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Linux Creator Torvalds Questions New Open Source License

Linus Torvalds prefers the current license to GPLv3, which could be good news for Microsoft and Tivo.

Paul McDougall

June 12, 2007

2 Min Read

The creator of the Linux operating system sees "no reason" to move his invention to new licensing terms under consideration by the group that governs open source software.

"I still think GPLv2 is simply the better license," Linus Torvalds said in a posting Sunday on the Linux kernel developer mailing list.

The Free Software Foundation is in the midst of revising open source software's most widely used license -- the so-called General Public License. GPLv3 is expected to be published in final form this summer.

Key changes from GPLv2 include a ban on deals under which open source distributors agree to patent protection arrangements with commercial software developers. GPLv3 also adds a prohibition on including open source software in consumer appliances that don't allow user modifications.

The Free Software Foundation says such arrangements and features violate the spirit of open source software, which is meant to be used and shared freely. The two provisions are squarely aimed at Microsoft and digital video recorder manufacturer Tivo.

Microsoft claims Linux and other open source software violates its patents and has cut licensing deals with distributors Novell and Xandros, as well as a number of users. Tivo's DVRs are designed to shut down if users attempt to tamper with internal digital rights management software.

Torvalds says the FSF is overreacting. "All I've heard are shrill voices about "tivoization" (which I expressly think is OK) and panicked worries about Novell-MS," the software developer wrote in his post.

Torvalds also called earlier drafts of GPLv3 "a disaster."

As a result, Torvalds said "I don't really see a reason" to license the Linux kernel under GPLv3.

Torvalds' position could be welcome news for Microsoft and Tivo. Both companies have expressed concerns over GPLv3 and its impact on their ability to integrate open source software alongside their commercial products.

GPLv3's prohibitions would not apply to Linux if Torvalds chooses not to license the operating system under its terms.

Still, it's likely that many other key open source software components would fall under GPLv3, making it difficult for users and distributors to create full, open source software stacks that escape the GPLv3 prohibitions.

It's a fact that Torvalds himself acknowledges in another message posted Sunday: "I consider dual-licensing unlikely (and technically quite hard), but at least possible in theory."

Torvalds also states that he hasn't completely ruled out moving Linux to GPLv3: "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."

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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