GPLv3 third draft: Linus likes it, ACT hates it

Initial opinions on the latest GPLv3 draft have been wide ranging, including some praise from noted critic Linus Torvalds

Initial reactions to the latest proposed draft of a popular license for free and open-source software (FOSS) have been wide-ranging, with the changes winning some kind words from the creator of Linux and a critical bashing from an industry association.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) released the penultimate draft of the GNU general public license version 3 (GPLv3) Wednesday, with a focus on addressing concerns raised by a patent cross-licensing agreement struck between Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc., the distributor of Suse Linux, in November. Parts of the Linux operating system including its kernel are licensed under GPL version 2.

The GPL gives users the right to freely study, copy, modify, reuse, share and redistribute software.

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, has been highly critical of the two previous drafts of the GPLv3, particularly in relation to its stance on DRM (digital rights management) technology, and has said he has no plans to adopt it for the Linux kernel.

Stressing that it's his initial take on the new draft, he wrote in an e-mail response to a request for comment Wednesday that the third draft is "a huge improvement on the previous ones." He's particularly impressed by the work the FSF has done on revising the language referring to patents.

"In fact, the new draft looks much better wrt [with respect to] patents -- the old 7 (b) section allowing for patent retaliation clauses seems to have been excised entirely, and all the other (very fundamental) problems with 7(b) in general have been removed," he wrote. The issue with the earlier drafts of the 7 (b) section was that they encouraged license proliferation effectively allowing different projects and individuals to add their own restrictions on top of GPLv3 and hence lead to the creation of brand-new licenses.

"[In the new draft] not only were the fundamental problems in 7(b) basically removed entirely, some of the 'we control the hardware environment too' language has at least been narrowed down a lot," Torvalds wrote. "I still think that is totally mis-designed, but at least the damage is much narrower in scope now, so in that sense the last draft is a big improvement on the previous ones."

As for whether the particular issue around the deal between Novell and Microsoft really merits addressing in the GPLv3, he doesn't know and is still considering whether the new draft is an advance on the GPLv2 license, which appeared in 1991.

"Whether it's actually an improvement on the GPLv2 itself is still pretty open, but at least it doesn't feel like the disaster that the previous drafts were, and I'll happily give kudos for that to the FSF!" he wrote.

Simon Phipps, the chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems, saw some positives in his first look at the new draft, describing an explicit explanation about software-as-a-service in the license as a "welcome enhancement."

Like Torvalds, he'd noted the substantial revisions in patents in section 7. "In its previous form, this section provided a basis for various different licenses to be mixed, but the new version seems to provide less opportunity for that," Phipps wrote in his Webmink blog. "I wish we could work out mechanisms to allow the various FOSS communities to mix their work more easily."

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