Friday, April 08, 2005

Virus, License and... RMS

From my rambling reading of various blogs, I always had an impression that open source software, free software, Unix, Linux (sometimes even Mac) users all make up a monolithic camp, united by their common antagonism towards Microsoft. So when I learnt this morning about a seminar on open source licensing, I went to attend just out of curiosity - to know more about the inner workings of the camp.

Before I get into the details of the seminar, let me share with you what a software license is. It is an agreement between the creator and user of the software, generally dealing with copyright. The common "Do you accept the terms?" screen that one sees when installing software is an example of a proprietary license (known as EULA - End User License Agreement). With this hotch-potch introduction, let us get on with the story...

"Infectious" Open Source Software: Spreading Incentives or Promoting Resistance, was the full title. Greg R. Vetter of the University of Houston Law School explained the differences between the Apache (BSD-style) license, the Open Source license and the GNU General Public License (GPL). The GPL is the oldest of the open/free licenses; it requires that the code be public and royalty-free and that any GPL software derivative must also be released under GPL. It is the latter provision that Vetter referred to as "infectious." If even a small part of the software I am developing is made of GPL code, my entire software (now, don't cry) should be given under GPL too -- The GPL "virus" spreads to non-GPL code. This was all new to me and I was drinking it in pretty happily, along with the caffeine-free coke that came with the free lunch (pizza!).

After all the questions were asked and answered, the audience began to disperse... when a short, bearded gentleman (with a pot-belly to boot) stood up from a corner and said, "Is there no one here who will say something in support of GPL?" [Long silence.] He continued, "My name is Richard Stallman. I wrote the GPL."

(What happened next? Read on here.)

1 comment :

sparcdr said...

BSD is the oldest license. It's the most libre, as it doesn't backwards pollute your own code like GPL. GPL infects everything backwards and forwards and you can't change the license, ever. This is hardly free.