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Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- Linspire: "GPLv3 - Unforseen Consequences

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- Linspire: "GPLv3 - Unforseen Consequences?"
Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 18:27:37 +0200

GPLv3 - Unforseen Consequences? 

by Kevin Carmony (President & CEO Linspire, Inc.)

June 5th, 2007 

The FSF (Free Software Foundation) recently released their latest draft
of the proposed new GPL license, "v3." In its current form, GPLv3 may
unintentionally end up limiting one of the most important things we love
about "free" open source software...freedom of choice. 
Let me explain...

The GNU General Public License is the most popular of the dozens of
different software licenses that are used by the different free and open
source software projects. The current version of the GPL license
(version 2) has been in use for some fifteen years and has served the
open source community wonderfully. From FSF's own website: "The success
of the GPL is due to its fundamental design principle: the protection of
users' freedom to work individually or together to make software do what
they wish."

The FSF feels the current GPL is no longer adequate and wants to update
it with a new version, "GPLv3." Ironically, in an effort to increase
user's freedom, the GPLv3 actually limits choice. Well intentioned, the
FSF believes that sometimes limiting choice is necessary to protect the
freedom of "free" software. As a means of removing the "handcuffs" that
come with things like Tivo, DRM-encoded DVDs and software patents, the
GPLv3 may end up giving us a different pair of handcuffs by removing
even the option of easily integrating DRM and patented software with
GPLv3 software, despite the fact that this is what some users want. Like
most of us, those drafting the GPLv3 don't like DRM and software
patents, but my guess is that they also don't watch many DRM-encoded DVD
movies, own iPods, or use patent-restricted software like Adobe Acrobat
Reader. I completely respect that. But if this high-standard of choice
finds its way into key software licenses like Linux, it could end up
limiting Linux's ability to compete as an operating system for
mainstream desktop and laptop computers, because mainstream computer
users DO watch DVDs, listen to iPods, and play 3D games. 
As currently drafted, GPLv3 limits the options of Linux distributors to
have open source software interoperate with some proprietary software,
drivers, codecs, and patented technology. On the surface, this may sound
like a great idea, focusing more attention on open sourced, patent-free
software. However, in practice, if GPLv3 is adopted by key Linux
projects, it could hamper desktop Linux from growing beyond the 1.25%
market share it has today. To bring desktop Linux to a broader audience,
and beyond the early adopters and tech crowd, it will need to
interoperate with legacy technologies from Apple, ATI, IBM, Microsoft,
nVidia, Sony, and many others. 

At the heart of the new GPLv3, is a slight sentiment of, "Play by our
rules, or you can't play with our ball." Fair enough, but we need to be
prepared for the consequences. The Linux community complains when
Microsoft and other "proprietary" companies won't interoperate with
Linux, and yet the GPLv3 may end up doing the very same thing by cutting
the Linux world off from many legacy technologies used widely today. The
GPLv3 could serve to further isolate Linux into its own world. Whether
you think that's good or bad, it is a consequence we all need to be
prepared for. 

If the GPLv3 is widely adopted, Linspire could be limited in how we can
offer Linux with proprietary software, drivers and codecs to do things
like play DVDs, enjoy audio and video content on the Internet, play
certain 3D games, work with MP3 players such as the iPod, and on and on.
On the desktop, Linux already struggles to catch up in functionality to
many of these tasks. Linspire has been working hard to solve these
problems over the past six years and the GPLv3 could send us back to the
beginning, and tie one hand behind Linux's back as it prepares to enter
the ring.
I know the drafters of GPLv3 are well intentioned, and perhaps feel they
are dealing Microsoft, Tivo, the film studios, and others, a serious
blow with the new language, but we could end up cutting off our own nose
to spite our face. By limiting how Linux can be used, we could actually
slow down the adoption of Linux, thereby assisting competing operating
systems in keeping their sizable leads. 

One of the main things I have always loved about Linux is that it offers
an alternative and creates competition, forcing other operating systems
to innovate, improve and lower prices. Unfortunately, the GPLv3 might
unintentionally end up creating a competitive edge for other operating
systems by default, without these other vendors having to innovate to
compete. Those selling a competing OS may only need to say to
prospective buyers who are considering Linux, "Oh, right, Linux. Isn't
that the operating system that is required not to play DVDs, certain
media files, and so on?" The reality in the world we live, is that there
are hundreds of patents and proprietary technologies in the cars we
drive, the cell phones we talk on, and much of the software we use. How
many people would buy a car that comes with a guarantee NOT to ever use
any of the patented technology employed by all the other cars? It would
certainly be an incentive to some, but not likely to a very big
Linspire was founded on the hope and belief that Linux could break out
of the early-adopter world, and move to mainstream desktop users. I
worry that GPLv3, if left in its current state, could hamper that dream.
I have enough confidence in the future of Linux, that I don't feel Linux
needs to exclude or limit interoperability with the legacy world of
software, drivers, codecs, and patents to compete. These technologies
should be replaced when adequate alternatives are made available and the
market is left free to choose the options it deems best. I think we
should focus on winning through innovations, rather than limitations.

I will reserve my ultimate judgment on GPLv3 for the final release; but,
as currently drafted, Linspire may not be able to support GPLv3 or
continue investing millions into open source projects that may end up
limiting choice, rather than expanding it. All I ask is that the
drafters of the GPLv3 at least consider all the consequences, not just
to Microsoft, but to the Linux and open source movement as well. Perhaps
they will conclude that limiting choice may not be necessary to see
Linux and FOSS advance.

"The success of the GPL is due to its fundamental design principle: the
protection of users' freedom to work individually or together to make
software do what they wish." 

Well said.

- Kevin 

PS: I've never used the Linspire Letter to recommend a movie before, but
I just added the movie Once to my list of favorite movies, and wanted to
give it my support and endorsement. Made with only a $150,000 budget, if
you like independent movies and music, I think you'll love this film.
You can find it playing now at indie theaters.

To discuss this topic with others, click here! 


"Moglen had remarked: 'Anything that is worth copying is worth sharing.' 
He also argued: 'The more we give away, the richer we become.' "

     -- Free Software's Moglen Canvasses His Sharing Message In India

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