Linus on Licensing

Linus on Licensing

Summary: It may strike you as interesting that it's 1998 and he still thinks of Linux as "free Unix for the 386" but whatshould be thought provoking is the clarity of his decision. There's no absolutism or partisanship here: he choose the GPL, not because it was morally better for everyone,but because it offers a better fit to his personal needs.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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As demonstrated by the SCO lawsuit against IBM, intellectual property issues are becoming increasingly important for everyone. In particular, new applications developers, the people who will drive the next generation of change in the industry, need to look long and hard at the terms under which they release their work.

With that in mind, some comments made by Linus Torvalds in a 1998 interview with Manuel Martinez of LinuxFocus might seem a propos.

LF: After creating Linux, you took the decision in 1992 of registering it under a GPL license by the FSF that allows for a quite generous distribution of the sources of the kernel.

Linus: I changed the Linux copyright license to be the GPL some time in the first half of 1992 (March or April, I think). Before that it had been a very strict license that essentially forbid any commercial distribution at all - mostly because I had hated the lack of a cheaply and easily available UNIX when I had looked for one a year before..

LF: From time to time you have strongly defended the GPL license over other licenses, BSD comes to mind.

Linus: I'd like to point out that I don't think that there is anything fundamentally superior in the GPL as compared to the BSD license, for example. But the GPL is what _I_ want to program with, because unlike the BSD license it guarantees that anybody who works on the project in the future will also contribute their changes back to the community.

And when I do programming in my free time and for my own enjoyment, I really want to have that kind of protection: knowing that when I improve a program those improvements will continue to be available to me and others in future versions of the program.

Other people have other goals, and sometimes the BSD style licenses are better for those goals. I personally tend to prefer the GPL, but that really doesn't mean that the GPL is any way inherently superior - it depends on what you want the license to do..

It may strike you as interesting that it's 1998 and he still thinks of Linux as "free Unix for the 386" but what should be thought provoking is the clarity of his decision. There's no absolutism or partisanship here: he choose the GPL, not because it was morally better for everyone, but because it offers a better fit to his personal needs.

 

Topic: Open Source

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16 comments
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  • Sounds like evil despostic godless communism

    People doing things as they see fit? Communism for sure!! Or have I got my social-politcal-economic systems confused here?
    Bill4
    • Interesting troll

      God and computer software design - now THAT could be an interesting discussion (really wide-open since there is no relationship between the two).

      As for communism - are you speaking of the Karl Marx ideal that he wrote about, or the very flawed implementation that China and the old Soviet Union employed?

      Open Source Communities ARE communist (Marx definition). The members are all treated equal, all paid equally for equal work ($0), and contribute to the greater good of the community. The members form "Trade Unions" (really just separate organizations like Apache or W3C or etc.), and self-govern. The members are free to be "godless" or not - it has no bearing on the community. Hmm, maybe its more like Skinner's Waldon Pond . . .
      Roger Ramjet
      • Thoreau

        I sort of appreciate his Waldon more.
        Bill4
        • GADS!

          Did I SLEEP through high school or WHAT? Didn't Thoreau spend a night in jail for refusing to pay income tax?
          Roger Ramjet
  • Does anyone on this forum understand sarcasm?

    Or the uses thereof? How about hyperbole? Rhetorical questions?

    Do any of you people still understand writing in any manner other than a straightforward statement?
    Sir_Chancealot
    • Ah Literature

      Most engineering degrees only require a couple of courses in composition - since they have SO many other requirements. I would posit that MOST posters here have an engineering-type of degree or education. NO what I would call experts at English Lit.

      Also there is an inability to know if a poster is serious of not. Emoticons serve SOME purpose, but spending 2 minutes to write 5 sentences HARDLY conveys the subtleties needed for REALLY good sarcasm or other literary "licenses".

      The trend to ridicule posters that fail to accurately discern these subtleties, also puts a damper on anything but straightforward statement (read Mike Cox responders).

      Or, was THAT a Rhetorical Question? . . . ;)
      Roger Ramjet
      • Comp. 1 still had us review...

        "A modest proposal."
        Zinoron
  • GPL morality

    GPL isn't morally better than BSD, but GPL is needed because there are people with a low morale.
    In the perfect world, it wouldn't be important to use a GPL like license. People who understand the above and yet complain about the GPL are even worse.
    By the way, it seems we have gone now quite far from the claim 'the GPL is being unconstitutional'. In the world of Microsoft and SCO why do we talk about morale?
    MOG Fan
  • finally

    finally you guys rightly recognized that Linus is the darth vader. halleluiah
    zzz1234567890
    • Dude!

