Sun’s Schwartz Promotes FOSS; Defends CDDL

Sun Microsystems’ president and COO Jonathan Schwartz kicked off the second annual Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in San Francisco on April 5 with a keynote that painted Sun as a fierce friend of the free and open-source software (FOSS) movement.

Open source is a force that will propel the software industry into the “Participation Age,” Schwartz said. The future of the industry, and Sun itself, depends on it.

“An open and competitive network fuels growing opportunities for everyone,” he said, “not simply to draw data or shift work around the world, but to participate, to create value and independence. If the Information Age was passive, the Participation Age is active.”

Schwartz responded to critics of the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), a variant of the Mozilla Public License (MPL) that Sun created for OpenSolaris, with a counter attack on the GNU General Public License (GPL), which Linux uses. Schwartz called the GPL unfair and “predatory.” To illustrate, he pointed to a provision of the GPL that says source code may be mixed with other code only if the resultant code is also governed by the GPL--in other words, developers are required to publish all the code they mix with the original GPL code.

“Imagine a developing nation that elects to use free software in the construction of its intellectual property and then finds that it has a rather predatory obligation to disgorge all the intellectual property back to the wealthiest nation in the world (the U.S.) that happens to be the author of the GPL,” Schwartz said.

Approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), the CDDL covers all of the patents that are relevant to the Solaris source code--more than 1600, according to Sun. The company created the CDDL to free developers from the obligation to give their new code back to the developers of OpenSolaris. Schwartz called it “a genuine attempt to lower barriers to entry.” Sun has said that it will make the first buildable source code for OpenSolaris available by the end of June.

Schwartz referred to rules in the GPL that prohibit the inclusion of non-GPL code in GPL projects as the exportation of “a form of IP colonialism” to nations seeking to create their own means of production. “I believe in IP,” he said, “but I do not believe in IP colonialism.”

In a broader vein, Schwartz banged the FOSS drum, asserting that economic growth will come as companies realize that the value is in the service, not in the product itself. As an example, he cited the cell phone industry’s practice of offering handheld devices free with a subscription.

“Surely, it should be everyone’s common goal with free and open-source software,” he said. “It’s not about bringing the competition down; it’s about driving global participation up.”

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].