GPL upgrade due in 2007

The planned upgrade to the GNU General Public License (GPL) will be ready by 2007, according to an industry official involved with the project.

Presenting at the LinuxWorld conference on Wednesday, Eben Moglen, president and executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center and a key participant in the planned Version 3.0 of GPL, cited issues expected to be covered in the upgrade. These include resolving patent conflicts, accommodating Web services, and resolving incompatibilities with other licenses. Dealing with wikis in the GPL also has been pondered.

The Free Software Foundation, which has jurisdiction over the GPL, seeks compatibility with the Apache Software license, said Moglen, who serves on the foundation's board of directors.

"We will take some steps to increase the compatibility of the GPL with some non-GPL licenses whenever possible, without adversely affecting freedom," Moglen said. Lately, companies such as Sun Microsystems, with its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), have developed their own brands of open source licenses.

Moglen did not mince words when speaking on what the foundation thinks about patents. "Its position is that the application of patent law to software is dangerous and unproductive," he said. "All we're saying is the disastrous, 15-year American experiment with patenting software ought to be terminated."

Patent conflicts have clouded open source development, with developers and others fearing that the open source code they distribute may unknowingly be subject to someone else's patent and attendant royalties. "Everybody understands the patent problem is deeply serious," Moglen said.

Version 3.0 is not about fixing or repairing the GPL but bringing it up to date after a long life for GPL 2, he added. "We have been using GPL 2 for quite a while and 15 years is probably long enough. It's about time for a change."

However, he also stressed, "we will do nothing [to change the GPL] that we have not studied exhaustively."

Foundation president Richard Stallman will ultimately make judgments on what transpires with the new GPL, Moglen said.

A draft of GPL 3.0 is expected in late-2005 or early-2006, followed by a full calendar year of discussions, revisions, and other input, Moglen said.

The move to the new GPL will likely take place in the first few days of 2007. Some 150,000 individuals around the world are expected to comment, with Version 3.0 expected to be the largest, non-governmental act of legislation in the history of the world.

A global conference on translation of the GPL is likely to be held in Europe, with possibly a follow-up event to occur in Asia. The upgrade of the GPL will be international and involve advisory committees.

Moglen expects deliberations to be civil, with no flame wars likely. He also anticipates that users will quickly migrate to Version 3.0. "When this process is over, I think the number of Version 2 holdouts is going to be infinitesimal," he said.

Changes are also likely with the GPL sister license, the GNU LGPL (Lesser GPL).

Also at LinuxWorld on Wednesday, IBM Senior Vice President Steve Mills stressed the desktop as the next frontier for Linux. Having had vast success in server environments, the Linux client environment is "the next frontier," Mills said.

Canada-based Pioneer Petroleums has been leveraging Linux on the client, using Linux from Red Hat and IBM's Workplace messaging software, according to IBM. The Linux desktop market will have a compound annual growth rate of 37 percent from 2003 to 2007, based on research that Mills presented.

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