RealTime IT News

Sun's Open Source Choice 'Disappointing'

Sun Microsystems' decision to open-source 1,600 patents within only the OpenSolaris development community is meeting with disappointment in some communities.

The move would likely result in little open source developer uptake, Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) said Friday.

"The operating system open source community is already behind GNU Linux," he said. "There's no incentive for them to switch over to help Sun build a better Solaris product."

What's more, despite the fact Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) is an approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), Ravicher said it poses a danger to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) developers around the world. Instead of the open source model of share-and-share-alike, this license creates a border against other open source code coming in or out, he said.

"I think the largest threat, right now, to the open source community is license proliferation -- not Microsoft, not any other threat," he said. "If we start to fragment the open source community, which happens when you have licenses that are incompatible with one another, we really divide up ourselves."

Last month, Sun executives said they would open up 1,600 of its patents used in OpenSolaris under the CDDL license. At the highly-publicized press conference, Scott McNealy, Sun CEO, said these patents were completely indemnified against some of today's IP controversies, like the current SCO v. IBM legal battle.

What was hyped publicly, and what appeared in the fine print, was enough to raise the concern of Ravicher. He wrote an open letter to McNealy, asking for clarification on the patent grant and whether this protected Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) developers who might want to use the patents in their own applications, as the message was potentially misleading to developers.

The letter forced Sun officials to come out and defend the new license and the patents it covered, which in this case only apply to modifications made to OpenSolaris. Sun officials defended the decision Friday, saying it was the only way to offer some protection to their business.

"We are not just giving the patents away to the world, because if we do that, then we lose the protections of those patents," said Glenn Weinberg, vice president of Sun's operating platforms group. "We have to have some protection."

The protection he describes is in the event someone creates a product that competes directly against OpenSolaris, using the patents that are now free for use if licensed under a different model -- for example, the GPL .

It's an argument that leads Ravicher to believe that Sun just doesn't get it when it comes to open source, which is all about sharing.

"Open source is not about having five different operating systems, it's about everyone working together to create one rock-solid operating system," he said.