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Last Call For GPLv3

This is it. After a year and a half of debate and derision, the final last-call draft of the cornerstone open source GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3 is out for discussion.

The biggest change in the fourth and likely final draft of the GPL version 3 is that the new license will be compatible with the Apache 2.0 open source license, which is widely deployed and extremely popular. Though GPL version 3 will be compatible with Apache, the new GPL will not be compatible with GPL version 2.

"First of all, it is important to note that upgrading is a choice," Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, wrote in an essay published today about the GPL version 3. "GPL version 2 will remain a valid license, and no disaster will happen if some programs remain under GPLv2 while others advance to GPLv3. These two licenses are incompatible, but that isn't a serious problem."

Stallman argued that it's not a problem since license compatibility between the two versions of GPL would only be an issue when developers link, merge or combine code from two different programs into a single program. The answer to deal with GPL version compatibility is to have developers migrate from version 2 to version 3, which is what Stallman advocates.

GPL version 3 includes new provisions to the 15-year-old GPL version 2 license that provides protection for patents and Digital Rights Management (DRM) among other enhancements.

The patent protection clauses in the last-call draft have been modified somewhat over the clauses included in the third draft. Those clauses were specifically targeted at preventing another patent-protection deal, such as the one in November between Microsoft and Novell.

New terms in the last-call draft will block vendors who make "discriminatory patent deals" at any point after March 28, which was when the third draft of GPL 3 was released.

According to statement issued by the FSF, Novell is not prohibited from distributing GPL version 3 software, because the patent protection it arranged with Microsoft last November can be turned against Microsoft to the community's benefit.

Discussion about revising the GPL in version 3 first officially began in January 2006. With the release of the last-call draft there are now 29 days for the community to comment.

The FSF expects it will officially publish the final license on June 29.