Bonum Certa Men Certa

The Ides of March Approaches for Novell

It was either that title, or "Et tu, Samba?"

A GPL3 symposium was recently held by the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre in conjunction with Linux Australia, at the University of New South Wales, with the purpose of further discussing aspects of the GPL3 in respect to internationalization. Even at this late stage in the process, it should be noted that the Free Software Foundation is still actively seeking out input and suggestions for the newest revision of the General Public License.

Notable attendees included Samba's Andrew "Tridge" Tridgell, and FSF counsel Eben Moglen via teleconference. Novell will be unhappy to note that Tridge made no bones about it, Samba will be moving to GPL3: "The Samba project intends to move to GPLv3 quickly after it is released," he said. "We've been following the development of GPLv3 closely, and think that it suits us very well."

Some have noted that such threats are idle, with even Novell repeatedly stating that until there is an actual GPL3 to comment on, they have no worries about its impact on their future. Well, during the conference we were provided some insight into the timeline for GPL3 completion (emphasis mine):

In both a pre-recorded video and live telephone call, Eben Moglen communicated the purpose of the GPL and how updating it will preserve the FSF's philosophy of protecting developers, and users, rights.

Moglen said the next draft of GPL3 is due in four weeks with the final version to be published on March 15, 2007.

"GPL3 is an attempt to make a licence that would work identically across the world's legal jurisdictions and we believe we have come close to this," Moglen said, adding that the licence includes measures to provide a "usable patent defence".

"IT and consumer electronics companies have strong patent portfolios and we believe the last draft will show how the community can defend itself against patent infringement processes."

Some have questioned the need for a GPL3, and we have all heard that some high-profile project owners have no intention of moving to GPL3 - whether because they feel GPL2 is 'good enough' or that the DRM clauses are uncalled for. As was the case with GPL2, the GPL3 will not be for everyone, and as Eben Moglen pointed out, the GPL is the "FSF's own mission and not a process of consensus legislation".

However, many expect the Microsoft - Novell deal to cause much wider review and adoption of the new revision of the GPL by many Free Software projects, despite any short-term hurdles that may be involved:

GPL3 will be inherently incompatible with the version it replaces, but according to Tridge that is less of a concern than having a static licence which is rendered obsolete by changing laws.

"GPL3 delighted me and I hope more people choose it for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons," Tridge said, adding open source projects are in danger if they are complacent and stay with old licences because laws governing their validity continue to change.

Tridge said the GPL is aimed at ensuring the "chain" of software rights from developer to user is not diluted because it allows direct contact with the work's author.

"DRM can be used as an impediment to rights and patents may prevent distribution," he said.

So, Novell now has something concrete to ponder - on or about the 15th of March, 2007, they should expect to lose the right to distribute updates and improvements to the very software that gives them their precious "interoperability" with Windows - Samba. And they should expect other projects to follow, leaving Novell and Microsoft to maintain their own forks.

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