Torvalds Talks About GPLv3 - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
10:25 AM
Connect Directly
Full Security Visibility: An Introduction to SysSecOps
Jun 06, 2017
Systems and security operations - SysSecOps - is a growing approach that integrates endpoint monit ...Read More>>

Torvalds Talks About GPLv3

The creator of Linux explains why he won't embrace the next version of the open source license

That Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, prefers the current version of the General Public License, GPLv2, over the version in development, GPLv3, is no secret. But in a lengthy E-mail response to questions from InformationWeek, he offers a full explanation of what he thinks is superior about GPLv2.

Linus TorvaldsTorvalds says he regrets that the authors of GPLv3 have decided to take aim at political opponents. He has little patience for statements about the "evil and immoral" nature of proprietary code or the "TiVo-ization" of Linux (a reference to set-top box producer TiVo producing a device that runs only one version of Linux), both statements made by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and one of the authors of GPLv3. "Me, I just don't care about proprietary software. It's not evil. ... It just doesn't matter," Torvalds says. If the authors of GPLv3 try to impart bans on digital rights management and prohibit other perceived evils, they will clutter up the simplicity of GPLv2 and end up telling people what they can or cannot do with GPL software. "The real basic issue is that I think the FSF simply doesn't have goals that I can personally sign up to," he adds.

On the other hand, Torvalds sees the wisdom in the FSF's GPLv2 license, which has been in effect for the past 16 years and governs at least half of the code produced as open source. GPL developers aren't obligated to move their code off GPLv2 to GPLv3 if they don't want to, Torvalds says, noting that some people have assumed he will move the Linux kernel to GPLv3 when it comes out. Consequently, the license commitment for the Linux kernel will be to GPLv2 only, and not "GPLv2 or any later version," the language under which Linux is currently licensed. "I simply don't want to be at the mercy of somebody else when it comes to something as important as the license. ... It's just stupid to do anything else," Torvalds says.

He says the earlier version of the GPL grants users the full right to use the software with two or three straightforward conditions that apply equally to everyone. Torvalds endorses the giveback provision that some open source licenses, such as the Apache or Eclipse licenses, avoid. Those who use only GPL code and don't participate in its continued improvement are less likely to engage developers and get their specific needs answered in using the code.

InformationWeek Download

"That's a kind of beauty to me," he says. "People are encouraged to chip in and help, not because of some political agenda or because they try to be 'good people,' but simply because it helps themselves more than not chipping in. We can all be selfish and do the things that make sense for ourselves. It really boils down to a very simple equation: 'I will get more effort out of other people working on it, too, than I have to give back.'"

There may have been political views behind the original GPL, but version 2 lets people of different political views work together. "But the FSF seems to want to change the model," Torvalds says. The drafts of GPLv3 have been about what you can and can't do with that code. "That's not a direction I want to follow in," he says.

Return to main story, The Controversy Over GPL 3

Photo courtesy of Joe Zeff

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of Data and Analytics
Today's companies are differentiating themselves using data analytics, but the journey requires adjustments to people, processes, technology, and culture. 
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll