GPL 3.0: The Questions We Should Be Asking

Rob Enderle

No matter how we look at it, the open source movement is relatively young even when compared to a young technology market. We are learning as we go, but even so, we should be able to apply business knowledge and experience.


If we were talking about a company and someone wanted to significantly change a part of the product -- and a license change is certainly significant -- a smart executive, to determine whether it was a good idea, would ask three questions. They are: Who is the customer? What is the cost? and What is the benefit? In this case, I'd add a fourth question "Do we have the authority to make the change?"


Let's explore each of these questions as they relate to GPL 3.0:


Who is the Customer?


Let's get to this question by exploring who it isn't. It isn't end users. They generally can't code and this license change likely will force companies such as TiVo to avoid anything that uses this license. Since there are likely more customers using Linux with TiVo than with any other client-side implementation, I'd suggest they would be neutral or negative on this.


The customer isn't business. There is nothing in the change to benefit business and in fact, it is designed to reduce the options businesses have. IBM has indicated it won't support GPL 3.0 even though it has been given special dispensation. Impact on Google has been avoided as well.


You'd think the hardware guys would like the concept of the GPL. It lowers the value of software, so you'd think that would give more power to the hardware side again. Problem is, the model lowers the value of hardware as well and Google is the new poster child for that. I spent some time awhile back exploring this with IBM hardware and those guys weren't happy.


Professional developers are mixed on this change, and when are developers the customer for something that addresses how a product will be sold? Shouldn't the customer always be the buyer?


What's the Cost?


Changes come with cost. If you don't know the cost of something, how can you possibly make a good business decision about whether it's the right thing to do? This may force those who support the GPL, such as Novell and TiVo, to abandon it for something else. It will shrink the available market for products under this license. You only have to look at the discussions about it to realize that many people disagree with it.


We don't yet know how much the market will decrease -- likely more than 10 percent and less than 90 percent. But if it were 80 percent, would it be wise to adopt it? How about at 20 percent?


Software isn't a religion; for most of us it's a business, and it should be run as one. One interesting thought: Before the GPL, the most powerful technology company was Microsoft, a company run by programmers and software developers. Under the GPL, the heir apparent is Google, an advertising agency.


If you're a programmer or a developer, that change alone could be a significant cost. There is an old saying: "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." I wonder if these changes aren't exactly that.


But, in the end, we should ask both what the cost is, and why no one selling this idea is discussing that cost.


What's the Benefit?


In context, any cost can seem reasonable if the benefit is great enough. The advertised benefit is freedom, but the not-so-subtle benefit is stopping Microsoft. How realistic is either? Licenses restrict rights as well as grant them and at the core of the 3.0 change is the concept of stopping pacts such as the Novell/Microsoft deal, which appeared necessary for Novell's survival.


The alternative might have been litigation or the simple failure of Novell which, for Redhat and other competing distributions, might have been a benefit. Yet the IT market has grown tired of litigation and has constantly expressed the desire for a steady state. This isn't that.


It's doubtful this license change would hurt Microsoft long term and, short term, it it might actually be a benefit.


So, if the only true benefit is stopping future versions of the Microsoft/Novell deal and killing projects such as TiVo, is the benefit worth the cost? For the promoters, it would seem so, but I wonder for how many of the true customers.


Does the Authority Exist?


I've been going back over the initial activities by SCO and the defenses. Who says people have to use GPL 3.0 if they don't want to? If there is code where the new GPL applies -- whether it is Microsoft, Novell, or TiVo on the defensive -- couldn't they simply remove it once it is identified?


If companies simply refused to adhere to the license, where would all of the enforcement money come from? SCO tried the litigation storm thing and it didn't work out so well. There seems to be a subtext that key people such as the Linux Foundation will have no choice, but I wonder if that is the case.


Isn't it possible that companies and developers will reject this license, which didn't come from any democratic process anyway, and avoid like the plague any code released under it?


Even Microsoft can't force you to take something you don't want. What if the market just says no?


Wrapping Up


I'm not making a recommendation other than to suggest these questions be asked, and answered, to your satisfaction. Throughout your professional life there will be people trying to get you to do things by talking fast and tricking you into avoiding the basics.


