SPL No Longer Required
- By John K. Waters
The denizens of Silicon Valley were wandering around in the traditional
post-Turkey-Day, tryptophan-induced haze this week (seasoned with just a dash of
the-long-weekend-could-have-been-longer grumpiness). But the Brits don't
celebrate Thanksgiving, so I found Sun
Microsystems' chief open-source evangelist, Simon Phipps, sharp as ever
(despite his cold) when I snagged some time with him on the phone today. I
wanted to hear about the latest Sun-authored open-source license sent into
''It's been my cunning plan for some time to retire
old open source licenses at Sun,'' the indefatigable Phipps told me. ''This is the
last of them.''
Sun has officially retired the Sun Public License (SPL). The Santa Clara,
CA-based systems company contacted the Open Source Initiative (OSI), the
non-profit corporation that manages and promotes the Open Source Definition, and
requested that they consider it ''retired.'' Sun migrated the last large
codebase--its NetBeans IDE--from the SPL last spring. The company now considers
it a historical artifact.
Ta-daaa! ...yeah, I know. It's sort of an anticlimactic announcement
after the company open sourced the Java Platform, but this is yet another piece
of the evolving open-source story.
OSS licensing is notorious for confusing terms and quirky conditions. I think
there are about 50 OSI approved open-source licenses floating around right now.
There's a big list on the OSI website.
Why so many? Phipps points to restrictions in the popular Mozilla Public
License (MPL), which was developed for the original Mozilla browser in the late
1990s. This is a reciprocal license, which requires modifications to be given to
the community, and it explicitly names Mozilla as the owner of the code.
Organizations not too keen on that idea have modified the otherwise nifty
license, usually changing just two things: the name of the owner of the code,
and the choice of law and venue, which is hard-coded as Santa Clara, CA, where
Mozilla is based. The result was a swarm
of ever-so-slightly-different ''vanity'' licenses.
Sun has been exploring licensing models for ages. In the 1990s, they licensed
JINI in a way that would give the community freedom to edit it while giving it
coherence. The company created the Sun Industry Standards Source License, or
SISSL, under which the OpenOffice Suite was originally licensed. Last year the
OSI approved Sun's own variation of the MPL, the Common Development and
Distribution License (CDDL), which the company created for its OpenSolaris
operating system and its Glassfish project.
SISSL got the gold watch last year. If you go to the SISSL page of the OSI
website you'll find a bright red ''Sun has ceased to use or recommend this
license,'' just above the definitions.
The CDDL, however, seems to
have real job security. Sun still views it as the last Mozilla-type
license. ''The only reason there's any question at all about the CDDL is that we
wrote it,'' Phipps says, ''and some people want to make an issue out of that.
Anyone who's actually read the license would see that there's no problem with
it. The CDDL parameterizes the details in the Mozilla license that were causing
people to create vanity licenses. Its purpose is to make sure that nobody ever
has to write a vanity license again.''
Sun considered licensing Java under the CDDL, but opted for the GNU General Public License,
because of its potential for growing the market for the Java Platform. Growing
that market was the company's primary objective, Phipps says, and that objective
was best met with the GPL.
''We're not doctrinaire about licensing,'' Phipps adds. ''My mantra is, the
right license for the right community.''
Phipps is now encouraging other creators of Mozilla-derived licenses to send
them to the rest home. In his blog, he writes:
''I'd encourage the (many) other creators of Mozilla-derived licenses to take
the same step. We owe it to our colleagues in the open source community to keep
Apparently, if you're the copyright holder of a license, all you have to do
is call up the OSI and declare that the license is retired.
BTW: The SPL and even SISSL are still OSI approved licenses;
they don't actually get unapproved.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached