March 17, 2006

GPL 3 Hole-y Wars, pt 1

The Free Software Foundation(FSF) is working on a new version of the GNU Public License (GPL) for software. As we all know, the intent of the GPL is to DESTROY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY - ooooh oohoho!!!

Just kidding.

The intent of the GPL is to make software "Free". "Free" can mean a lot of things - in this context, its (mostly) about being permanently "Free" to modify (which means, you should always have access to the source code). Under the GPL, you can't take software that was released as "Free" and in any way make it not "Free".
Critics argue this makes it "viral", from an Intellectual Property (IP) perpsective. If you, as a developer, use GPL software in your software, you can't ship it your customers without also releasing the source code, including your improvements - that you must provide at no cost.

The philosophical point is well summed up by a common FSF mantra: "Free" as in speech, not "Free" as in beer. Its not about just offering the software for free, per se.

Pretty radical.

Still, no one's making anyone use it. The theory is really simple: if you derived benefit from GPL software (that YOU got for FREE, remember), and you make enhancements or changes, then those changes should be contributed back to the community that gave you that leg-up in the first place. Its a fairly progressive socialistic mindset, and propenents like to refer to this as
"copyleft" thinking (as opposed to "copyright").

The GPL is a popular license under which many Open Source Software (OSS) projects release their, um, releases (and therefore source code). It recognizes as its core precept that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

[Continued in Part 2...]


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