In December, 2004, a committee tasked by the European Commission issued a report [PDF]
open source licensing. This report concluded that, while the existing open
source licenses achieved a number of important goals, none was 100% suited
to the task of licensing software in Europe. The shortcomings they found
led the committee to suggest that the EU should adopt either a modified
version of the Open
or a completely new license drafted with European
requirements in mind.
Most of the problems found by this committee were related to terminology.
Most open source licenses, for example, allow the licensed software to be
redistributed. Under the European interpretation, however, "redistribute"
has a narrower meaning; in particular, it does not include acts like
making the software available for general download on the net. The
essential right for this sort of redistribution is "communicate to the
public." Without an explicit grant of the right to communicate the
licensed code to the public, the possibility remains that some court,
somewhere, could conclude that putting a tarball on a web site is a
violation of the license.
"Virality" is another concern of the authors, who see the GPL is being
rather more "viral" than the alternative licenses. In particular, the
authors see dynamic linkage as a barrier over which the concept of a
"derived work" cannot cross:
The viral effect through mere dynamic linkage (also called "strong
copyleft") is a much more debated question, and currently discussed
on its legal grounds. From our point of view, there is no legal
provision in the EC 91/250 directive on which this viral effect
could be grounded. On the contrary, when a program dynamically
linked with another, no code is reproduced in the program as such:
the only reproduction of code that is made occurs in the RAM of the
computer, where both the programs are "merged".
The Free Software Foundation, instead, does not feel that the type of
linking used affects the copyright status of the resulting program. This
distinction is important; it could, for example, affect the status of
proprietary kernel modules. Because they disagree with the FSF's
interpretation, the report's authors shy away from the GPL, even though
other "copyleft" licenses contain similar language - and copyleft is what
the authors say they want.
A few other details caught their attention. Licenses in Europe, for
example, are generally not allowed to outlast the corresponding
intellectual property protection period. The terms of a copyright license
thus cannot be imposed after the covered work has gone out of copyright,
should that ever be allowed to happen again. Some details in warranty
disclaimers are different, and there are certain types of warranty which
cannot be disclaimed.
In response to this report, Lawrence Rosen, the author of the Open Software
License, has announced a draft version 3.0 of the
OSL [PDF] for review. The draft is annotated so that it is easy to see
what has changed from the current version (2.1). Most of the changes are
fairly obvious given the discussion above: the OSL now explicitly grants
the right to "communicate" the software, for example. The license is no
longer "perpetual"; instead, the copyright and patent grants are for the
copyright and patent protection periods, respectively.
There are a couple of new terms which might not be popular with all users
of this license, however. The "acceptance" clause now includes the
If You distribute or communicate copies of the Original Work or a
Derivative Work, You must make a reasonable effort under the
circumstances to obtain the express assent of recipients to the
terms of this License.
This language is a response to concerns about whether a license can truly
be binding in Europe if the licensee has not explicitly accepted it. The
"reasonable effort under the circumstances" might include an active
copyright acceptance step required at download time or when the software is
installed. It is unclear what might be expected of a distributor shipping
OSL-licensed software mixed in with thousands of other packages.
The new license also adds:
Unless You obtain a separate license or a waiver of this sentence
from the Licensor, (i) You must display Licensor's copyright and
patent notices on copies of the Original Work and Derivative Works
that You distribute, in the same places and with the same
prominence as You display Your own copyright and patent notices,
and (ii) You must display a statement to the effect that "Your work
is a Derivative Work of Licensor's Original Work licensed under the
Open Software License version 3.0" in copies of Derivative Works
that You distribute, in the same places and with the same
prominence as You display Your own trademarks.
This looks like the return of the unlamented BSD advertising clause. It is
less onerous, however, in that it only requires attribution in places where
the redistributor is asserting copyright claims. Still, a splash screen
for an application built from several OSL-licensed libraries could get
unwieldy. Mr. Rosen states:
This change has nothing to do with the other changes I made in
response to the EC proposal for a license that conforms more
closely to their language and needs. It was made because certain
open source companies who contribute free software have told me
they need a way to prevent downstream distributors from simply
making it appear that the new distributors -- and not the original
author -- are the ones responsible for the work.
It is not clear how much of a problem this has been in the real world, and
whether it truly needs fixing.
The OSL is not a hugely popular license; Freshmeat claims that the OSL
applies to 0.15% of the projects listed there. There are some important
projects using the OSL, however, including Rails, Globus, ImageMagick,
and sparse. This license is well respected and carries a certain
influence. Its importance could grow if it comes to be seen as the license
to use for those who are especially concerned about adherence to European
law. So this proposed update is significant. For those who are
interested, the discussion is happening now on the Open Source Initiative's
license-discuss mailing list.
