OPINION: What About Those Linux Hitmen?

SCO vs. the open-source hard-core Linux fan.

October 10, 2003

3 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Linux's Hitmen?
So the boss sent me that link the other day, wondering what I thought of it.

Wow. There are so many ways to look at this that I'm just left speechless. I'm a big Open Source fan. I believe that FreeBSD-style licenses encourage software corporations to take what they did not create and call it their own -- thus getting the work of us programmers for free. Don't laugh, there are some serious cases of FreeBSD appearing in commercial products out there. Consider the cost of integrating a complete and tested IP stack vs. writing it yourself from the ground up, and you'll get an idea why it is inevitable that smart companies will just take source and give nothing back. They don't even have to admit they've taken the code, for goodness sake!

So I fall in favor of the GNU Public License (GPL) and its variants. Very much in favor of them. I particularly like the Lesser GPL (L-GPL), whereby you can use libraries, etc without returning anything, but if you modify them you have to return your mods to the world.

But then you hear about enforcement, and in a follow-up here Mr. Lyons asks the question "but is this really good for Linux?" I have to say that it probably is not. The embedded space has been one of the largest growth areas for Linux; at this point Linux probably beats out all other general purpose OSes -- even FreeBSD -- for number of embedded devices installed. This is good for Linux, and good for those of us who use it because many of these developers are giving something, if not everything they create back to the community.

So where does that leave me? I don't like the FreeBSD style license, and I'm not sure I like enforcement. That's a problem. Without enforcement, the GPL is FreeBSD style.I've bashed Microsoft (here and in other publications) for their Shred Source licensing scheme, whereby Microsoft gets to decided how much of your source code is yours. Well, now I have to turn that criticism against Open Source.

If you force corporations to give away their competitive edge then they don't make money. On the other hand, I'd like a little more detail on what companies are supposed to be giving up. I'm no lawyer, but the standard C libraries are L-GPL, meaning anything they developed solely off of those should not fall under the "return to the community" heading. Most libraries are licensed the same way.

Even assuming my reasoning is legally right in this case (a stretch since courts bewilder me daily), eventually the problem of enforcing the GPL will arise. Maybe a license fee to put off disclosure of modifications to GPL source would not be a bad idea...

Let me know what you think. I'm in a quandry on this one. If you say "they should sue" then you're turning the FSF into another licensing organization -- a smart company will pay rather than give back source they consider part of their "competitive advantage." If you say "this is Open Source, they shouldn't sue" then you're saying that contributors can bust their tails turning out quality OSS products, and companies can just take them and rebrand them with no credit - like they do with FreeBSD.

Someone, somewhere has a good idea to resolve this. Probably as good an idea as the GPL was in the first place. If you're that person, we're waiting to hear from you.

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights