In response to my recent blog entry regarding Sun's OpenSolaris, its 1600 patents and whether they'll create a safer legal haven to which Linux developers will be drawn, the folks at Gentoo are disputing my characterization of their Portaris and Portage technologies as being Napster-like facilitators that can grease the wheels of open source license violation. In a string of e-mails with Pieter Van den Abeele wrote "To be completely honest, at this time Portaris has not been merged with main Portage tree....Unlike Napster we do not allow the user to violate any licenses. If we are made aware of possible ways in which our technology can create products that violate the component licenses, then we'll work on fixing those anomalies."
Portaris and Portage are metadata driven technologies package managers that make it easy to stamp out customized versions of OpenSolaris and Linux (respectively speaking) that have only the components that the package designer wants. For example, if you want to build a Linux driven thin-client (ok, kinda thin), you could use the metadata to specify the bare minimum components needed to run Linux, attach it to a network, and browse Web or intranet sites. While Portaris permits the mixing and matching of differently licensed components (for example, the GPL-licensed GNOME graphical user interface can run on a non-GPL-licensed kernel like that of OpenSolaris') -- a practice that is legal -- it apparently won't allow for the mixing and matching of source code in a way that produces an illegally derived merger of two separately licensed code bases (for example, a mesh of the source of the differently licensed Mozilla FireFox and GNOME).
But, in his e-mails, Van den Abeele also wrote "Our technology does currently not mix CDDL and GPL because at this time we have two separate knowledge bases for each. When both are to be merged, we'll work with Sun legal on modeling license incompatibilities." Van den Abeele's e-mails indicated a rather tight relationship with the folks in Sun's legal department. I asked Van den Abeele for further clarification and here's what he said "Right now we have the official Gentoo knowledge base, which contains GPL metadata for mostly GPL or BSD applications. Metadata about CDDL apps currently sits in a separate knowledge base. Mixing (or better merging) both will consist of transfering the metadata about CDDL apps into the knowledge base containing the metadata about [alternatively licensed (GPL, BSD, etc)] applications. We'll probably start working on the merge in Q205 because that's when OpenSolaris releases. Just like when adding for instance metadata about a new Java SDK that isn't GPLed, we have to model any license requirements. Some Javas for instance require that you manually fetch the sources after a click-thru agreement. "