Debian bug 92810
has the distinction of being one of the oldest release-critical bugs in the
entire distribution. It was first reported on April 3, 2001, and has
been the subject of occasional debate for over two years. Its resolution
at the end of June, 2003 has left few people happy. Bug 92810, it seems,
embodies an issue which remains unresolved in the free software community:
how documentation should be licensed.
The issue at hand is how the Internet Society Request For Comments (RFC)
documents are licensed. The RFCs are the core of the design of the
Internet; they are the standards the describe the protocols, formats,
algorithms, and conventions that make the net work. There are RFCs
covering everything from the basic network protocols (i.e. for IP and TCP), email headers (RFC 2822) and HTML
(RFC 1866) to
netiquette (RFC 1855), avian
datagram protocols (RFC 1149), and the
Y10K problem (RFC 2550). Without
the RFC series, the standards-based, interoperable Internet would not
For anybody implementing or otherwise working with a network protocol, the
relevant RFCs are required reading. So it is not surprising that a project
like Debian would package up the RFC collection and include it with its
distribution. The doc-rfc package is useful for Debian developers and its
presence would not be questioned, except for a bit of a licensing problem.
RFCs, it turns out, are required to carry a specific copyright notice (as
specified in RFC 2223) which
includes the following text:
This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished
to others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise
explain it or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied,
published and distributed, in whole or in part, without
restriction of any kind, provided that the above copyright notice
and this paragraph are included on all such copies and derivative
works. However, this document itself may not be modified in any
way, such as by removing the copyright notice or references to the
Internet Society or other Internet organizations, except as needed
for the purpose of developing Internet standards in which case the
procedures for copyrights defined in the Internet Standards
process must be followed, or as required to translate it into
languages other than English.
This license, of course, does not allow the free creation of derived
versions of the RFCs except in certain circumstances. That restriction
violates the Debian Free
Software Guidelines (DFSG). Most distributors would not be overly concerned
about this problem; the license does allow them to distribute the RFC
collection, after all. But the Debian Project takes its social contract
seriously, and that contract requires that the distribution be "100% free
software." Since the RFCs do not meet the DFSG (though there is not a
complete consensus on that point), they have been evicted from the Debian
distribution. Debian users wanting to install the doc-rfc package will
have to look for it in the non-free area.
To many, Debian's uncompromising stance on licensing seems like a pedantic
exercise carried out by people with nothing better to do with their time.
But Debian is serving an important role in the community by serving as its
conscience and early warning system. As recent events have shown,
licensing is important. Every set of bits comes with its own copyright and
its own restrictions. Failure to pay attention to those restrictions can
lead to unwanted contact with lawyers, and is best avoided. Debian's high
sensitivity to licensing problems brings those problems out into the open
before somebody gets burned, and often leads to licensing changes which
make the problems go away. Even when nothing changes, the Debian process
points out where the open issues are.
The open issue in this case is that there is still no consensus on what
free licensing means when applied to documentation. As a general rule,
those who write text tend to want to maintain more control over their works
than those to write code. Consider, for example, the Free Software
Documentation License, which includes a vast number of restrictions on
modification and redistribution. (Debian, incidentally, is the group that
has done the most to point out the non-free aspects of the FDL).
The Internet Society wants to retain enough control so that copies of a
particular standard (and that's what the RFCs are) reflect the
standard. A modified version of an RFC no longer reflects the standard, so
such modifications are not allowed. The motivation is understandable and
reasonable, but there is an important question which must be kept in mind.
What happens if, sometime in the future, the Internet Society is coopted
over to the Dark Side and starts moving the network standards in a
proprietary or repressive direction? With the current licensing, there is
no right to fork the RFCs and attempt to maintain a free, interoperable
The RFC collection, thus, is truly not free. This result is almost
certainly not what the Internet Society had in mind when it adopted its
copyright notice, but that is the way it has turned out.
Five years or so ago, new software releases often were
accompanied by new, one-off licenses that, as often as not, turned out to
not be free. In more recent times, a relatively small set of well-known
licenses has been adopted by most developers. Documentation, however,
remains in the "roll your own license" stage. With luck, this area, too,
will soon evolve toward a reasonable set of truly free licenses which reflect
the needs and interests of writers.
Comments (26 posted)
[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
With the 1.0 release of Scribus this week, we thought
we'd take a look at the state of open source graphics applications.
There's a wide variety of these applications, and they are rapidly
maturing, though maybe not quite as quickly as some might like. The most
popular, and most mature in terms of features and polish, open source
graphics application is The GNU Image
Manipulation Program, better known as the GIMP. For those who are
unfamiliar with the GIMP, it's very similar to Adobe Photoshop in
nature, and offers much of the functionality of Photoshop though it
still lacks some features that make Photoshop attractive to folks
working with high-quality print publications. The GIMP has been around
for quite some time, but the open source community has lacked a
full-featured desktop publishing (DTP) programs like QuarkXPress, Adobe
InDesign or PageMaker, Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw.
The 1.0 release of Scribus may help fill
that gap. While it still needs
some work, Scribus is similar to Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress. Unlike
Quark or InDesign, though, Scribus is available under the GNU GPL and
runs on Linux. I've tried Scribus on and off for some time now, and it
definitely shows promise. After downloading the 1.0 release, I was
impressed by how far Scribus has come in a fairly short time. It offers
all the features you'd need to produce a decent company newsletter or
flyer, allows you to prepare a document for printing or convert to PDF
for electronic publishing. Scribus saves documents in an XML-type
format, and can export projects to PDF, Encapsulated PostScript (EPS)
and/or Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format.
There are a few glitches; some of the tools don't act quite as you might
expect, and there are a few features that you'd definitely want in
desktop publishing application that aren't in Scribus just yet. For
example, the "text chain" feature doesn't seem to work predictably, and
it doesn't seem possible to create a text box with multiple columns for
text. But, a few shortcomings aside, Scribus is definitely a boon for
folks who want to see Linux succeed on the desktop. While it may not be
perfect, it should be good enough to attract a strong audience that will
help to see it move forward in much the same way the GIMP has over the
Sodipodi is vector-based
drawing application that looks very promising. Sodipodi is similar to
Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw, though it's not quite in the same league
as those applications just yet. Judging by the images in the Sodipodi
gallery, however, it has plenty to offer. Right now, Sodipodi is at the
0.32 release. It has quite a few features, and it's very usable, but it
still needs to mature a bit before it's ready for "prime time." For
example, Sodipodi only saves in the SVG format, and exports to PNG. It
doesn't handle EPS or PDF right now, though EPS is on the tasks
list. However, it has a full enough feature set, and is stable enough, that
it can be used to create some really nice graphics.
Another GPL'ed Illustrator-like application that's been coming along
nicely is Sketch. Sketch is
also at a very usable stage, though it, too, has a ways to go before it will
give Illustrator a run for its money. Like Sodipodi and Scribus, Sketch
seems to be maturing at a fairly steady pace. Sketch is implemented
mostly in Python, and is very stable. Sketch does write to EPS and Adobe
Illustrator format, and reads XFig files, Adobe Illustrator files, Corel
CMX, SVG and its own format, though it lacks support for TrueType fonts
which may be a drawback for some users.
If you're interested in older graphics apps for Linux, there's Xfig. Xfig has
quite a few features, though it doesn't seem to be under active
development and it isn't the most user-friendly application.
OpenOffice.org's Draw is a
suitable replacement for applications like Microsoft Publisher. It
doesn't do all the fancy text-wrangling and so-forth that you'll find in
Sodipodi or Scribus, but it's a nice and simple application for folks
who want to create a office flyer, flowcharts and similar projects. Dia is another good
application for producing diagrams for print or electronic publishing.
If your tastes are a little more simple, there are a few apps that are
aimed at less complex projects. KPaint is a straightforward application
that can be used to create very simple graphics, much like the Microsoft
Windows Paint program. For those looking for programs for small kids, Tux Paint is a
kid-oriented drawing program with a simple interface, sound effects and
a restricted file interface that prevents users from accessing the host
filesystem. As much as professional-quality graphics apps are necessary
for Linux to succeed on the desktop, the low-end graphics apps need to
be there as well. After all, who would want to deny their five-year-old
the ability to mouse around and create pictures to e-mail to grandma?