      You're smokin' @sscrack!
      Linux User 147560
  • Clear understanding

    With all the fud flinging around,points seem to be missed. First, SCO is losing money BIG time! Unix has been passed around and fought over for years. The Trade mark Unix is controlled by Open Group. But it seems that out of the mess comes the willingness to unify and employ standards. Linus says he is no visionary. We can see that here (it was a hobby) No one was being paid to work 60 70 hours a week to develop. I don't understand why people don't get this? There is a whole history behind this and a clear understaning of how things work. It's not really a question of what Software giant will set and certify standards. This is not where licensing takes place. Each type of licensing has it's history of creation a perpos. A simple tactic is to license code and define a standard to box it all around an Operating system and the Applications that port to it. The problem is trust. Who can and should be trusted with code that has a history of bugs. Not the giant or student but the language and it's complier. Who? OpenBSD and it's audited code? Certified Unix? Microsoft? IMB, Sun,SCO,RedHat? What about predicting code evolution with all the present compilers and platforms in place? It's not really a question of who should control it or can. The PC is an open system and as long as that's a fact then the sky is the limit. There is no light side or dark side. Code in the end is always tested by the masses who use it. Bugs are inevitable. Code doesn't work like the smartest people working on it will keep it bug free until the final release. The sixteen year old kid will find the bug and exploit it. Linus was a programer at the time, looking to expand his knowledge. Nothing more, lot's of people do it. It's an ology, the study of. Anyone with an education in programing can work for a company pounding code on a keyboard. No one has licensed a product EULA, GPL,BSD, or otherwise that did not have potentual bugs for exploit. Licensing is only a way of protecting the product and or intellectual property rights. I myself would do better to refrain from pointing my finger in any direction to claim which is better or worse. Because it makes no sense. I may have my opinions but what difference does that make in an open technology. I really don't care if there's a EULA. I don't use any of that software. Should I have too for the better of man kind and the sake of computer technology? Where you want to go today will not be the same place you want to go tomorrow. I don't want to be stuck paying for the right to use software that has a history of exploits. I'd like my money back please. So where is the perfect license? Where is the perfect code? No one could care less about GPL in the past. What the heck is Linux? Now it's a big deal because people like it,share it, and use it? Linus or the GPL had no big capital invested. No public investors, no free tax dollars. No one set out to cripple the Giant like other Davids have tried to do. I remember Police departments and City offices wanting me to install that one copy on all their systems. This is no isolated example. It was happening all over and that's why the BSA was created! Pirates!!! (a short time passes.. nice music playing in the back ground...) I wonder if anyones Grandmother was sued into a barrel suit? Like people understood EULA? No one has to look over their shoulder using Linux. Linux users aren't Pirates. I don't need to steal your crappy over priced bug rittled software. Is that not an American free choice? What did Linus say about licensing? Nothing really. Just gave a simple reason for using GPL. Linux grew out of general population, became popular and now to some it's a problem?. The fight for IP and all the confusion about license can do what it want's to. There has always been a clear understanding about code distribution under GPL. Not so with other forms of licensing. Microsoft and Trade mark Unix can produce, and sell all they want. At the center we all want the same thing. Interoprabilty something a licens can't fix for all under different forms licensing. I guess things would have been different if Unix, Minux,*nix,Linux and whatever had faded away in time becomming old history. Linus did his thing. No one said a word about it until it starting becomming popular. And do you know what it is ( I know you do Paul) in the end? IP should be protected, it secures profit and investors money. GPL has nothing to do with this. Is software better under one license or another? hmmmm.. I guess if free software produces better software (not saying it does) then people should take a look at the process of producing it. After all it's not the licensing that makes it better or worse is it? Crapy software is protected under licens as well as good software. I for one refuse to hold moral value in the trust of Giants who fight with one another over IP, sue endusers, and shoot themselves in both feet over and over again. All for money. Don't get me wrong, I'll pay for software. Don't lie to me, don't try and rip me off. Open source is honest. It doesn't need to lie about bugs, It holds no loyalty to allied venders, everyone is allowed to sample it and test it. Anyone with the knowledge to help is welcome to. No one it out any money if a development project fails. Welcome to the machine.
    xstep
    • Next time

      to make it a bit easier to read... how about some paragraph breaks?
      In_the_end_I_Win
      • Sorry about that

        Sorry my posts will be readable from now on. :)
        xstep
  • BSD style licenses

    Other people have other goals, and sometimes the BSD style licenses are better for those goals. I personally tend to prefer the GPL, but that really doesn't mean that the GPL is any way inherently superior - it depends on what you want the license to do..

    danni
    http://www.my-mortgage-loans.com
    doproiu9
  • GPL

    Other people have other goals, and sometimes the BSD style licenses are better for those goals. I personally tend to prefer the GPL, but that really doesn't mean that the GPL is any way inherently superior - it depends on what you want the license to do..

    danni
    http://www.my-insurance-loans.com
    doproiu9
  • who needs to look long and hard?

    What kind of developpers need "to look long and hard at the terms under which they release their work"? Certainly not free software developpers. Because they want their work to stay free, the best choice they could make is the GPL.

    The SCO/IBM lawsuit just shows the bad side of IP laws (and lawyers). It's of course a preview of what Free software comunity should prepare for _and fight_.

    New application developpers will NOT "drive the next generation of change in the industry"! Big corporations will drive the change and release new applications (and probably hire developpers).

    Today they're preparing the ground for their future leadership of the Linux system_s_. Remember UNIX? What the SAME companies involved in Linux today have done with it?

    WHen they're done with it, there will be no such thing as a 'free software community'.

    This is where the GPL intervenes.

    Finally, calling a "personal need" the requirement that "those improvements will continue to be available to me and others" is quite... strange... Sure, it's Linus' choice but it's not a choice for him, it's a choice for LINUX... and a wonderful contribution to mankind.

    Is the conclusion meant to tell us that Linus doesn't really support GPL's philosophy or that his choice of the GPL did no good to the community, that we should dump it,... ?
    geofs