Linux founder warms up to license changes

March 29, 2007

LinusPublicity-shy software guru Linus Torvalds is showing signs of warming up to efforts to modernize the licensing rights that specify what Linux users can and can’t do with the software.

His views matter as the creator of Linux, the world’s most-popular open-source software program. But he’s reluctant to use that power to bully people into agreeing with him.

The document that covers the rights to much open source software – the General Public License, version 2, or just GPLv2 – was drafted in 1991. Until recently, Torvalds has been a strong critic of previous drafts of the next-generation license, GPLv3. 

The Free Software Foundation – which is revising the license – released its latest draft on Wednesday. Torvalds says he still has reservations, but that the text is vastly improved over previous versions.

Here are some of Torvalds’ comments from an e-mail exchange (“I  dislike phone interviews”) with Reuters reporter Jim Finkle:

Torvalds: “The short nutshell version: From my quick reading of the license and rationale, the latest draft seems to be a huge improvement over the previous ones. Which may not be saying a lot, since I despised those and felt they were totally inappropriate, but it at least means that while I suspect that the GPLv2 is still the better license, at least I don’t think the current new draft of the GPLv3 is a total disaster any more.
Reuters: What I think people are most curious to know is if and when you will move the Linux kernel over to GPLv3.
Torvalds: “Even if the GPLv3 ends up being as good as GPLv2 is (and GPLv2 is pretty damn good!), if it’s not appreciably *better*, then what’s the point? In other words, it’s not enough for GPLv3 to be “perfectly ok”. It really has to fix more than it breaks.

My personal opinion is that the current license is still slightly inferior to the GPLv2, but I’m no longer dead set against it. The FSF certainly improved it to the degree that I think it’s back on the table as a possibility. Now it’s just an issue of weighing the pros and cons.

So the draft looks much better than previous ones did, and may be acceptable. But not only do I have to think about it more, we’d have to see how many other people are willing to re-license their code under both the old and new license, *and* we’ll have to hope that the final version doesn’t introduce any new problems.
(PHOTO: Wikipedia)


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