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Re: It's time to talk about Free Software

[ This is all conjecture on my part.  Don't take anything I say too
seriously, because even though I feel strongly about this and I would like
to see what others think, I haven't checked out the details of the
licenses mentioned as much as i would have liked. ]

 i agree absolutely with what bruce had to say earlier, although i think
the ESR-bashing that followed sucked.

 speaking as a fervent believer in the principles on which the GNU project
was founded, i think that the spate of made-to-fit-licenses which
companies have created (e.g. Java Community License, NPL) are a threat to
the greater common good from the viewpoint of free software advocates.
they strike me as a pseudo-GPL-type license, which lets the author cover
his/her ass, legally speaking.  however, all these different licenses are
a bit of a kludge, because nobody is going to read them, much less try to
interpret them, and thus we are unaware of our true rights when it comes
to the code we write.  who's to say that some time in the future, if you
have your code buried in some part of a non-GPL, open-source source tree,
the company can't turn around and decide to make it closed-source again?  
that particular eventuality is probably impossible with a project like
Mozilla, but hopefully you get the point.  you don't have the same kind of
legal safety net you have when you GPL your code.  when you GPL your code,
you know it will always be free no matter what, and nobody can screw you
by stealing it.

 in particular, i am extremely pissed off with the situation regarding
development of the Java Development Kit.  i really believe that Java is a
great language, but that it's growth and future potential is being
constricted by overly-protective measures from Sun.  i would go as far as
to say that it needs to GPL'd for Java to realise it's true potential.  
we are still waiting for a JDK1.2 port for linux, months after it was
released for NT and Solaris.  linux should be a primary java development
platform, even more so than NT, because of it's massive, technically-
proficient user base.  this is through no fault of the porting team, whose
hands are tied (they are not allowed release the code for review until it
passes the Java Compatibility Kit), it is through an overly restrictive
policy on the part of Sun.

 this whole open-source thing has become a sexy buzzword in corporateland
and the media.  this type of groundswell was probably what ESR and others
(even me) hoped for, but i think (with the benefit of hindsight) that it
is defined too loosely.  what worries me about the way open-source has
gone is that Sun issued a press release telling us how they were so great
for opening up java and supporting the linux porting team.  granted, they
have provided considerable support to the porting team and provided
engineers to contribute, but the fact remains that Sun's whole ethos
regarding Java development needs to change.  they do everything in their
power to hide the URLs of files you download from their website so they
can force you to click 'yes' on their conditions pages (try downloading
JFC and you'll see what i mean).

 i think what i'm trying to say is that the JDK needs to be free software,
not just open source.  while there is a definite need to prevent Microsoft
from malicously trying to subvert the Java standard, by restricting the
development process so much, you play into these their hands by being
forced to release lower-quality products than would otherwise be possible.

 this begs the question "is the GPL adequate"?  while it serves the
objective of creating a sort of utopian software environment, perhaps it
is too ideological in its focus for commercial entities to use it, because
their focus is profit (and if profits require improved quality, then so be
it), while that of the GNU project is quality and ultimate freedom.  i
don't personally subscribe to the opinion that companies can't use the GPL
for this reason, but i am willing to concede that other software creator's
priorities are different, and that it's _possible_ (s)he has different

 do we need another license like a Commercial GNU Public License (CGPL)
where the code is still completely free to modify, but the author's
concerns are accommodated and their needs dealt with?

 what is certain (IMHO) is that the GPL doesn't suit all software.
depending on who the author is, different levels of legal protection are
needed.  should we meet them halfway, and create a reasonable license
which they can all use, without exceptions?  that way perhaps they won't
have any excuses to make their software anything other than completely
free in the future.

 i'd love to hear other peoples opinions on this, particularly if you are
from the FSF.  i'm probably totally off the mark about this, in which case
you should feel free to shoot me down in a crimson streak of flame.  :)


   Vincent Murphy | CompSci Undergrad, UCC | theDon@cs.ucc.ie | (086) 8397405

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