One of the big Debian stories of the week is that a company called Nexenta Systems has made a version of Ubuntu that’s based on OpenSolaris rather than the Linux kernel. Personally, I find the emergence of a Debian-based OpenSolaris distribution exciting, as it promises to vastly improve Solaris installation, packaging, and overall usability. Solaris is great technology with an incredible pedigree and some very compelling features (DTrace, in particular, sounds like a godsend, as I’m sure anyone who’s debugged kernel code via endless iterations of inserting
printfs at strategic places would agree), not to mention that it’s now open source. However, when a Linux developer eager to have a look at all this neat new open source stuff boots up Solaris for the first time, it’s a bit of a throwback to an earlier time (not to mention the fact that
apt-get is a hard habit to break..).
And, so, I’m more than a little embarrassed at how certain members of the Debian community reacted to Nexenta’s work. The vitriol surprised even me, knowing as much as I know about how, uh, strongly the Debian community feels about certain issues. The issue in this case: Nexenta links GPL-licensed programs (including dpkg) with the Sun C library, which is licensed under the GPL-incompatible but still free software/open source CDDL license. Granted, Nexenta didn’t go about introducing themselves to the Debian community in the best way, and there may (may) be issues around whether or not what they are doing is permitted by the GPL, but couldn’t we at least engage them in a more constructive manner?
In terms of the actual issue being discussed here, am I the only one who doesn’t get it? It seems to me the argument that linking a GPL application to a CDDL library and asserting that that somehow makes the library a derivative work of the application is, to say the least, a stretch—not to mention the fact that we’re talking about libc here, a library with a highly standard interface that’s been implemented any number of times and, heck, that’s even older than the GPL itself. It’s interpretations like this, folks, that give the GPL its reputation of being viral, and I know how much Richard Stallman hates that word. It’s one thing to ensure that actual derivative works of GPL code are themselves licensed under similar terms; it’s quite another to try to apply the same argument to code that clearly isn’t a derivative work in an attempt to spread free software at any cost. I’ve been a big GPL advocate for a long time, but that just strikes me as wrong.