2007: Open Source, Patents, SCO, And More

Looking Back

2007 is a year that will long be remembered in the open source and Linux
communities. It was a year in which the twin underpinnings of what makes open
source successful and what could serve to destroy it made the headlines.


On the pro side, Linux made major technology advances this year and a key new
license emerged for open source. On the flipside patents and intellectual
property issues continued to threaten the survival and success of the open
source ecosystem.

GPL v. 3


The release of the GPL Version 3 was one of the most highly anticipated events of 2007. The GPL after all is the cornerstone license of the Open Source and
Free Software world with countless thousands of projects under its license.


Work began on GPL version 3 in January of
2006
but it was in 2007 that the hard work of the final drafts were drawn
out ultimately resulting in the final version. The GPL 2 was released in 1991
and the efforts and the issues involved in changing it were not insubstantial.


Though there were some 16 years of events that transpired between the release
of GPL 2 and GPL 3 the authors of the GPL 3 blamed the Novell Microsoft deal
of November 2006 for a delay in
putting out the GPL 3
on time. The third draft
which came out in March of 2007
specifically set out to prevent the
“mockery of Free Software” which the authors of the GPL deemed the
Novell/Microsoft deal to be.


In May the last call
draft of the GPL was issued
cleaning up language and making the license
compatible with the widely deployed Apache 2.0 license. Finally in June, after
18 months of debate and discussion, the final GPL
3 license was released
. With the final release which includes updated
provisions for DRM as well as patents, Richard Stallman the founder of the
Free Software Foundation and author of the original GPL urged adoption as a
way to fight Microsoft.


“When Novell upgrades to versions of software covered by the GPLv3, GPLv3 will
extend this patent protection from the customers of Novell to everybody who
uses those programs,” Stallman said at the time. “Effectively, we found a way
to turn the deal against Microsoft and make it backfire.”


Microsoft
took notice soon thereafter
and pledged not distribute GPL version 3
licensed code. Novell’s CEO however argued that his company will
distribute GPL Version licensed software
, even to its customers that got
their Linux distributions from Microsoft’s Linux coupons.


Legal questions aside the new license was reasonably well adopted in its first
5 months of existence. Early predictions from licensing software vendor
Palamida were that 5,500 projects would adopt the GPL version 3. As of December 6th, 2007 Palamida was
reporting that some 1263 projects had actually converted to the GPL version 3.
Among the high profile conversions are the Samba
Windows to Linux file sharing utility as well as the popular
SugarCRM application
. Though Linux kernel developers discussed
the potential for a conversion to GPL version 3, nothing came of it and the
general sentiment is that it’s not likely to happen either.

Patents, Patents and Microsoft


The GPL version 3 process was strongly influenced by Microsoft and its
patents. While Microsoft has argued for years that Linux may infringe on
Microsoft’s intellectual property, it was in 2007 that Microsoft gave the
infringements a number. Microsoft alleged that Open Source software infringed
on some 235
of its patents
. Steve Ballmer himself beat the patent drum telling people
that Red Hat and others have an obligation to
pay up
.


Some did pay up.


Xandros,
Linspire and
TurboLinux
all signed up for Microsoft’s patent protection plan. The risk
associated with patent infringement were all cited by IDC
as a barrier to adoption
for Linux.


At no time during 2007 did Microsoft actually name any of the patents. Some Microsoft executives did talk about interoperability and the need to build an IP
licensing bridge with open source
.


Microsoft itself crossed the bridge in 2007, the bridge to Open Source
licensing. In October, Microsoft’s Public License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft
Reciprocal License (Ms-RL) were blessed by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as bona fide Open Source
licenses.


Microsoft though wasn’t the only company in 2007 to allege patent infringement
in Open Source code. Patent holding firm IP Innovation
alleged
that Novell and Microsoft infringed on its intellectual property.
IP Innovations has since stated that its legal challenge is not a
challenge against Open Source itself
.


SCO in a Coma


The poster child for Linux lawsuits and patent infringement, also known as SCO
somehow managed to survive 2007. In 2006, we had predicted that end of SCO in
2007 due to a trial that was supposed to have happened this year.


No trial ever happened.


Instead SCO pleaded poverty, declared
bankruptcy
and tried to sell of its
Unix business
before creditors like Novell could get a piece of it.


Is SCO
dead?
Nope, looks like the company such that it is, will stick around till
2008

Linux Gets Both Real and Virtual


With all the talk of licensing and patents in the open source world of 2007,
it’s important to remember that the only reason why those issues are important
is because Linux technology itself is thriving. This year marked the debut of
a number of very significant Linux releases and technologies that impacted
millions of users.


There were four mainline kernel.org Linux kernel releases in 2007 adding
functionality across the whole set of computing requirements. The SuperBowl 2.6.20 kernel was the first of the year, kicking off with some virtualization enhancements. The 2.6.21 kernel was also highlighted by virtualization which was a strong theme overall for Linux in 2007. New memory management and a new wireless stack debuted in the 2.6.22
kernel
. The 2.6.23
kernel
marked the introduction of the completely fair scheduler which
provides some real time capabilities for Linux.


Virtualization was a key theme for one of the biggest Linux distro releases of
the year, Red
Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL)
. RHEL 5 was the culmination of nearly two
years of development for Red Hat and marked the first time that the Linux
vendor included virtualization in its main enterprise release.


Though it didn’t release a real time version in 2007, Red Hat did talk about a
real time
and did announce a product (Red Hat MRG)which is set for a 2008 release.


Both Novell and MontaVista
actually released new real time Linux distributions in 2007.


2007 was not however the year of the Linux desktop, though Linux did make some
inroads in the consumer space. Dell began
selling Ubuntu Linux
and Wal-Mart
offered Linux PCs on its shelves
.


A lot can happen in a year, and a lot did in the open source space in 2007.
From the legal challenges of patents and licensing to the technical challenges
of virtualization and real-time, open source in 2007 laid the foundation for
the challenges and triumphs to come in 2008 and beyond.

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