Thousands of people are involved in the Linux development community, many of them lending their voices to the project on any given day.
But when one voice in particular speaks, people listen: Linus Torvalds, the benevolent creator and dictator of the Linux kernel.org effort, has thrown his weight in favor of the GPL
He did hint, however, that he could change his mind about future versions of GPL v. 3.
While Torvalds himself might be the “boss” of Linux from a development sense (is also responsible for releasing Linux kernels), for the last four years he’s been supported by The Linux Foundation and its predecessor group the OSDL (open source development labs).
In an interview with Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin, Torvalds responded to questions about his role and specifically about his choice of license for the Linux kernel.
Torvalds stressed in the interview that he doesn’t necessarily care about one license versus another –- only that he works with one that makes the most sense for his efforts.
For Torvalds, that means working with GPLv2.
GPLv3, he continued, is about achieving the goals of the Free Software Foundation, which is the organization that manages the GPL and led the effort to create the GPLv3. In Torvalds’ view, there has always been a tension between the FSF and Linux.
“In some ways, Linux was the project that really made the split clear between what the FSF is pushing which is very different from what open source and Linux has always been about, which is more of a technical superiority instead of a — this religious belief in freedom,” Torvalds told Zemlin.
“So, the GPL Version 3 reflects the FSF’s goals and the GPL Version 2 pretty closely matches what I think a license should do and so right now, Version 2 is where the kernel is.”
Since Torvalds first released Linux, it has been licensed under the GPL version 2 open source license. In 2007, however, the GPL was updated to GPL version 3 including new provisions for DRM and patent protections.
Torvalds however has been publicly opposed to the GPL version 3 from its earliest days in 2006. In the nearly two years since, Torvalds’ public position has hardly wavered in his opposition to adoption of the new license.
But he did open the door just a little, in response to a follow-up question from Zemlin. But it took some caveats to get there.
One benefit of GPLv2, he noted, is that a lot of source code is licensed under it. As such, that code is compatible with Linux.
“And one of the things Version 3 did was it basically split this source base so that now there are certain projects that are Version 2 only, there are certain projects that are Version 2 or later and there are certain projects that are Version 3 or later,” Torvalds said.
“And that means that now suddenly you can’t maybe share code simply because of license issues and that’s not something new; we’ve always had that.”
Due to that code-sharing issue, once there is a critical mass of code licensed under GPLv3, there may be a need to re-license Linux to GPLv3 in order to take advantage of other GPLv3 licensed code. If such a situation were to occur, Torvalds noted that kernel developers could well just choose to re-license to GPLv3 — not because it’s a better license but rather because it makes more code available to the kernel.
“In fact, one of the few reasons I see why Version 3 might be useful is simply there ends up being tons of external code that we feel is really important and worthwhile that is under the Version 3 license,” Torvalds said.
It may well then only be a matter of time until Linux moves over to the new GPL. So far adoption of GPLv3 has been active. According to software licensing vendor Palamida, to date over 1,400 projects have migrated from the GPLv2 to GPLv3.