The recently announced GNU
Ghostscript 7.07 release
will be the last. GNU Ghostscript - a free
PostScript and PDF interpreter which lurks at the core of free print
systems worldwide - is the result of several years worth of cooperation
between its developers and the Free Software Foundation. Disagreements
over the best way to create free software have brought an end to that
cooperation - and to GNU Ghostscript. Fortunately, users of GPL-licensed
Ghostscript should see little, if any, change.
Many companies have tried innovative licensing schemes as a way of creating
free software while making enough money to pay their programmers.
Ghostscript works with a variant of the "escrow" approach. New Ghostscript
developments are released under the Aladdin Free Public
License (AFPL), which is not a free license. It gives users the
right to use, modify, and distribute copies of AFPL Ghostscript - with an
Distribution of the Program or any work based on the Program by a
commercial organization to any third party is prohibited if any
payment is made in connection with such distribution, whether
directly (as in payment for a copy of the Program) or indirectly
(as in payment for some service related to the Program, or payment
for some product or service that includes a copy of the Program
"without charge"; these are only examples, and not an exhaustive
enumeration of prohibited activities).
In other words, the Ghostscript copyright holder (artofcode LLC) reserves
the right to make money from the distribution of Ghostscript. If you want
to distribute AFPL Ghostscript as part of a commercial product (i.e. inside
a printer), you must come to
an agreement with Artifex Software, which handles these deals.
After one year has passed, however, the AFPL-licensed code is re-released
under the GPL as (until now) GNU Ghostscript. Of course, by that time a
new batch of code will be just beginning its time under the AFPL. The end
result is the the GPL version is always a bit old. It is, however, clearly
good enough for most users; most Ghostscript users probably never bother to
download and install the AFPL version, even though they have the right to
According to the Free Software Foundation's Bradley Kuhn, the FSF, while
accepting the GNU
Ghostscript releases, has never been entirely comfortable with the method
by which they are produced. There is, he says, "nothing important enough
to be worth sacrificing freedom for." So the non-free Ghostscript releases
have always gone against FSF principles - even if, in the end, it results
in a much improved free Ghostscript. (The FSF also is not convinced that
the Ghostscript model results in improved free releases; Mr. Kuhn cites the
MySQL approach as, perhaps, a better way of doing things).
The difference in viewpoints between the FSF and the Ghostscript team have
resulted in two issues which have, at this point, brought about the end of the GNU
Ghostscript releases. The first is the FSF's insistence that nothing in
GNU Ghostscript can even mention that AFPL Ghostscript exists. This is not
a new situation - see this note from
Richard Stallman in response to the GNU Ghostscript 5.10
release announcement back in 1998. That announcement mentioned AFPL
Ghostscript 5.50, which was set to become GNU Ghostscript 5.50 several
months later; this mention violated the FSF's rules on information control
and had to be corrected. More recently, Mr. Stallman told
the Ghostscript developers that there were "major and pervasive
problems" with the GNU Ghostscript release.
The most pervasive problem is that the GPL notices in every source
file are not the standard ones, and they refer to a web site that
describes non-free software.
The Ghostscript team did comply with the FSF's wishes, and changed the
copyright notices for the 7.07 release.
The other issue has to do with bug tracking systems. The Ghostscript team
wants to use a single, unified bug tracker for both versions of the code.
Among other things, a common bug database makes it easy to determine
whether bugs reported in GNU Ghostscript have been fixed in the AFPL
version; in such cases, according to Ghostscript maintainer Raph Levien,
the bug fixes are always backported to the GNU version. The FSF was
unwilling to agree to a single bug tracking system, however. They would
like to see a real development community form around the GPL version of the
code and a bug tracking system which includes the AFPL version, in their
opinion, works against that goal.
Ghostscript team, unwilling to deal with the hassles of maintaining two
separate bug tracking systems, decided to cease making GNU Ghostscript
Ghostscript users may not notice the difference, however.
Given that each side continues to express great respect for the other and
the two remain on friendly terms, there is a real possibility that things
could yet be worked out in the future. In the mean time, as Mr. Levien
told us: "...while we are discontinuing the GNU affiliation, our
commitment to GPL releases of Ghostscript is as strong as ever."
GNU Ghostscript will, in the future, bear a name like "GPL Ghostscript,"
and it will not be considered as part of the body of GNU code. But the
GPL-licensed Ghostscript releases - a valuable gift of high-quality code -
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