Novell-Microsoft agreement delays GPLv3
Thursday March 15, 2007 (09:31 PM GMT)
By: Bruce Byfield
The November 2006 agreement between Microsoft and Novell is delaying the
release of the final draft of the third version of the GNU General Public
License (GPLv3), says Peter Brown, the executive director of the Free
Software Foundation (FSF).
According to the GPLv3 Process Definition published in January 2006, the
FSF's original plan was to release the final draft of the license "in
approximately October 2006" and to announce GPLv3 "no later than March 2007
and preferably on January 15, 2007." The process definition even talked
about the possibility of the second draft, released in July 2006, being the
final version if the committees assisting in the writing of GPLv3 had no
The second draft raised concerns about language concerning patents and
digital rights management technologies, with Linus Torvalds and other Linux
kernel developers expressing their vocal opposition. All the same, shortly
after the release of the second draft, Richard Fontana, a lawyer who is one
of those writing the revised language, told Linux.com, "We do not plan to
delay the process."
Announced around the time the third draft was scheduled, the
Novell-Microsoft deal raised a number of unforeseen concerns. In both the
media and the free software community, the agreement has been seen as a
potential violation of the GPL, both because Microsoft would be paying a
royalty to redistribute Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise, and because the
agreement included patent protection for only Novell customers in the event
that Microsoft's intellectual property were discovered in GNU/Linux.
Although the FSF soon judged the agreement technically legal under the
current version of the GPL, Eben Moglen, general counsel for the FSF and the
principal legal architect for GPLv3, is quoted as saying, "Our strategy is
to use GPLv3 against the deal."
Details about the process have not been made public. Yet it seems safe to
speculate that the widespread concern about the Novell-Microsoft agreement
in the free and open source software community has prolonged and intensified
discussion on the GPLv3 committees. Discussion may be further prolonged by
the fact that Novell has at least four members on the GPLv3 discussion
committees (attorneys Greg Jones and Patrick McBride, testing architect
Federico Lucifredi, CTO of Novell's Open Platform Solutions Group Markus
Rex). Further complications may arise from the fact that Samba developer
Jeremy Allison, who resigned from Novell to protest the agreement with
Microsoft, is still listed as a committee member.
However, the largest reason for the delay seems to be the FSF's caution in
dealing with such an unexpected situation. "We continue to work on the
details of the GPLv3 as it relates to the situation presented by the Novell
and Microsoft deal. We are researching issues related to potential
unintended consequences of the language we plan to adopt," says Brown. "As
soon as we are satisfied with the results of our research we plan to bring
forward the next draft."
Brown declined to give details, except to say that he expected that the
release of the next draft would be "a matter of days rather than weeks."
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