'Get a lawyer!' Sun tells developers

Pick a license. Any license

channel

"People struggle with what open source means, because there are all these licenses," said James Gosling Wednesday, as Sun unveiled two more.

It brings the number of Sun Java™ licenses to four. Sun calls this "simplifying" the process - and acknowledges that the current community source license, SCSL, is horrendously complicated. It will probably be downplayed in favor of the others, Sun said today.

Sun didn't issue a press release on these important changes, and at the time of writing hadn't updated its licensing web page. But by engaging in a telepathic communion with the hive mind of the 'blogosphere'*, this is what we discovered.

A new commercial license called the JDL will be introduced, with the intention of succeeding the SCSL. Another, the JIUL or Java Internal Use License, simply requires compatibility "on the honor system" - in other words, at your site. It's intended to allow developers to make a fix and deploy it internally. The Sun Java Research License, introduced a year ago, will be more widely used. "Sun expects to start gently, graduating contributors to larger tasks as it gets to know them," we were told, telepathically.

The intention is to overcome a long-standing bugbear, which is that there is no easy and quick way to fix Java code. The community process is for specifications. And using the SCSL community license, Sun executives agreed today (perhaps using some telepathic channel of their own), is cumbersome and not appropriate to everyone. So the moves today, which Sun dubs 'Project Peabody', is intended to allow more people to see code, do their own fixes, all the while ensuring compatibility.

But which license is right for me, you're asking? Right now it shouldn't be too hard to tell. But there may be problems ahead.

The enormous drag on the US economy of maintaining a class of lawyers - over a million, at the last count - has been noticed before. Americans who live abroad are pleasantly astonishedto discover the rest of the world gets by without quite so much lawyertime.

"Legal services are drawing the blood out of the US economy," a former Nokia, now Intel VP told The Register. "'Odd' is the word - it's not entirely natural."

Quite so.

But going from one main license to three runs the risk of complicating things enormously. And licenses tend to breed like topsy, especially when lawyers are in charge. See, for example, how Creative Commons has "simplified" copyright by giving the perplexed author the choice of a dozen combinations. Which one is the right one for you? Better ask a lawyer.

That's the only solution we have until the invention of mechanical robo-lawyers which work at great speed, and never ask for weekends off, or tenure. So we wondered if splitting one license into three wasn't just moving the complexity around the room - we'd still keep bumping into it?

Sun assured us, we were relieved to hear, that the number of licenses would at most be three or four.

James Gosling said this was a necessity, anyway.

"We need lawyers - lawyers are unavoidable," he told us.

We disagree, and wonder how many GPL developers have a lawyer, real or virtual, as they tap away at their keyboards at 3am. Probably very few. We'll ring around and check, and to be fair to Gosling, he probably wasn't thinking of lone coders.

However if you start believing this proposition, there's only one destination you can possibly arrive at.

A fellow Sun executive bravely, er, clarified Gosling with some good sense:

"We hope to reduce the number of lawyers you need," he said.

And we hope he's right. ®

Bootnote: No, it was just a good old fashioned email.

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