March 26, 2001, 3:37 PM —
Having a public discussion of open source licensing is usually a recipe for trouble. Attempts at serious discussion tend to get derailed by the "General Public License is communism" people, the "only BSD is truly free" faction, or sundry personal attacks. LinuxWorld Conference and Expo's panel discussion on open source licensing, fortunately, managed to steer its way around those reefs, for the most part. This is probably in part because the panelists -- consultant Michelle Kraus (former CEO of OpenSales), Mitchell Baker from Mozilla.org, Brian Behlendorf of CollabNet (and the Apache Web server project), Kevin Lenzo of Carnegie-Mellon University, Dave Mandala of Linuxcare, and Eric S. Raymond and Bruce Perens of the Open Source Initiative -- were veterans of last year's Open Source Licensing Workshops, in which I also participated.
Licensing has become something of a minefield as open source software has grown in popularity. Several major problem areas were essentially unanticipated by the authors of current open source licenses, and will likely need to be addressed in future license versions. Moreover, this needs to happen without a change to the overriding aim of such licenses, best articulated by Raymond: "We want to make sure that naive users never need to read a license."
As open source software becomes more widespread, the risk of accidentally violating someone's patent rights increases. Also, we're starting to see the practice -- pioneered by Microsoft with its Active Streaming Format -- of using patents to quash open source software entirely when proprietary software publishers find its interoperability a threat.