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Mozilla betas facelifted open source license

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Mozilla has released a beta version of the MPL 2.0, the first update to its open source license in more than a decade.

Mozilla chief lizard wrangler Mitchell Baker calls this a "feature complete" beta, saying it "addresses all major known issues". The license is shorter and simpler than the aging MPL 1.1. The beta draft drops the word count from 3,702 words to 2,289. But it's also designed to make the MPL more compatible with other licenses, including the Apache license and the GPL. Its patent language has been massaged to look more like that in other licenses. And it removes the "original software" and "original developer" concepts.

Baker penned the original Mozilla Public License while she was still at Netscape, and the Mozilla Foundation has used version 1.1 with apps like Firefox and Thunderbird since the late 90s. MPL 1.1 has also been used with various outside projects, including Sun's OpenSolaris and Adobe's Flex.

Code licensed under the current MPL can be copied and modified, and if it's redistributed, it must be redistributed under the MPL. You can also mix MPL code with proprietary code to form a single executable. But the MPL is not compatible with the GNU General Public License (GPL). You can't combine MPL code and GPL code in the same binary, unless the MPL code is also licensed under the GPL. There is an optional section, however, for GPL compatibility.

The license is quite different from the Apache license, which has no copyleft requirements. You can modify and reuse code without giving back to the community.

This past March, Mozilla announced that it would do a long overdue overhaul of the license. "The spirit of the license has served us well by helping to communicate some of the values that underpin our large and growing community. However, some of its wording may be showing its age," the open source outfit said.

"Keeping both those things in mind, Mozilla is launching a process to update the license, hoping to modernize and simplify it while still keeping the things that have made the license and the Mozilla project such a success."

Part of this was an effort to make the MPL more compatible with the Apache license and te GPL. The MPL 2.0 beta is designed to make it easier to incorporate Apache code into Mozilla code, and it has updated the language for optional GPL compatibility.

You can browse the draft and even help update it at Mozilla's MPL update website. The license will eventually be submitted to the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative, and Baker believes it currently meets all criteria for approval. ®

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