Ok, the link that I put with this post, takes you to the actual “GPL” General Public License for open source software. It’s only an interesting read, if you are a developer of, user of, potential user of, or just interested in, open source software. So, why did I refer you there? Because what you read today, is going to change…
A better link would be to http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/ which describes what “Copyleft” is. Copyleft is the driving motive for the GPL and other Free Software licenses. In the next few weeks, the first draft of GPL v 3.0 will be released. This is a momentous event for anyone who develops, uses, or is interested in Open Source or Free Software. Also, you may want to check out http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html which tells you the philosophy behind the movement.
This is also a momentous occasion, because there are lots of different “Free Software Licenses” out there. Debian, who makes a version of Linux, has their version. The Open Source Initiative, has a variation of the Debian License (as the same person wrote both of them). Everyone who has a version of a Free Software License is watching, and will be weighing in on how the next version of the GPL will turn out.
If all goes good, possibly (probably not) everyone will decide to move to the GPL. If things don’t work out right, there will be a split amongst the various groups who push for Open Source. The proprietary source companies, obviously are hoping for the latter. But, the open source fans, are hoping for the former.
So, what exactly is free software……………..
I’ve read lines about Free Software, where they say “Free, as in Free Beer.” While this is true to an extent, it’s not the ONLY meaning behind Free Software. The other statement that I’ve read (which is more in line with the original reasoning) is “Free as in Freedom of Speech”. There’s more to free software, then not paying for it. There is your ability to do what YOU want with it. Including selling it.
There are some restrictions, obviously. You can sell your version, but you can’t take credit for creating it. You can take credit for your modifications though. And, you have to provide some measure to allow your customers the ability to download your source code (and for them to modify it as they want).
If you use open source software in your distribution, you only have to provide the source code for whatever programs actually use the free software. What this means is, if you create a firewall for example (I am using this, because Kerio has done this, and I’m slowly working on one), and you have certain programs which use open source code, those are the programs that you have to provide the source code for. However, if you create a single executable program (such as a mp3 and other music player) and use open source code in it, you have to open the entire program’s source code up. There may be ways around this, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m going on the assumption that there aren’t.
So, why is this the year for Open Source and Free Software……
Quite simply this is their year, because if the GPL is strong enough, it will help to propel the open source movement into a more mainstream venue. More people will see the publicity surrounding open source, so they may be more inclined to check the programs out. More people will want to see different applications, so more programmers will work on them. There are 100,000 programs listed at sourceforge.net (http://sourceforge.net) and not all of them are active. Some, that I would love to see, are still in the concept stage. Maybe with a stronger license, and more public demand, they’ll come into the coding stage.
Guaranteed, Microsoft and other commercial vendors are watching the progress of the GPL. You should too.
In the end, Free Software isn’t meant to provide you with something for nothing. It’s meant to provide you with a choice. A choice about who’s version of a product you’re going to use. Are you going to buy it from a well-known (or lesser known) closed source company, or are you going to take a chance on an open source developer/company? Don’t decide now. But, do whatever you can to make sure that in January of 2007, you still have the choices open to you.