Whether it is a new product, a new contract or license type, it is always wise to ask critical questions and make your decisions based on the honest answers. Whatever you decide, I'd wish you luck. My recommendation is to always play heads-up ball.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 13, 2007 8:50 AM Jose Nunez Jose Nunez  says:
I think stopping Microsoft isn't either a benefit nor something Open Source will achieve.In the moment Microsoft gets really hurt by open source, then they will start their own open source transformation, and they will succeed (they have the money)Actually that's what they have been doing... keep their proprietary battery, while making inroads into opensource... similar to what SUN has done, but in this case, the only path SUN is following is to fully go Open Source on all their products.Those are still their assets, and the same case will happen with MS folks.The real benefit of Open Source is that others than Microsoft have been able to compete and gather earnings out of the Software OS/Platform market. Reply
Jun 13, 2007 9:45 AM Bobcat Bobcat  says:
Rob Enderle says:"In context, any cost can seem reasonable if the benefit is great enough.The advertised benefit is freedom, but the not-so-subtle benefit is stopping Microsoft.How realistic is either?" Stopping M$?!?Maybe from stealing your ideas propriatizing them into a product that ONLY works with other M$ products.But stopping M$?!?Sorry the best this does is to prevent M$ from shutting out all other competition by M$'s tried and true EEE program.Rob Enderle says:"Ive been going back over the initial activities by SCO and the defenses.Who says people have to use GPL 3.0 if they dont want to?If there is code where the new GPL applies whether it is Microsoft, Novell, or TiVo on the defensive couldnt they simply remove it once it is identified?"If companies simply refused to adhere to the license, where would all of the enforcement money come from?SCO tried the litigation storm thing and it didnt work out so well."WOW!!!!Really?!?Golly Gee you must have caught a clue -- From your very helpful corner piece:"Rob is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward looking emerging technology advisory firm, and one of the most recognized." And exactly how much money did you sink into SCO??You a "forward looking emerging technology advisory firm".Now *my* advice is not to listen to lunatics like you who kept saying that SCO had a case, and kept dumping tons of money into that sorry company.20/20 hindsight is wonderful Rob saying "SCO tried the litigation storm thing and it didnt work out so well" yet on the other hand that "M$ has all these patents" OOOOOO he should all be scared.But you then go on to undermine your own statements:"Isnt it possible that companies and developers will reject this license, which didnt come from any democratic process anyway, and avoid like the plague any code released under it?"So you are saying that M$ is a Democratic process??You say I can REJECT the M$ license and use it products?-- or is it OUR product since we had to pay for it?Oh no:M$ sells you a right to *use* their product, but takes no responsibility in keeping *their* product up to date, nor insure that they send to an updated copy of new releases.M$ is trying to have their cake and eat it too:They sell you a right to *USE* LICENSE -- not the product itself.Are you saying that the GPL3 is *NOT* a democratic process???It is being created in a very public forum and seeks public input.I suppose to some one of your outstanding technological knowledge M$'s license is far preferable -- oh wait which version of M$'s license are we talking about:The one included with DOS;the one included with Windows 3.0;the one included with Windows 95;the one included with Windows XP -- gee I forget which license.BTW Rob, did you know that you can't give your computer away with the original software without M$ asking to be paid for a new license fee??Don't believe it??Microsoft did just that:They asked for license fee from a CHARITY that furnished refurbished computers to third world countries.Seems Bill Gates doesn't have enough money.And BTW when are you going to talk about M$ Long Arm of the Law a.k.a.the BSA (not Boy Scouts of America but rather the Business Software Alliance) -- who thinks they have the right to invade a private company and DEMAND that they show them all the licenses for all the software being used.That somehow you are REQUIRED to allow them to check *ALL* programs on all your computers.Right, I forgot you are all about DEMOCRACY. Reply
Jun 13, 2007 9:46 AM Bobcat Bobcat  says:
