Linus on Licensing

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.

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.