In this week’s edition of The Linux Week in Review, I propose a dramatic change of direction: moving the Linux kernel, and Android, to GPL version 3. I also discuss the interesting developments concerning HP’s now (supposedly) defunct TouchPad. Last, but not least, I will discuss the accusation that GNU/Linux users do not like to pay for anything. This week’s featured stories are:
- Will Android’s GPL Compliance Issues Encourage Linus To Move to GPLv3?
- HP’s TouchPad Fails…Or Does It?
- GNU/Linux User’s Don’t Like to Pay for Anything???? Rubbish!!!
Will Android’s GPL Compliance Issues Encourage Linus To Move to GPLv3?
The recent controversy concerning Google’s Android operating system bring up some very interesting questions about the twenty year old version 2 of GNU’s General Public License. Do all of the modifiers and distributors of Android comply with the GPL? Is version 2 of the GPL too far out-of-date for the modern complexities of software licensing? I believe that it is. The modern software landscape is far different than it was on June 2nd, 1991, when GPLv2 was ratified. The writers of the license could not have foreseen the software patent explosion, and the proliferation of free software and open source that were coming in the next two decades. Who would have imagined that, Google, one of the most respected companies in the world would release a free mobile operating system? The recent concerns about Android centers around the accusation that some hardware manufacturers that distribute the Android operating system are not complying with the GPLv2 requirements of some of the code. Android builds on a modified Linux kernel, which is licensed under GPLv2. Modifications made to this portion of Android must also be released under GPLv2. Apparently, some distributors of Android have made changes to the portions of Android code licensed under GPLv2, and HAVE NOT released those changes. Such noncompliance would be a violation of clause 4 of GPLv2:
“4. You may not copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Program except as expressly provided under this License. Any attempt otherwise to copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Program is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License. However, parties who have received copies, or rights, from you under this License will not have their licenses terminated so long as such parties remain in full compliance. “
Clause 4 of GPLv2 removes the right of the distributor to distribute the software once they have violated the license. This is true even if the person subsequently comes into compliance. This provision has been changed in GPLv3, and this change is why the Free Software Foundation now encourages everyone to shift to GPL v3. This is a potential game changer because people that violate the GPLv2 terms when distributing Android could forever lose their right to distribute Android. Moving everything to GPLv3 could alleviate this potential problem, but their are some serious impediments to such a shift. So what is the solution?
In my opinion, the solution is simple: create a fork of the Linux kernel licensed under GPLv3. I propose a fork because, as pointed out by Linus Torvalds himself, moving the Linux kernel to GPLv3 would require the consent of ALL of the copyright holders of Linux kernel code. Given that some of the companies (and individuals) that have contributed Linux kernel code hate GPLv3, this seems very unlikely. As such, a clean room implementation of a new Linux kernel licensed under GPLv3 would solve the problem. Those that prefer the old GPLv2 licensed Linux kernel would still be free to use it. I, for one, would migrate to the GPLv3 licensed kernel, and I suspect that most GNU/Linux users would as well. I believe that GPLv3 is a better license than GPLv2 in two extremely important areas:
- Patent protection: any patent protections distributed to any user of the licensed software must be distributed indiscriminately to ALL users of the software.
- Violations do not permanently revoke rights: A distributor who violates the license CAN have their rights restored if they come back into compliance.
The current patent wars prove that it is time for us to make some hard decisions in the GNU, Linux, free software, and Android communities. Though the transition to GPLv3 might cause some initial growing pains, the long term benefits to end users and distributors would make it worth it.
HP’s TouchPad Fails…Or Does It?
As we well know in the free software community, nothing is ever as it appears on the surface. It LOOKS as though the HP TouchPad is an abject failure. It APPEARS that it will be relegated to the scrap pile full of products that were introduced with high hopes, only to fail to live up to expectations. Now, please put on your imagination caps with me, and envision this unlikely scenario:
- The TouchPad fire sale puts HP’s tablet in a lot of hands that would never have known about it.
