HP’s Fink Challenges IBM and Sun on Open-Source Licensing

Hewlett-Packard’s VP and general manager of the NonStop Enterprise Division, Martin Fink, challenged IBM and Sun Microsystems to drop their open-source licensing schemes and adopt the GNU General Public License during his keynote speech at the LinuxWorld 2005 conference in San Francisco.

“There has been a proliferation of licenses that call themselves open source,” Fink said. “This was originally done to try to grow the open-source movement. Now that proliferation has the potential to create open-source islands. We can’t have a bunch of open-source things that can’t talk to each other, that can’t share. That sharing is what makes open source work.”

Fink applauded Intel for its decision in March to “deprecate” its Intel Open Source License (aka BSD License with Export Notice). Deprecating a license doesn’t remove its Open Source Initiative approval, but marks the license as undesirable in the future.

He also congratulated the OSI for creating an additional set of rules to limit the spread of open-source licenses. The OSI is the official non-profit shepherd of open-source licenses. The group has certified some 57 licenses, but recently established the License Proliferation Committee, whose charter states that its purpose is “to identify and lessen or remove issues caused by license proliferation.”

He then called on IBM to follow Intel’s lead and dump its own Common Public License in favor of the GPL.

“I will give Sam Palmisano, Nick Donofrio and Irving Wladawsky-Berger [IBM’s CEO, SVP of technology and manufacturing, and VP of technical strategy and innovation, respectively], a brand-new HP laptop preloaded with Linux,” Fink quipped.

He also called on Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy and President and COO Jonathan Schwartz to deprecate their company’s Common Development and Distribution License, recently established for its OpenSolaris operating system.

Fink promised laptops to the two Sun execs if they abandoned their license; he drew a laugh from his audience when he added that he’d preload the machines with Windows.

Sun’s CDDL is a “direct descendent” of the 1.1 version of the Mozilla Public License, says Glenn Weinberg, VP of Sun’s operating platforms group. The license covers all patents that are relevant to the Solaris source code—more than 1600, according to Sun. One of the changes Sun made to the MPL was to make the patent terms clearer and more favorable to smaller developers, Weinberg says. “One of our goals is to use our patent portfolio to actually protect the OpenSolaris community that we want to build and to allow them real intellectual property protection.”

"Martin should get out more," says Sun's chief evangelist Simon Phipps and OSI member. "I don't hear his view around the open source community. What he seemed to be doing [during his keynote] was making cheap capital with people who were likely to cheer what he was saying. He didn’t offer any real insight into the situation, and that’s consistent with the statements he’s been making about licensing."

Phipps allows that there is some validity to Fink's concerns about the inherent dangers of rampant license proliferation. But he disagreed that the CDDL was part of the problem. In fact, he says, it's part of the solution.

"We're actually doing something about license proliferation," he says. "If you look at the list of OSI-approved licenses, more than 40 of them are derrivatives of the Mozilla license. With the CDDL, we have created a license that does away with further proliferation around the type of license that is the source of the vast majority of the proliferation."

Both the CPL and the CDDL are OSI-approved licenses.

“Open-source licensing is what enables open-source software to exist,” Fink said, “and for the most part, the vast majority of the licenses used today are in the GPL.”

About the Author

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