Sun submits mystery license to open source group

A Sun Microsystems engineer chartered with directing the engineering effort to open source Solaris has published a new software license that could be used for the open-source release of Sun's Unix operating system. Though Sun is vague on details about the license, called the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), it is incompatible with Linux's software license.

The CDDL was submitted to the Open Source Initiative, (OSI) the organization that approves open source licenses, on Wednesday by Claire Giordano, an engineering manager with Sun, who wrote that the license is "not expected to be compatible with the GPL, " making it unlikely that code licensed under the CDDL could be combined with files released under Linux's license, the GPL (GNU General Public License).

Sun spokesman Russ Castronovo declined to comment on the Sun's plans for the CDDL and would not say whether it would be used with Solaris or some other open source project.

Castronovo described the submission as "just part of our ongoing efforts" in the open source community. "We're not attaching this to any product, nor are we saying it's not going to be part of any product," he said.

One open source advocate saw Sun's reluctance to explain the license as part of a broader strategy. "Sun obviously would like to keep people confused as much as possible, because their main purpose here is to slow down the Linux market by making purchasers for x86 systems delay," said Bruce Perens, a founder of the OSI who is no longer on the initiative board.

If the license is adopted for Solaris, it will prevent Sun's operating system from being able to use the many free device drivers that have already been written for Linux and licensed under the GPL, he said. "It will be an open source piece of code that can't stand on its own, that requires non-free device drivers to operate," he said.

Castronovo dismissed the idea that Sun was looking to harm Linux. "People ascribe all sorts of nefarious intents to Sun," he said. "What they really need to do is focus on what's going on with the license. Do you think Sun could really slow down the Linux marketplace at this point in time?" he asked.

Sun's new license is very similar to the Mozilla Public License, created by Netscape Communications for its open-source browser project, but it removes a number of idiosyncrasies in the license, including a requirement that the license be governed by California law, Castronovo said. "It was clearly a good license, we just cleaned up a few things that we thought needed to be cleaned up," he said.

Earlier this year, Sun announced plans to release an open source version of Solaris by year's end, but the company has been quiet on specifics. In addition to leaving the licensing question unanswered, the Santa Clara computer company has not said exactly what parts of Solaris will be released or how the open source code will be managed.

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