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FOSDEM: Richard Fontana on copyleft-next

February 13, 2013

This article was contributed by Martin Michlmayr

In July 2012, Richard Fontana started the project to experiment with modifications to version 3 of the GNU General Public License (GPLv3). The name was quickly changed to the more neutral "copyleft-next" and the license has evolved into a "radically different text" compared to the GPLv3 since project inception. Fontana gave a talk in the FOSDEM legal devroom on February 3 that presented the current status of the project and his reasons for exploring new ideas about copyleft licensing.

Fontana explained that he initially described the project as a fork of the GPLv3 but admitted that it "sounded more negative than I intended". He actually co-authored the GPLv3, LGPLv3, and AGPLv3 licenses together with Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen during his time at the Software Freedom Law Center. Fontana, who is now Red Hat's open-source licensing counsel, stressed that copyleft-next is his personal project and not related to his work for SFLC, FSF, or Red Hat, although "these experiences had a personal influence".

The complexity of the GPLv3

Allison Randal's 2007 essay "GPLv3, Clarity and Simplicity" is a powerful critique of the GPLv3 and was deeply influential on his thinking, Fontana said. The essay argued that everyone "should be enabled to comprehend the terms of the license". Based on the (then) near-finished draft of the GPLv3, Randal observed that it's unlikely that clarity and simplicity had been a priority during the drafting process.

Fontana feels that the complexity of the GPL had a side effect of creating an "atmosphere of unnecessary inscrutability and hyper-legalism" surrounding the GPL. Additionally, he perceives that legal interpretation of the license is lacking. Richard Stallman has withdrawn from active license interpretation and Brett Smith, for a long time FSF's "greatest legal authority" according to Fontana, left his position as FSF's License Compliance Engineer in May 2012. He wonders whether the complexity of the GPL, together with FSF's withdrawal from an active interpretive role, has contributed to a shift to non-copyleft licenses. He also believes that developer preference for licensing minimalism is rising.

Another reason for the creation of copyleft-next is Fontana's desire to experiment with new ideas and forms of licensing. He pointed out that every license (proprietary or free) is imperfect and could benefit from improvements. He feels strongly that license reform should not be monopolized. Due to concerns about license proliferation, the OSI has discouraged the creation of new licenses, effectively creating a monopoly for the stewards of existing OSI-approved licenses. Fontana downplayed concerns of license proliferation, partly because GPL-compatible licenses should also be compatible with copyleft-next and because copyleft-next offers one-way compatibility with the GPL. Finally, he views copyleft-next as a "gradual, painless successor to GPLv2/GPLv3".

Fontana also expressed his disappointment in the way open source licenses have historically been developed. While the drafting process for GPLv3 was very advanced and transparent compared to other efforts, it seems insufficiently transparent to him by present-day standards. He pointed to the Project Harmony contributor agreements as another example of a non-transparent process since it employed the Chatham House Rule during parts of the drafting process.

Contribution norms

Unsurprisingly, copyleft-next's development process is very different and follows the "contemporary methodology of community projects". The license is hosted on Gitorious, and there is a public mailing list and IRC channel—a bug tracker will be added in the near future. Fontana acts as the sabd(nnfl)—the self-appointed benevolent dictator (not necessarily for life).

The project has participation guidelines (informally known as the Harvey Birdman Rule, after a US cartoon series featuring lawyers). The norms reflect Fontana's intention to involve developers and other community members in the development process. They encourage transparency in license drafting and aim to "prevent the undue influence of interest groups far removed from individual software developers" (in other words, lawyers).

The guidelines disallow closed mailing lists as well as substantive private conversations about the development of the project. The latter can be remedied by posting a summary to the public mailing list. Fontana is true to his word and posted summaries of discussions he had at FOSDEM. Finally, the Harvey Birdman Rule forbids contributions in the form of word-processing documents and dictates that mailing list replies using top-posting shall be ignored.

The copyleft-next license

The copyleft-next license is a strong copyleft license. The word "strong" refers to the scope of the license. The Mozilla Public License (MPL), for example, is a weak copyleft license in this sense since its copyleft only applies to individual files. While modifications to a file are covered by MPL's copyleft provisions, code under the MPL may be distributed as part of a larger proprietary piece of software. The GPL and copyleft-next, on the other hand, have a much broader scope and make it difficult to make proprietary enhancements of free software.

