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Sun Responds to Criticism of CDDL
Saturday, February 05 2005 @ 04:40 AM EST

Sun has acknowledged that there is a need to clarify the CDDL, in response to criticism from the Free and Open Source community. They will be drawing up a developers' bill of rights:

"Tom Goguen, vice president of marketing for Sun's operating platforms group, told ComputerWire yesterday Sun partly accepted criticism that it had failed to adequately explain CDDL, and is working with its legal team to clear up some of misunderstandings.

"'[We will] get it from the legal people what will be a developers' bill of rights of what they can do... their rights and obligations to the community,' Goguen said."

I think that is very fine, indeed, assuming that Sun's rights and obligations to the community are also clearly spelled out, and assuming that the license and the bill of rights are legally bound together. So, let's wait and see what they write up, but credit is due for the willingness to respond, don't you think? Mistakes happen, and acknowledging them publicly and moving on is as good as it gets with imperfect humans.

He went on to allude to the GPL incompatibility issue, and I gather that will not change.

Here's what was said:

"Goguen noted Sun was unlikely to have pleased the entire community with Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), especially those who equate open source with the liberal GNU General Public License (GPL).

"'There's obviously concern because it's a new license. But there's also a case if it wasn't GPL we weren't going to make them happy,' Gougen said."

I'd like to clarify that for Sun in a friendly way. No one would fault Sun for desiring to use its own license -- although there is legitimate concern about proliferation of licenses -- even if it isn't the GPL. I didn't, and I prefer the GPL very strongly, yet I was more than happy to try to help Sun with its license.

IBM started down that road themselves, inventing their own GPL-incompatible, free software license. It was largely ignored. What Sun will find is what they found, that the overwhelming number of developers use the GPL or the LGPL, and anything that exiles itself from those developers ends up marginalized. It will be the same for the CDDL. The Mozilla project also went through that adjustment. Their Mozilla Public License, upon which the CDDL is based, is incompatible with the GPL, but they eventually found a way to fix that problem. As the FSF explains on their page that explains all the free software licenses:

"However, MPL 1.1 has a provision (section 13) that allows a program (or parts of it) to offer a choice of another license as well. If part of a program allows the GNU GPL as an alternate choice, or any other GPL-compatible license as an alternate choice, that part of the program has a GPL-compatible license."

Even the original BSD license was changed and the Modified BSD License is now compatible with the GPL.

There is a simple reason for that. The community knows the GPL and they trust it, and with good reason. So, in my opinion, the problem is the reverse of what Goguen posits. The problem is the apparent Sun hostility to the GPL, not the other way around. They deliberately chose a GPL-incompatible license, in effect going back to their BSD roots with a vengeance. But if Sun prefers and accepts that the number of developers who use the CDDL will be relatively small, that is their right to follow that path. I get the impression that Sun thinks of the GPL as a small segment of the community, whereas it is in fact the largest core group. And as far as operating systems go, the fact that the Linux kernel is under the GPL is a huge factor. It's simply pointless to try to topple Linus. It can't be done. The loyalty to him is solid and it will always be that way, because he has proven himself to the community. In comparison, Sun has not.

"What?" I can hear Sun saying... "But we've donated more code than anyone." What Sun needs to grasp is that trust is built on demonstrated ethics, not on code. Linus has shown his merit in this area. So that is what Sun needs to address to build trust. Code is secondary. If the community doesn't trust a company, the majority won't use their code or any license on top of it, no matter how well-crafted. A few will. There's always a few, and that's their decision to make.

In the past, there have been divisive, competitive factors in the community, particularly between the BSD/GPL camps. After SCO, all that needs to be over. The FOSS community needs to face the world with a united face. The hope, naturally, then, is that Sun will reflect in its license and any ancillary documents a spirit of unity and community, so as to make it possible for the entire FOSS community to understand clearly that Sun really does intend to be a member of the community in good standing.

If Sun prefers to carve out a smaller community for itself, it is free to build its own little island, with its own big fence. The result will be, though, that Linux will continue to develop more quickly and it will bury Sun's license and its code, because the open, GPL method works better, and the GPL requirement of giving back all modifications results in rapid improvement. Sun is free to cut itself off from that, if it so chooses, but it will reap what it sows. If they imagined that the world would drop the GPL and adopt the CDDL instead, I trust by now they realize that isn't going to happen.

The community of developers will respond to what they see, and I seriously doubt that any license that is GPL/LGPL incompatible will be widely adopted. That's an explanation, not a criticism.

As for Sun's developers' bill of rights, if Sun addresses the issues that have been raised about the CDDL, particularly related to patents, and demonstrates it can learn from responsible criticism, that would be a very encouraging sign. And frankly, at this point, Sun needs one.

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