Kerberos and the GPL

Summary:**** ZDNN Reader James Howard refutes the article -- 'Fatal flaw in BSD?' by Evan Leibovitch, Linux.

**** ZDNN Reader James Howard refutes the article -- 'Fatal flaw in BSD?' by Evan Leibovitch, Linux. Read James' rebuttal below. ****

On Tuesday, June 6, Evan Leibovitch wrote Fatal flaw in BSD? about Microsoft's wrangling of the Kerberos protocol. Microsoft had taken the open-source MIT software, made changes affecting compatibility, and released the new version without the source code. The Kerberos code is licensed under a license similar to both the BSD operating system and the X11 Windowing system.

Leibovitch blames the license for allowing Microsoft to introduce proprietary extensions into the protocol and claims that if Kerberos had been licensed under the Free Software Foundation's General Public License (GPL), Microsoft would have been unable to embrace and extend the Kerberos standard. However, Leibovitch does not get it. This was the best possible outcome and it was forced by the liberal license.

There are four possible paths this project could have taken:

First, Microsoft could have ignored Kerberos completely and left the broader community with an entirely new standard with zero support from other software in the community.

Second, the Kerberos code could have been released under the GPL. If this had happened, then Microsoft would have surely refused to use the code to prevent having to reveal proprietary source. Microsoft would have then implemented the code again and still modified the protocol. Had Microsoft been forced to implement the code again, it would surely contain an unknown number of bugs and compatibility issues.

Third, the Kerberos code could have been released under a Berkeley-style license. Microsoft could have then taken the code and distributed a modified version and maintained some level of compatibility with existing implementations and installations of Kerberos.

Finally, the Kerberos code could have been released under a Berkeley-style license and Microsoft could have implemented it again. This is, in fact, what happened.

Why did Microsoft choose not to use existing code? I cannot say. The license allows them to use the existing code as is without legal ramifications.

However, despite legal availability of the code, it was not used and this allows Microsoft to open the floodgates. Since they wrote their own code, they are not, nor ever were, bound to the M.I.T. license. This means that even if the code had been released under the GPL, Microsoft could have released a new version with proprietary extensions without violating the M.I.T. license or running afoul of the law.

So we are now left with Leibovitch's article, which is clearly designed only to attack BSD systems. Leibovitch states that Microsoft's treatment of Kerberos is an example of real harm to the free software community that occurred because a BSD license was used. But as we have already seen, the GPL could have not have prevented it.

In fact, the BSD license is responsible for more good in the industry than the GPL could ever hope for. For instance, TCP/IP's widespread acceptance stems directly from the fact the first versions were released under such liberal terms. Apache's enormous popularity, beating all other Web servers combined, is due directly to the liberal license, which is based on a BSD license. The X Windows System's widespread availability and interoperability is also based on its liberal licensing and the fact any vendor who wished to include the tool could with not hassle.

The BSD license is clearly superior and offers more options for compatibility and interoperability because it poses no risk to business and offers independent developers incentive for using the code as well.

James Howard is a Unix administrator for an Internet service provider in Bethesda, Maryland. James was one of the first people Bill Gates ever screwed during his rise to the captaincy of the computer industry. Revenge has since been the sole purpose of pudgy, not-so-little Jamie's life. And perusing, promoting and propagating open-source Unix-based operating systems have become James' obsession. ames would like to thank Chris Coleman, Terry Lambert, Chien Nguyen, Mark Ovens, Rahul Siddharthan, and Brett Taylor for their assistance.

**ZDNet News Editors Note: Evan Leibovitch, Linux, has written a follow-up on June 14th -- 'Is the GPL really "user hostile"?' to his orginial article that was written on June 6th -- 'Fatal flaw in BSD?'**

Topics: Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Security, Software

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