What about the Bill of Rights especially the part about FREEDOM FROM ILLEGAL SEARCHES AND SEIZURES.Do you remember that one Rob??The BSA is nothing more than M$'s private mob of Thugs In Business Suits (TIBS) and does not even respect the Bill of Rights.Wrapping Up Rob Enderle says:"Even Microsoft cant force you to take something you dont want.What if the market just says no?I guess either we simply don't use M$ Junkware, we use Linux, we use Mac's, or something else.But M$ has a MONOPOLY is can 90+% of the market just say NO to M$??But you are right WRONG:M$ * CAN * force you to take something you don't want:have you tried to * buy a computer* without an operating system on it ?In 99% of all cases a computer comes with -- TA DA -- a * M$ * OS pre-installed on it.Try then to get your money back from M$ by telling them you don't want their Junkware.Also referred to as the "Microsoft Tax".So yes I guess they can force you to take something you don't want.There is one way not to pay the M$ Tax and that is to build your own system from the ground up.And yes Rob I voted for FREEDOM.I installed LINUX.M$ and their hired TIBS a.k.a.the BSA can take a hike.Anyone with half an ounce of brains (which you seem to lack ) will simply recognize you for the fool you are and ignore your "advice". Reply
Jun 13, 2007 10:17 AM Robert D Coulter Robert D Coulter  says:
I don't use MS Products except where required for business purposes: and after looking at GPL V3 I suspect I will no longer be using any products licensed with it. GPL V3 restricts me, the end user from selecting the best product mix to run my business. The old standby of GPL V2 is excellent in allowing interoperability with other products, V3 strikes me as a tool to punish someone we don't like NOT as a tool to enhance my business. Please do not take away my pleasure of using Linux because you want to punish the competition! Reply
Jun 14, 2007 1:22 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Exactly, problem with a license is it works like a contract but generally doesn't undergo the same level of approval or review. This license may work for you, or it may not, but you need to make the determination yourself, you also need to understand this is a .0 license and just like .0 code should probably be avoided until the .1 verson comes out otherwise an excessive amount of the "learning" will be at your cost. Thanks for posting well argued. Reply
Jun 14, 2007 5:45 AM Jude Nelson Jude Nelson  says:
Robert D Coutler,Have you even read GPLv3? If anything, it's a step toward preventing patent trolls from using patent protection racketeering to harm your "best product mix," and would provide a legal shield between your assets and the likes of Microsoft. Also, GPLv3 is easier to dual-license than GPLv2, which arguably allows an even greater amount of heterogeneous code to run in the same program or same setup. The only way you stand to lose money, productivity, etc. with the GPLv3 is if your business organizes cross-patent licenses for profit.Regards Reply
Jun 14, 2007 12:35 PM OrlandoNative OrlandoNative  says:
"Have you even read GPLv3? If anything, its a step toward preventing patent trolls from using patent protection racketeering to harm your 'best product mix,'I've seen this comment *many* times; and it always amuses me. This is *exactly* what GPLv3 *WON'T* do. A true 'patent troll' doesn't *have* any products - just patents - in their portfolio, so the strictures of GPLv3 have no effect on them. *Unless* you, yourself, contribute or distribute GPLv3 software, any patents you may hold are not affected by the GPLv3 license. You can still sue to your heart's (and wallet's) content *anyone* whom you think is violating your IP.As for comment #3; I totally agree with that viewpoint. While I would like to (and have the skills) to modify software that I end up using; I also want to be able to use *any* piece of software (in any combination) that does what I need to have done.As for the 'Tivoisation' issue, that's purely RMS. In fact, the entire term is a really a total misnomer. Tivo *does not* disallow you access, and the ability to modify, their software. What they *do* disallow is someone running that modified software *on a Tivo*. If you are willing to pony up the money to create a replacement hardware box; then you can run the modified Tivo code on it. This is *purely* a precautionary measure to Tivo - it follows the dictates of their contracts with the content provider's whose content they distribute; and it also ensures that any box with a Tivo logo is running Tivo supportable code. No appliance vendor is willing to assume the potential liability of allowing easy modification to the devices they sell, consumer or not. And no unsuspecting user would like the surprise of finding out a unit he/she/it bought will not be supported by it's original manufacturer/vendor because it's been modified in some way not readily apparent to them.While I rarely agree with Enderle; in this case he makes a valid point. *Each* user; and each contributor/developer needs to *carefully* weigh the pros and cons of moving to a new license; or accepting it; before just blindly doing so.The FSF has it's own agenda. One always has to remember that. Sometimes it may coincide with one's own. Sometimes it may just partially overlap. But putting your future, in essence, to something controlled by someone else, requires careful thought; and a good migration plan *away* should it turn out the controlling entity makes changes incompatible with your own needs. Reply

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