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Is 'GNU/Solaris' emerging from Microsoft-Novell deal?

'It's just a f*cking kernel...'

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NSFW Richard M. Stallman has never had much truck with the re-branding campaign that gave the world the phrase "open source". Stallman, who authored the original General Public License to give legal muscle to his desire to ensure software freedoms are not curtailed, has always declined to count himself as a member of any "open source movement".

As his attorney told us recently, in the light of the Microsoft-Novell deal, his focus on long term values over short-term expediency looks wiser now than it was once perceived to be:

"What Microsoft did to 'Open Source' was what Stallman always said could be done to it," attorney Eben Moglen told us. "First you take the politics out, and when the veal has been bleached absolutely white, you can cover it with any sauce you like. And that's what Microsoft did, and 'Open Source' became the sauce on top of Microsoft proprietarianism."

Stallman always insisted, too, that Linux™ be referred to as GNU/Linux. The kernel and the tools to build it are free software, distributed under the GPL, he said - so credit must go where it's due. The FSF website goes even further: when you use Linux, it's the GNU operating system you're using, in "a GNU/Linux variant".

(Stallman was duly accused of credit-stealing, and being an unwelcoming moralizing curmudgeon. His flavor of moralizing being considered out of kilter with the get-rich-quick era. )

Now that we know GPL version 3.0 is the software libre world's strategic response to the Microsoft-Novell deal, one intriguing possibility is emerging. If a variant of a GNU system merely requires a superstructure to be built on a GPL kernel and toolchain, could we see a GNU/Solaris system?

Sun Microsystems is sounding increasingly positive about releasing Solaris under GPL 3.0.

Sun has released Java under the GPL, and Stallman gave his thoughts on the announcement recently. In September, Sun's, er, "open source" officer Simon Phipps suggested that GPL 3.0 could be useful:

"I have a growing confidence that what will appear from the process after another 3 drafts could well form the basis of a unification of the Free and Open Source software communities," he wrote, before news of the Novell deal broke.

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He qualified the comment with an observation that the language was "too imbalanced against large portfolio holders," of which Sun is of course a good example.

Speaking to us today, Phipps sounded even more positive that the GPL 3 process would be useful... somewhere.

"I would not be surprised," Phipps told us, "if the final GPL v3.0 was not an effective tool for some of the communities that Sun sustains, or will, initiate, in the future."

Solaris wasn't mentioned, but the prospect of a Solaris released under a dual license, of which one is GPL v 3.0, therefore looks much more likely today. And certainly enough of a prospect to start talking about the ramifications.

You can see the benefits for each party of a GNU/Solaris. Sun has never been comfortable with the Penguin, becoming quite schizophrenic in recent years - changing its strategy as often as free software developers change their socks. Given Torvalds' emphatic public stance against the GPL 3.0, Sun may very much like to take the weight, with the marketing bonus that "the new Linux" has a solar trademark. The free software community may well welcome a major endorsement of what it wants to be a patent-proof license. Then again, many years ago it was Sun's ambitions that prompted the rest of the commercial Unix world, led by IBM and DEC, to create OSF/1 Unix.

Of course much depends on Sun's eventual consideration of the re-drafted GPL, and the terms under which it may (or may not) release a GPL Solaris. And GNU/Solaris must be seen and deemed truly "free" before receiving Stallman's blessing. A lot of ifs, you may rightly say.

But the prospect did raise a surprisingly positive response from one developer we contacted, who requested anonymity.

"It's just a fucking kernel, and it's time that ass in Portland realized that," he told us.

The ass in question, being a well known Finnish software developer, and the trademark owner of the kernel in question, Linux™.

Boys, boys. ®

Bootnote: VA Linux Systems stock rose by more than 700 per cent on its first day of public trading in 1999: valuing the company at $15bn. Not bad for a box shifter with an annual turnover of $17m. Two years later it abandoned hardware; shortly after that, it dropped "Linux" from the company name.

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