Copyleft-next was initially developed by taking the GPLv3 text and removing parts from it. For each provision, Fontana asked whether the incremental complexity associated with the provision is necessary and worthwhile. For many provisions, he concluded they weren't—this includes provisions in the GPLv3 that no other open source license has needed, obscure clauses, and text that should be moved to a FAQ. The GPL has a lot of historical baggage, and Fontana believes that the reduction in complexity of copyleft-next has led to a license that developers and lawyers alike can read and understand. Those readers interested in verifying this claim can find the current draft on Gitorious.

In order to show the drastic reduction in complexity, Fontana compared the word and line counts of several popular open source licenses. The word counts were as follows:

License Words
copyleft-next 0.1.0 1423
Apache License 2.0 1581
GPLv1 2063
MPL 2.0 2435
GPLv2 2968
GPLv3 5644

For comparison, the MIT license consists of 162 words and the BSD 3-clause license has 212 words.

Copyleft-next has a number of interesting features. It offers outbound compatibility with the GPLv2 (or higher) and AGPLv3 (or higher), meaning that code covered by copyleft-next can be distributed under these licenses. This allows for experimentation in copyleft-next, Fontana explained. The license also simplifies compliance: when the source code is not shipped with a physical product, distributors do not have to give a written offer to supply the source code on CD or a similar medium. They can simply point to a URL where the source code can be found for two years. Like the GPLv3, copyleft-next allows license violations to be remedied within a certain time period (although compared to GPLv3 the provision has been simplified). In contrast to GPLv3, the current draft of copyleft-next doesn't contain an anti-Tivoization clause.

The copyleft-next license also takes a stance against certain practices detested by many community members. The license includes a proprietary-relicensing "poison pill": if the copyright holders offer proprietary relicensing, the copyleft requirements evaporate—the project effectively becomes a permissively licensed one, meaning that no single entity has a monopoly on offering proprietary versions. This provision was inspired by the Qt/KDE treaty, which says that the KDE Free Qt Foundation can release Qt under a BSD-style license if Qt is no longer offered under the LGPL 2.1. Furthermore, copyleft-next has an anti-badgeware provision: it explicitly excludes logos from the requirement to preserve author attributions.

While copyleft-next started as an exercise to simplify the GPLv3, it has incorporated ideas and concepts from other licenses in the meantime. For example, several provisions, such as the one explicitly excluding trademark grants, were inspired by or directly borrowed from MPL 2.0.

Fontana made the first release of copyleft-next, 0.1.0, just before FOSDEM and released version 0.1.1 in the interim. He mentioned during the talk that he is thinking of creating an Affero flavor of copyleft-next as well. He would like to see more participation from community members. The mailing list provides a good way to get started and the commit logs explain the rationale of changes in great detail.

Comments (51 posted)

LCA: The X-men speak

By Nathan Willis
February 11, 2013 2013 in Canberra provided an interesting window into the world of display server development with a pair of talks about the X Window System and one about its planned successor Wayland (a talk which will be the subject of its own article shortly). First, Keith Packard discussed coming improvements to compositing and rendering. He was followed by David Airlie, who talked about recent changes and upcoming new features for the Resize, Rotate and Reflect Extension (RandR), particularly to cope with multiple-GPU laptops. Each talk was entertaining enough in its own right, but they worked even better together as the speakers interjected their own comments into one another's Q&A period (or, from time to time, during the talks themselves).

Capacitance: sworn enemy of the X server

Packard kicked things off by framing recent work on the X server as a battle against capacitance—more specifically, the excess power consumption that adds up every time there is an extra copy operation that could be avoided. Compositing application window contents and window manager decorations together is the initial capacitance sink, he said, since historically it required either copying an application's content from one scanout buffer to another, or repainting an entirely new buffer then doing a page-flip between the back (off-screen) buffer and the front (on-screen) buffer. Either option requires significant memory manipulation, which has steered the direction of subsequent development, including DRI2, the rendering infrastructure currently used by the X server. [Keith Packard at LCA 2013]

But DRI2 has its share of other problems needing attention, he said. For example, the Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) assigns its own internal names called global GEM handles to the graphics memory it allocates. These handles are simply integers, not references to objects (such as file descriptors) that the kernel can manage. Consequently, the kernel does not know which applications are using any particular handle; it instead relies on every application to "remember to forget the name" of each handle when it is finished with it. But if one application discards the handle while another application still thinks it is in use, the second application will suddenly get whatever random data happens to get placed in the graphics memory next—presumably by some unrelated application. GEM handles have other drawbacks, including the fact that they bypass the normal kernel security mechanisms (in fact, since the handles are simple integers, they are hypothetically guessable). They are also specific to GEM, rather than using general kernel infrastructure like DMA-BUFs.

DRI2 also relies on the X server to allocate all buffers, so applications must first request an allocation, then wait for the X server to return one. The extra round trip is a problem on its own, but server allocation of buffers also breaks resizing windows, since the X server immediately allocates a new, empty back buffer. The application does not find out about the new allocation until it receives and processes the (asynchronous) event message from the server, however, so whatever frame the application was drawing can simply get lost.

The plan is to fix these problems in DRI2's successor, which Packard referred to in slides as "DRI3000" because, he said, it sounded futuristic. This DRI framework will allow clients, not the X server, to allocate buffers, will use DMA-BUF objects instead of global GEM handles, and will incorporate several strategies to reduce the number of copy operations. For example, as long as the client application is allocating its own buffer, it can allocate a little excess space around the edges so that the window manager can draw window decorations around the outside. Since most of the time the window decorations are not animated, they can be reused from one frame to the next. Compositing the window and decoration will thus be faster than in the current model, which copies the application content on every frame just to draw the window decorations around it. Under the new scheme, if the client knows that the application state has not changed, it does not need to trigger a buffer swap.

Moving buffer management out of the X server and into the client has other benefits as well. Since the clients allocate the buffers they use, they can also assign stable names to the buffers (rather than the global GEM handles currently assigned by the server), and they can be smarter about reusing those buffers—such as by marking the freshness of each in the EGL_buffer_age extension. If the X server has just performed a swap, it can report back that the previous front buffer is now idle and available. But if the server has just performed a blit (copying only a small region of updated pixels), it could instead report back that the just-used back buffer is idle instead.

There are also copy operations to be trimmed out in other ways, such as by aligning windows with GPU memory page boundaries. This trick is currently only doable on Intel graphics hardware, Packard said, but results in about a 50% improvement gain from the status quo to the hypothetical upper limit. He already has much of the DRI-replacement work functioning ("at least on my machine") and is targeting X server 1.15 for its release. The page-swapping tricks are not as close to completion; a new kernel ioctl() has been written to allow exchanging chunks of GPU pages, but the page-alignment code is not yet implemented.

New tricks for new hardware

Airlie's talk focused more on supporting multiple displays and multiple graphics cards. This was not an issue in the early days, of course, when the typical system had one graphics card tied to one display; a single Screen (as defined by the X Protocol) was sufficient. The next step up was simply to run a separate Screen for the second graphics card and the second display—although, on the down side, running two separate screens meant it was not possible to move windows from one display to the other. Similar was "Zaphod" mode, a configuration in which one graphics card was used to drive two displays on two separate Screens. The trick was that Zaphod mode used two copies of the GPU driver, with one attached to each screen. Here again, two Screens meant that it was not possible to move windows between displays. [David Airlie at LCA 2013]

Things started getting more interesting with Xinerama, however. Xinerama mode introduced a "fake" Screen wrapped around the two real Screens. Although this approach allowed users to move windows between their displays, it did this at the high cost of keeping two copies of every window and pixmap, one for each real Screen. The fake Screen approach had other weaknesses, such as the fact that it maintained a strict mapping to objects on the real, internal Screens—which made hot-plugging (in which the real objects might appear and disappear instantly) impossible.

Thankfully, he said, RandR 1.2 changed this, giving us for the first time the ability to drive two displays with one graphics card, using one Screen. "It was like ... sanity," he concluded, giving people what they had long wanted for multiple-monitor setups (including temporarily connecting an external projector for presentations). But the sanity did not last, he continued, because vendors started manufacturing new hardware that made his life difficult. First, multi-seat/multi-head systems came out of the woodwork, such as USB-to-HDMI dongles and laptop docking stations. Second, laptops began appearing with multiple GPUs, which "come in every possible way to mess up having two GPUs." He has one laptop, for example, which has the display-detection lines connected to both GPUs ... even though only one of the GPUs could actually output video to the connected display.

RandR 1.4 solves hot-plugging of displays, work which required adding support for udev, USB, and other standard kernel interfaces to the X server, which up until then had been used its own methods for bus probing and other key features. RandR 1.4's approach to USB hotplugging worked by having the main GPU render everything, then having the USB GPU simply copy the buffers out, performing its own compression or other tricks to display the content on the USB-attached display. RandR also allowed the X server to offload drawing part of the screen (such as a game) in one window on the main display.

The future of RandR includes several new functions, such as "simple" GPU switching. This is the relatively straightforward-sounding action of switching display rendering from running on one GPU to the other. Some laptops have a hardware switch for this function, he said, while others do it in software. Another new feature is what Airlie calls "Shatter," which splits up rendering of a single screen between multiple GPUs.

Airlie said he has considered several approaches to getting to this future, but at the moment Shatter seems to require adding a layer of abstraction he called an "impedance" layer between X server objects and GPU objects. The impedance layer tracks protocol objects and damage events and converts them into GPU objects. "It's quite messy," he said, describing the impedance layer as a combination of the X server's old Composite Wrapper layer and the Xinerama layer "munged" together. Nevertheless, he said, it is preferable to the other approach he explored, which would rely on pushing X protocol objects down to the GPU layer. At the moment, he said, he has gotten the impedance layer to work, but there are some practical problems, including the fact that so few people do X development that there are only one or two people who would be qualified to review the work. He is likely to take some time off to try and write a test suite to aid further development.

Marking the spot

It is sometimes tempting to think of X as a crusty old relic—and, indeed, both Packard and Airlie poked fun at the display server system and its quirks more than once. But what both talks made clear was that even if the core protocol is to be replaced, that does not reduce window management, compositing, or rendering to a trivial problem. The constantly-changing landscape of graphics hardware and the ever increasing expectations of users will certainly see to that.

Comments (115 posted)

LCA: The ways of Wayland

By Nathan Willis
February 13, 2013

Collabora's Daniel Stone presented the final piece of the 2013 display server triptych, which started with a pair of talks from Keith Packard and David Airlie. Stone explained the concepts behind Wayland and how it relates to X11—because, as he put it, "everything you read on the Internet about it will be wrong."

The Dark Ages

Stone, who said that he was "tricked into" working on X about ten years ago, reviewed X11's history, starting with the initial assumption of single-keyboard, single-mouse systems with graphics hardware focused on drawing rectangles, blitting images, and basic window management. But then, he continued, hardware got complicated (from multiple input devices to multiple GPUs), rendering got complicated (with OpenGL and hardware-accelerated video decoding), and window management got awful (with multiple desktop environments, new window types, and non-rectangular windows). As time passed, things slowly got out of hand for X; what was originally a well-defined mechanism swelled to incorporate dozens of protocol extensions and thousands of pages of specifications—although on the latter point, Packard chimed in to joke that the X developers never wrote anything that could be called specifications.

The root of the trouble, Stone said, was that—thanks to politics and an excessive commitment to maintaining backward compatibility even with ancient toolkits—no one was allowed to touch the core protocol or the X server core, even as the needs of the window system evolved and diverged. For one thing, the XFree86 project, where much of the development took place, was not itself the X Consortium. For another, "no one was the X Consortium; they weren't doing anything." As a result, more and more layers got wrapped around the X server, working around deficiencies rather than fixing them. Eventually, the X server evolved into a operating system: it could run video BIOSes, manage system power, perform I/O port and PCI device management, and load multiple binary formats. But in spite of all these features, he continued, it was "the dumbest OS you've ever seen." For example, it could generate a configuration file for you, but it was not smart enough to just use the correct configuration.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Things did improve, he said. When the X.Org Foundation was formed, the project gained a cool domain name, but it also undertook some overdue development tasks, such as modularizing the X server. The initial effort may have been too modular, he noted, splitting into 345 git modules, but for the most part it was a positive. Using autotools, the X server was actually buildable. Modularization allowed X developers to excise old and unused code; Stone said the pre-refactoring xserver 1.0.2 release contained 879,403 lines, compared to 562,678 lines today.

But soon they began adding new features again; repeating the pile-of-extensions model. According to his calculations, today X includes a new drawing model (XRender), four input stacks (core X11, XInput 1.0, 2.0, and 2.2), five display management extensions (core X11, Xinerama, and the three generations of RandR that Airlie spoke about), and four buffer management models (core X11, DRI, MIT-SHM, and DRI2). At that point, the developers had fundamentally changed how X did everything, and as users wanted more and more features, those features got pushed out of X and into the client side (theming, fonts, subwindows, etc.), or to the window manager (e.g., special effects).

[Daniel Stone at LCA 2013]

That situation leaves the X server itself with very little to do. Client applications draw everything locally, and the X server hands the drawing to the window manager to render it. The window manager hands back the rendered screen, and the X server "does what it's told" and puts it on the display. Essentially, he said, the X server is nothing but a "terrible, terrible, terrible" inter-process communication (IPC) bus. It is not introspectable, and it adds considerable (and variable) overhead.

Wayland, he said, simply cuts out all of the middleman steps that the X server currently consumes CPU cycles performing. Client applications draw locally, they tell the display server what they have drawn, and the server decides what to put onto the display and where. Commenters in the "Internet peanut gallery" sometimes argue that X is "the Unix way," he said. But Wayland fits the "do one thing, do it well" paradigm far better. "What one thing is X doing, and what is it doing well?"

The Wayland forward

Stone then turned his attention to providing a more in-depth description of how Wayland works. The first important idea is that in Wayland, every frame is regarded as "perfect." That is, the client application draws it in a completed form, as opposed to X, where different rectangles, pixmaps, and text can all be sent separately by the client, which can result in inconsistent on-screen behavior. DRI2 almost—but not quite—fixed this, but it had limitations (chiefly that it had to adhere to the core X11 protocol).

Wayland is also "descriptive" and not "prescriptive," he said. For example, in X, auxiliary features like pop-up windows and screensavers are treated exactly like application windows: they grab keyboard and window input and must be positioned precisely on screen. Unpleasant side effects result, such as being unable to use the volume keys when a screensaver is active, and being unable to trigger the screensaver when a menu is open on the screen. With Wayland, in contrast, the application tells the server that a frame is a pop-up and lets the compositor decide how to handle it. Yes, he said, it is possible that someone would write a bad compositor that would mishandle such a pop-up—but that is true today as well. Window managers are also complex today; the solution is to not run the bad ones.

Wayland also uses an event-driven model, which simplifies (among other things) listening for input devices. Rather than asking the server for a list of initial input devices which must be parsed (and is treated separately from subsequent device notifications), clients simply register for device notifications, and the Wayland server sends the same type of message for existing devices as it does for any subsequent hot-plugging events. Wayland also provides "proper object lifetimes," which eliminates X11's fatal-by-default and hard-to-work-around BadDevice errors. Finally, it side-steps the problem that can occur when a toolkit (such as GTK+ or Clutter) and an application support different versions of the XInput extension. In X, the server only gets one report from the application about which version is supported; whether that equals the toolkit or the application's version is random. In Wayland, each component registers and listens for events separately.

Go Weston

Stone capped off the session with a discussion about Weston, the reference implementation of a Wayland server, its state of readiness, and some further work still in the pipeline. Weston is reference code, he explained. Thus it has plugin-based "shells" for common desktop features like docks and panels, and it supports existing X application clients. It offers a variety of output and rendering choices, including fbdev and Pixman, which he pointed out to refute the misconception that Wayland requires OpenGL. It also supports hardware video overlays, which he said will be of higher quality than the X implementation.

The GNOME compositor Mutter has an out-of-date port to Wayland, he continued, making it in essence a hybrid X/Wayland compositor as is Weston. GNOME Shell used to run on Mutter's Wayland implementation, he said, or at least "someone demoed it once in July ... so it's ready for the enterprise." In fact, Stone is supposed to bring the GNOME Shell code up to date, but he has not yet had time. There are implementations for GTK+, Clutter, and Qt all in upstream git, and there is a Gstreamer waylandvideosink element, although it needs further work. In reply to a question from the audience, Stone also commented that Weston's touchpad driver is still incomplete, lacking support for acceleration and scrolling.

Last but clearly not least, Stone addressed the state of Wayland support for remoting. X11's lousy implementation of IPC, he said, in which it acts as a middleman between the client and compositor, hits its worst-case performance when being run over the Internet. Furthermore, the two rendering modes every application uses (SHM and DRI2), do not work over the network anyway. The hypothetical "best" way to implement remoting support, he explained, would be for the client application to talk to the local compositor only, and have that compositor speak to the remote compositor, employing image compression to save bandwidth. That, he said, is precisely what VNC does, and it is indeed better than X11's remote support. Consequently, Wayland developer Kristian Høgsberg has been experimenting with implementing this VNC-like remoting support in Weston, which has its own branch interested parties can test. "We think it's going to be better at remoting than X," Stone said, or at least it cannot be worse than X.

For end users, it will still be a while before Wayland is usable on Linux desktops outside of experimental circumstances. The protocol was declared 1.0 in October 2012, as was Weston, but Weston is still a reference implementation (lacking features, as Stone described in his talk). It may be a very long time before applications are ported from X11 to Wayland, but by providing a feature-by-feature comparison of Wayland's benefits over X, Stone has crafted a good sales pitch for both application developers and end users.

Comments (331 posted)

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Inside this week's Weekly Edition

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