relevant?

"Am I cynical? Yes. Do I expect people to act in their own interests? Hell yes! That's how things are supposed to happen. I'm not at all berating Sun, what I'm trying to do here is to wake people up who seem to be living in some dream-world where Sun wants to help people.

"So to Sun, a GPLv3-only release would actually let them look good, and still keep Linux from taking their interesting parts, and would allow them to take at least parts of Linux without giving anything back (ahh, the joys of license fragmentation).

"Of course, they know that. And yes, maybe ZFS is worthwhile enough that I'm willing to go to the effort of trying to re-license the kernel. But quite frankly, I can almost guarantee that Sun won't release ZFS under the GPLv3 even if they release other parts. Because if they did they'd lose the patent protection.

"And yes, I'm cynical, and yes, I hope I'm wrong. And if I'm wrong, I'll very happily retract anything cynical I said about Sun. They have done great things, and maybe I'm just too pessimistic about all the history I've seen of Sun with open source.

"The good news is that Jonathan Schwartz actually does seem to have made a difference, and I hope to God he is really as serious about open sourcing things as he says he is. And don't get me wrong: I think a truly open source GPLv3 Solaris would be a really really good thing, even if it does end up being a one-way street as far as code is concerned!"

In response, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz took to his blog to claim to Linus that "OpenSolaris has come a very long way since you last looked" and invite Linus to dinner.

Jonathan said, "Now despite what you suggest, we love where the FSF's GPLv3 is headed. For a variety of mechanical reasons, GPLv2 is harder for us with OpenSolaris - but not impossible, or even out of the question. This has nothing to do with being afraid of the community…

"Why does open sourcing take so long? Because we're starting from products that exist, in which a diversity of contributors and licensors/licensees have rights we have to negotiate. Indulge me when I say it's different than starting from scratch. I would love to go faster, and we are all doing everything under our control to accelerate progress. (Remember, we can't even pick GPLv3 yet - if doesn't officially exist.) It's also a delicate dance to manage this transition while growing a corporation….

"By joining our communities, we can bring transparency and opportunity to the while patent. Are we after your drivers? No more than you're after ZFS or Crossbow or dtrace - it's not predation, it's prudence. Let's stop wasting time recreating wheels we both need to roll forward.

"I wanted you to hear this from me directly. We want to work together, we want to join hands and communities - we have no intention of holding anything back, or pulling patent nonsense. And to prove the sincerity of the offer, I invite you to my house for dinner. I'll cook; you bring the wine. A mashup in the truest sense."

Maybe Jonathan should make it a party. Other main Linux kernel developers and maintainers don't have any use for GPL 3 either and goodness knows what they think of Sun.

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JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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