Linus Torvalds still sticking with GPL 2

The Linux creator says that while version 3 could become useful, GPL 2 more closely matches what he wants from a license

Linux creator Linus Torvalds, in an interview being made public by the Linux Foundation Tuesday, stressed that version 2 of the GPL (GNU General Public License) still makes the most sense for the Linux kernel over the newer GPL version 3.

GPL 3, which was released last year by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), reflects the FSF''s goals while GPL 2 closely matches what Torvalds thinks a license should do, Torvalds said.

"I want to pick the license that makes the most sense for what I want to do. And at this point in time, Version 2 matches what I think we want to do much, much better than Version 3," said Torvalds, who is now a fellow at the foundation. He was interviewed in late-October by Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin.

Among GPL 3 highlights are protections against patent infringement lawsuits and provisions for license compatibility. Torvalds acknowledged he had spoken out against GPL 3 before it was released. He had opposed digital rights management provisions in early-2006, calling them burdensome.

There could be a change in his stance, though, Torvalds said. GPL 2 basically has acted as a single license covering a huge bulk of source code. Version 3 splits this base with some projects covered by version 2 and others by version 3 or later, he said. Version 3 might be useful if "there ends up being tons of external code that we feel is really important and worthwhile that is under the version 3 license," said Torvalds.

He added he cannot change the license on his own anymore. "I mean, because I have accepted code over the last 15 years by people who kind of accepted my original choice of the GPL Version 2, I'm not just, I think, ethically bound by those people's choices, I am also actually legally bound," Torvalds said.

Torvalds also was asked about the Linux development process being centered in North America and Europe despite Linux's now-global reach. Developers, Torvalds said, tend to come from countries with a high density of Internet access. While China and India have a lot of people, they have issues with Internet access, he said.

Language and cultural barriers also present an issue. While some Asian countries have huge Internet use and a great deal of education, they do not contribute a lot to the kernel or other open-source projects, said Torvalds. South Americans, meanwhile, may not necessarily speak English but culturally, they are closer to Europe and the U.S., which makes it easier to enter the fray, according to Torvalds.Â

Asked why the kernel does not have a stable device driver ABI, Torvalds said one reason is that people ask for one but do not want to merge their source code into the stable kernel or the standard kernel.

"And that, in turn, means that all the people who actually do all the kernel work and maintain the kernel are basically unable to work with that piece of hardware and that vendor because if there are any bugs whatsoever, we can't fix them," said Torvalds.

Commercial vendors have moved away from wanting anything to do with binary drivers because they are not maintainable, he said.

Torvalds said Linux started out as a hobby of his, but he has now been working on it full-time for the last four years.

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Paul Krill

InfoWorld
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