The good news is that Linux graphics applications are starting to mature
to the point that they're suitable for a fair range of uses. They're
certainly good enough for home use, creating Web graphics and low-end
DTP. The bad news is that open source graphics apps still need some work
before they'll be ready to replace programs like QuarkXPress or Adobe
Illustrator. Given enough attention, though, open
source graphics applications could start finding their way into
professional publishing houses within a few years.
Comments (20 posted)
Things have been relatively quiet on the SCO front recently; one gets the
sense that, perhaps, the company's lawyers were finally able to convince
management that a bit of discretion might be helpful. Silence does not
mean that nothing is going on, however. Among other things, SCO's
executives continue to slowly cash in their stock to take advantage of its
current, inflated price. Here's the latest insider trading roundup:
||VP Global Services
|Reginald Charles Broughton
||VP International Sales
||VP Worldwide Marketing
|Michael Sean Wilson
||VP Corporate Development
That's a total of 93,000 shares sold since the suit was filed, for a net of
$782,000. This sum is a small down payment on the bonanza that SCO hopes
to eventually enjoy as a result of its actions. The big payoff may remain
in the future, but one could understand if even the most confident SCO
executive feels the need to collect a little now, on the off chance that
things fail to go as planned.
It's worth noting that Opinder Bawa has quietly left the company, shortly
after selling all shares in his possession.
Finally, it has emerged that - as many had speculated - the "mystery
licensee" is none other than Sun Microsystems. The Unix license purchased
by Sun came with a nice bonus: an option to buy 210,000 shares of SCO stock
for $1.83 per share. Neither company has yet made any statements about why
things were done this way. Most software license agreements do not include
stock options, after all. A high level of paranoia is not yet called for,
but it is natural to wonder just what Sun is up to here.
Comments (5 posted)
The Ottawa Linux Symposium
will be held July 23 to 26 in the Ottawa Conference Center. As
always, OLS looks to be a strong, technical conference with a special
emphasis on kernel development. Once again, LWN editor Jonathan Corbet
will be there; be sure to get up early (10:00 AM) on Wednesday to catch his talk on
OLS will be preceeded by a two-day kernel developers' summit, same as last
year. The draft
agenda includes a number of VM topics, "killing off devfs," power
management, SCSI, asynchronous I/O, and numerous other topics. Once again,
stay tuned to LWN for information from the meeting.
The LinuxWorld Conference and Expo
takes place August 4 to 7 in San Francisco. LWN hasn't made it
to LinuxWorld for a little bit, so we are pleased to note that Rebecca
Sobol will be there this time around. It will be nice to be back.
Comments (none posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Decreased security through monitoring; new vulnerabilities in apache, mozilla, mpg123, nfs-utils, traceroute.
- Kernel: 2.6.0-test begins; 64GB on 32-bit systems; Bug trackers and kernel development.
- Distributions: Ten Years of Slackware; new, BG-Rescue Linux
- Development: BusyBox 1.0.0-pre1,
new versions of ALSA, OpenSSI, Firebird DB, XCircuit, milter-sender,
Eddie, fcForum, mnoGoSearch, osCommerce, Quixote, Tiki, Privoxy, gmorgan,
Epiphany, GNOME, GARNOME, XFce4, JFreeChart, SPTK, Wine, SquirrelMail,
AbiWord, Evolution, OpenOffice.org, Scribus, Xawdecode, Terminal Server Client,
XMLS, MLton, Free Pascal, Perl, phpDocumentor, Leo, and PyPE.
- Press: Open-source databases threaten Oracle,
OSCON 2003 reports, AOL dumps Netscape, Sun and SCO, Japan considers Linux,
- Announcements: Mozilla Foundation launches, Desktop Linux Technology and Market Overview,
LJ Awards, ESC Boston 2003, Web Days Europe CFP.