Linux Leader Takes Aim At Free Software Movement - InformationWeek

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7/31/2006
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Linux Leader Takes Aim At Free Software Movement

There seems to be another rift among the Linux faithful.

Linus Torvalds, who helped create the open source operating system Linux, is blasting the Free Software Foundation (FSF) again as the group releases its latest draft of a revised General Public License (GPL).

"I think that "freedom" is fine, but we're not exactly talking about slavery here," Torvalds wrote on Groklaw. "Trying to make it look like we're the Abraham Lincoln of our generation just makes us look stupid and stuck up. I'd much rather talk about "fairness" and about issues like just being a much better process for generating better code, and having fun while doing so."

The FSF and the Software Freedom Law Center released the second discussion draft of the GNU GPL version 3 last week. The draft marks the halfway point of a yearlong public review process for proposing changes and finalizing the GPLv3.

The GPL is a widely used software license that covers free software and the Linux kernel. According to the FSF, nearly 75 percent of all free software programs in the world are distributed under the GPL, which was last revised more than 15 years ago.

Since January, members of the free software community submitted nearly 1,000 suggestions for improving the license. Many of those suggestions have been discussed at international conferences held in the United States, Brazil and Spain. The FSF said the draft of GPLv3 released last week incorporates changes based on many of the suggestions.

"By listening to people from around the world, we are working toward a license that acts consistently in many different legal systems and in a variety of situations," Eben Moglen, Software Freedom Law Center founder and chairman said through a prepared statement.

Torvalds " who insists on calling his software "open" to make a distinction from, and avoid association with, "free software" advocates " said the discussions of GPLv3 have not allowed for real opposition. He also criticized an earlier version of the GPLv3, calling it a "crusade."

Under the new draft, the GPLv3 would directly restrict Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology only when it is used to prevent people from sharing or modifying GPLv3-covered software.

"The clarified DRM section preserves the spirit of the original GPL, which forbids adding additional unfree restrictions to free software," the FSF said through a prepared statement.

The statement added that the license does not prohibit the implementation of DRM " which the FSF refers to as "Digital Restrictions Management" - but prevents DRM features that cannot be removed.

"The primary purpose of the GNU GPL is to preserve users' freedom to use, share and modify free software," said Richard Stallman, FSF founder and original GPL author. "We depend on public review to make the GPL do this job reliably."

Torvalds said the license is evolving in a way that pushes a moral agenda instead of encouraging cooperation to create the best products in a way that most participants will perceive as fair.

"The GPLv3 is designed to take the FSF back to its original "good old days," when "Free Software" was a war, and [Stallman] was its proselytizing general," he wrote. "But the fact is, it's not a war, and peaceful and happy co-existence is actually much preferable to moral jihads. And that's why I think the GPLv2 is much better. It allows us all to agree to just work together, without making it a religion."

The new draft contains compatibility provisions that allow GPL covered programs to be distributed on file sharing networks like Bit Torrent. The group also released the first draft of a GNU Lesser General Public License version 3, which covers many free software system libraries. Moglen said the GPLv3 is on schedule for a release of the final draft early in 2007.

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