Delayed GPLv3 third draft to debut tomorrow

Months later than had been expected, the Free Software Foundation intends to release the third draft of Version 3 of its GNU general public license (GPLv3) tomorrow. The organization now also plans a final "last-call" draft following feedback on the third draft.

Created by Richard Stallman in 1989 for the GNU free operating system project, the GPL was last fully revised 16 years ago. The license gives users the right to freely study, copy, modify, reuse, share and redistribute software. It governs a good deal of free and open-source software, including the Linux operating system.

In July 2006, when the Free Software Foundation issued the second draft of GPLv3, Eben Moglen, an FSF board member and one of the authors of the draft, said he and Stallman hoped to bring out a last-call third draft of GPLv3 sometime between mid-October and Nov. 1. If that third draft was well received by those in the free and open-source software community, the FSF planned to then issue the final version of the license on Jan. 15, 2007.

"We had never planned to let so much time pass between public releases of the license," Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF, wrote in an e-mail late Monday to update the free and open-source software community on the GPLv3 timetable.

Throwing a wrench into the ongoing deliberations on GPLv3 was the surprise partnership around SUSE Linux that Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc. announced in November.

"We felt it was important to fully discuss a few specific issues, including the recent patent deal between Novell and Microsoft, before proceeding with the process," Smith wrote.

Microsoft pledged to provide sales support for the Linux distribution and to co-develop technologies with Novell to make it simpler for users to run both Novell's SUSE Linux and Microsoft's Windows operating systems. Open-source advocates questioned the implications of the deal, with some suggesting that the agreement might violate the GPL that governs Linux.

Debate over what the final GPLv3 might look like has raged ever since the first draft of the license appeared in January 2006, particularly in relation to its likely stance on the issue of digital rights management. Some open-source developers, notably the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, have stated publicly that they see no reason to move to GPLv3; they prefer the language of the current GPL Version 2.

Given how important input from the free and open-source software community is for the license, the FSF is altering its drafting process, Smith wrote.

Once the third draft is released, the organization will welcome comments for 60 days, and it may publish new language for review based on that feedback on its GPLv3 Web site.. After that period, the FSF plans to release a last-call draft with a comment period of 30 days following the release. The organization hopes to publish the final license once the comment period expires, sometime toward the end of June.

The third GPLv3 discussion draft is due for release at 10 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow, according to Smith. As with previous drafts, the release will be accompanied by a document explaining how the FSF decided on the contents of the draft.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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