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Microsoft torches RMS, RMS torches Caldera

Those pre-rebuttals in full

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Microsoft's cancelbots were racing after Richard Stallman even before he took the stage in New York this morning to defend free software's cornerstone, the General Public License. The Free Software Foundation had a new GPL FAQ to promote, but journalists attending the event - and many who weren't - were primed with questions from the Beast with which to embarrass St Ignucius.

These, it turns out, are at least as newsworthy as what RMS had to say, as they shed a little more light on Microsoft's tactics in discrediting the GPL. Mundie has so far only pitched it in the vaguest, 'bad for business' terms.

RMS offered a template defence of free software (and not open source, which has nothing to do with the FSF, he insists), and pricked up a few ears by describing Caldera as 'parasites'. But not ours, as we could see this coming for a while, and sounds like the standard denunciation to us.

So Microsoft's pre-buttal goes something like this:-

Proportionality: If a proprietary program uses a GPL library (as described in the GNU FAQ #29) or combines with a GPL plug-in or module (as described in the GNU FAQ #31 and #37), the combined program is subject to the GPL. In this case, a proprietary program of 1,000,000 lines of code that uses a small GPL library or links to a GPL plug-in as described above, will then be subject to the GPL and its terms. This is not a proportional relationship.

Conflict with profit-making business models: Companies that have made significant investments in building proprietary value in their code are in an untenable competitive position if they include GPL technology in their solution. The situation can be made significantly worse if the principals of a company are unaware of the inclusion of GPL code in their product due to the actions of their developers or of individuals who have licensed the source code of their technology.

2. Uncertainty about interacting with GPL code. How does a firm know with certainty whether its developers' interaction with GPL code subjects the firm's proprietary code to the GPL?

[Presumably by reading the license - ed.]

The new "GNU General Public License FAQ" addresses a number of complex scenarios involving the combination of proprietary software with programs, modules, or libraries covered by the GPL or the LGPL. The license is vague about these complex scenarios, and the FAQ uses ambiguous language in describing them - for example:

#33: "If the program dynamically links plug-ins, but the communication between them is limited to invoking the 'main' function of the plug-in with some options and waiting for it to return, that is a borderline case."

#37: "If modules are designed to run linked together in a shared address space, that almost surely means combining them into one program.

By contrast, pipes, sockets and command-line arguments are communication mechanisms normally used between two separate programs. So when they are used for communication, the modules normally are separate programs. But if the semantics of the communication are intimate enough, exchanging complex internal data structures, that too could be a basis to consider the two parts as combined into a larger program."

#47: "However, in many cases you can distribute the GPL-covered software alongside your proprietary system. To do this validly, you must make sure that the free and non-free programs communicate at arms length, that that they are not combined in a way that would make them effectively a single program."

A third set of seven questions follows, dealing with conflict resolution for anxious developers who may have used GPL code, and become alarmed which we can summarise as "Who do you call?"

Actually, given the way the community works, it's likely to be the other way round - GPL developers would soon enough be on the blower to a company that they suspected might be breaking the GPL. That's generally how things work around here.

Microsoft is right in pointing out that the GPL is designed to discourage proprietary software - but that's the point of the license: much like the scriptures are there to discourage godlessness.

It's not binding for non-believers, being much more of a social contract than a legal contract (despite the para-legal language). They can go and use another open source license which doesn't conform to the FSF's idea of free, and that's where the open source rebranding project takes off. For its part, the FSF is clear enough about what it doesn't like here, and who falls into those categories.

We haven't heard any rebuttals to Microsoft's pre-buttal yet, but that's probably because - and Leonard Richardson put it best at the satire site Segfault in this skit - everyone's already rebuttalled out. ®

Related Link

The FSF's new GPL FAQ

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