- The device is reborn due to the demands of free software users. A critical mass of users clamor for a device that official supports replacing the default operating system with alternative OSs such as GNU/Linux and Android.
- This demand convinces HP to not only make a new round of TouchPads, but to also completely open source its default WebOS operating system.
Though this scenario may seem unlikely, I think that a tablet that fully supported free software principles might just be able to carve itself out a profitable market share. The problem with all of the tablet pcs currently on the market is that they slavishly ape the market leader, the Apple Ipad. Releasing a free-software based tablet might provide enough contrast to Ipad’s closed environment to intrigue users. Android is a great OS that is mostly open, but it does suffer one problem, the lack of the thousands of POLISHED applications that come with a modern GNU/Linux distribution. The packages from GNU and others are what seal the Linux deal for many users. This level of freedom would make a TouchPad a device that I WOULD buy.
Message to HP: I know that you lost a ton of money on the TouchPad. However, if I were you, I would reach out to the free software community and see how much interest there would be in releasing a fully open tablet device. Then I would see if such a device could be manufactured and sold profitably.
GNU/Linux User’s Don’t Like to Pay for Anything???? Rubbish!!!
Tech analyst Rob Enderle accuses Linux users of being somewhat reluctant to spend money for software. I would say that we are unwilling to OVERPAY for low quality software. Why should I pay for software that is full of bugs, that requires me to then buy secondary software to protect my computer from the vulnerabilities in the first piece of software? This is insane. I think that many in the free software community would agree with me that it makes no sense to pay for software that never should have passed Quality Assurance inspections. Which would you rather use: free software where the code has been analyzed by thousands of people for errors, or proprietary software, analyzed by a maximum of a couple of hundred people, released with dozens of bugs? The answer to this question is self-evident.
I am more than willing to pay for good, tested software that I know that I can rely on. For example, I donate to the Wikipedia project every year. I would also donate to the LibreOffice project, though I have not done so yet. I depend on LibreOffice so much that giving the project money is a no-brainer. I plan on sending LibreOffice a donation around Christmas of this year, the same time that I donate to Wikipedia. I believe that most people that use free software would be willing to donate to the projects that they use the most. The biggest impediment is probably not knowing where to go to donate. The more convenient it becomes to donate to free software projects, the more donations will come in. Bitcoin, the revolutionary new software-based monetary system, may make it easier for free software users to contribute financially to their favorite projects soon. Only time will tell.
The theme that I tried to focus on in this week’s of The Linux Week in Review is to expect the unexpected. No one has an accurate crystal ball. Entering 2011, no one could have foreseen the more stunning events with any level of certainty: the demise of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the apparent demise of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Standard and Poor’s downgrade of the United States’ credit rating, and Google’s 12.5 billion dollar purchase of Motorola Mobility. Neither success nor failure are guaranteed to anyone. The only constant seems to be that only those that are courageous enough to think big WIN BIG. GNU/Linux and free software are the path that I and many of you have chosen. I believe that this is a noble path, and one that does give opportunities for great success, especially if one is willing to question the “old” ways of thinking. There are no limits to what is possible, the only limit is our human imagination.
Until the next edition of The Linux Week in Review, please continue to keep reaching for the stars!
Germain, J. M. (2011, August 23). It’s a roll of the dice for linux game makers. Linux Insider. Retrieved August 4, 2011, from http://www.technewsworld.com/story/73121.html
Ray, B. (2011, August 23). New gpl licence touted as saviour of linux, android. The Register. Retrieved August 24, 2011, from http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/08/23/android_gpl_fsf/
Tsukayama, H. (2011, August 24). HP Touchpad tablet discontinued, goes on sale for $99 and flies off shelves. The Washington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2011, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/hp-touchpad-tablet-discontinued-goes-on-sale-for-99-and-flies-off-shelves/2011/08/24/gIQASZu5bJ_story.html