Comments (30 posted)
It is not often that a straightforward software release announcement
generates over 100 comments on LWN, so the recent GTK+ 2.8.0 announcement
is special. One might
think that the commenters were excited about the new GTK+ features,
including Cairo graphics, composite extension support, or that sexy new
file browser widget. But no such luck. It would seem that what people
really want to talk about is key bindings, which are unchanged in 2.8.0.
Certain users see GNOME as moving steadily away from its initial user base,
and away from the traditions of Unix as a whole, and they are vocal about
their discontent with this state of affairs.
Certainly, the GNOME desktop offers enough annoyances to make just about
any user grumpy. Your editor is burned daily by the metacity "a new window
gets the keyboard focus regardless of the pointer position" policy; having
the focus yanked away in the middle of a sentence does not seem like the
most user-friendly policy. Why can't gthumb's forms do the right thing
when the user hits "enter," rather than forcing another trip back to the
mouse? Where, exactly, is the little option to get emacs key bindings?
Clicking on a window does not mean the window should be raised; there is a
separate combination for that. The new, "electron cloud" busy-cursor
behavior in the Rawhide version of GNOME 2.12 is distracting and annoying,
requiring a trip to an external site
for a new cursor theme. Dia's aggressive use of "tool tips" makes a nice
drawing application almost unusable. Why is there no easy way to move
settings from one system to another? And so on.
Annoyances are part of using a computer, however. It is hard to imagine
that a desktop as complex and featureful as GNOME would be free of
glitches. These things can be smoothed out over time to make room for new
bits of obnoxious behavior. The GNOME debate goes beyond the current set
of misfeatures, however, and into a couple of fundamental issues which are
worth a look.
One of these is: to what extent is GNOME a "Unix" desktop, and to what
extent should it preserve the traditional Unix way of doing things,
whatever that might be? At the 2000 Ottawa Linux Symposium, Miguel de
Icaza delivered his famous "Unix sucks"
talk. Unix, he said, had gone stale and had not been the source of any
significant innovation for quite some time. The GNOME project intended to
move beyond hidebound Unix ways and deliver something new. Miguel's
vision, which seemed to involve switching over to hidebound Microsoft ways,
does not appear to be driving the GNOME project at this time, but the
project does appear willing to break from the past - even its own past - if
that offers hope of a better desktop.
And that is how it should be. The Unix way of doing things worked well in
a different era, when users were clueful, systems were small (in
capability, if not in actual size), and an
ADM 3 terminal in one's office seemed like a major step up. How do
many of the fundamental Unix ideas - writing programs as small,
text-oriented filters, for example - fit into the creation of a modern,
graphical desktop? Clearly, developers wishing to pull Linux forward into
a larger world with a broader user community have to be willing to do some
things differently. One may not agree with everything that the GNOME project
has done, but the GNOME hackers are (like their counterparts at KDE and
elsewhere) trying to change the world for the better.
It would be surprising indeed if there were a consensus on what "better"
is, especially before it has been implemented and pounded on. The GNOME
idea of "better" may or may not win out in the end, but, because the
developers are working at it, we will have the opportunity find out. And
that is a good thing.
The other issue which comes up with some regularity is a perceived
arrogance from some in the GNOME camp. Experimentation with the desktop
will go best when accompanied by careful attention to the resulting cries
of agony from the user community. Users have often been heard to complain,
however, that the GNOME hackers Know Too Much to listen to those cries as
they follow the One True Course. A tendency by some developers to describe
user requests as "crack" probably has not helped in this regard. Recent
posters have complained about the refusal by the Evolution maintainers to
accept a patch enabling the use of external editors.
There is a hard line to follow here; the maintainer of any successful free
software project must learn to say "no" to features and requests much of
the time, or that project will likely collapse under its own weight. Say
"no" too often, however, and both users and developers will leave for a
more accommodating environment. The GNOME developers may well be guilty of
occasionally erring on the "no" side of that line, however. The project
probably hit its low point early in the 2.x series, when configuration
options were being jettisoned in a seemingly indiscriminate manner and few
apologies were forthcoming. The situation seems to have improved, however,
even if work remains to be done; chances are that 2.12 will be the best
GNOME release yet.
The nice thing about all this is that we are dealing with free software.
Using GNOME is not required to get the most out of Linux. The KDE project
is out there, and several other desktops as well; it should not be hard to
find one to suit the needs of any particular user. One can even still
operate a Linux system via an ADM 3 terminal, using the traditional
key bindings. The GNOME hackers are doing the right thing in a general
sense by pushing toward their vision of a better desktop. If they fail to
meet the needs of the user community - or to listen to that community's
feedback - there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. Or even the
option of forking the project, should that seem like the best course. For
the time being, however, this project has made major progress in the
creation of a powerful Linux desktop, and the whole thing is free
software. There are limits to how much one should complain about that.
[As a footnote, it's worth noting that long-time GNOME release manager Jeff
Waugh is stepping down; his replacement
will likely be Elijah Newren. Congratulations are due to Jeff for heading
up several smooth, on-time GNOME releases.]
Comments (116 posted)
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