The Value and Power of the GNU General Public License


The past four weeks has really solidified the value and power of the GNU General Public License. It has been accused of being communistic, a destroyer of “intellectual property” and so on.

Let’s revisit the events of the last few weeks starting with the Oracle OpenWorld drama.

LE announced that his company, LEcoy, will be taking the Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code from ftp.redhat.com and following the requirements of Red Hat, remove all references to Red Hat, the logos and any references to Red Hat and Shadowman. From what remains, LEcoy will recompile and create a set of ISOs for people to then download and use. Those who do so will be charged for support at half the price of what Red Hat does.

Why is LEcoy compelled to remove references to Red Hat? Because of trademark rules, you cannot use such references without permission. OK, that is all well and good. LE then says that his outfit wants create his own distribution of Linux based on RHEL and says that he is doing so because Red Hat is slow in fixing bugs and that when it is fixed, the users have to reinstall their systems. LE, sorry dude, but you are just not all there. [BTW, I love the whimpy laughter you have – NOT]. Enough of LE.

Anyway, what LEcoy will be doing is to put out binaries with *their* patches. LEcoy claims that they will put their patches back to Red Hat and to the upstream but, inspite of the saber rattling, there is no guarantee that their fixes will be accepted. What this will mean is that LEcoy could end up having to maintain their own patches themselves without the benefit of the bigger open source community. LE and LEcoy just don’t get it. Victory #1 for GPL.

Move on to the following week, and we hear that a former (1988-90) employer of mine from Redmond has struck a deal with a company originally from Utah about how Redmond will indemnify customers of Utah. Instead of pushing technology and the entire value proposition to the benefit of the larger society, these two entities, now fully consumed by intellectual vacuum and wanton greed, are trying to go around the spirit and intent of the GPL. All I can say is to watch how Utah will loose even more credibility and trust and Redmond will continue to enhance their technology pariah status.

Move on then to November 13, that company that once said that Java could not be open sourced, finally saw the light (dare I say of sunrise :-)) and GPLed it all.

What an amazing set of contrasts: LEcoy using GPL to try to manipulate stock prices and confidence of open source practitioners, Redmond/Utah using GPL to destroy value and innovation and abuse customers, and Sun in helping to open a new dawn.

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