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FSF, Canonical Breakthrough; OSCON & More…

Editor’s note: FOSS Force will be offering live video streaming of all OSCON keynote addresses beginning Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at noon EDT.

FOSS Week in Review

I was ready to pack my bags for OSCON on Friday with a pretty quiet week, and a quick roundup which would allow me to hit the road and head north to Portland. No such luck. We have OSCON coverage coming next week — more on this later — but some of the more scintillating stories of the week include the following:

FSF, Canonical Makes Progress on Licensing: The $140,000-plus in donations is still missing, but that’s not the biggest news coming from Canonical this week. After two years of wrangling between the Free Software Foundation and Canonical — with a little help from the Software Freedom Conservancy — the FSF announced that they have made some progress on updated licensing terms for, as the FSF calls it, “Ubuntu GNU/Linux.”

FSF logo
The FSF and Canonical went toe to toe for two years and came up with the start of amending Canonical’s licensing terms.
Two years of negotiations so far have produced this “trump clause,” which the FSF says “now makes Canonical’s policy unequivocally comply with the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) and other free software licenses.” This clause reads:

“Ubuntu is an aggregate work of many works, each covered by their own license(s). For the purposes of determining what you can do with specific works in Ubuntu, this policy should be read together with the license(s) of the relevant packages. For the avoidance of doubt, where any other license grants rights, this policy does not modify or reduce those rights under those licenses.”

That it. Three sentences. But the FSF isn’t finished yet: “The FSF will continue to provide feedback to Canonical in the days ahead, and urge them to make additional changes.” It remains to be seen whether there are additional changes and/or how long it will take for these to be put into effect.

Canonical CEO Jane Silber gave this assessment in Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols’ article in ZDNet, “We will continue to evolve our policies, in consultation with the very diverse groups that make up the open-source community, to reflect best practice and the needs of Canonical and the Ubuntu community.”

But those who were more attuned to the issue grabbed some popcorn and watched the drama unfold across the Internet. Jonathan Riddell, who until recently held a de facto leadership role with Kubuntu until this issue was one that led to his banishment, said in his blog that “I hope Ubuntu can re-find it’s community focus again, but from today’s announcement all I can take from it is that the issues I spoke about were real concerns, even if no more than that, and they haven’t gone away.”

It gets better. CoreOS Linux security developer Matthew Garrett didn’t pull punches in an item where he calls Ubuntu’s IP policy “garbage.” In a Reddit thread on the topic, Garrett contributes much to the shortcomings of this additional clause. Ubuntu Community Manager Michael Hall deserves credit for stepping into the firefight, however most of his answers come with the caveat that he can’t talk about it with any authority because he’s not a lawyer.

So there you have it. Oh, and did I mention that the donations are still missing? Okay.

On With the Shows: Everyone knows that OSCON starts on Monday, and we’ll — or more specifically, I’ll — be reporting from Portland next week. It looks like it’s leading up to be a good one, and you’ll have it first hand if you can’t be in the City of Roses. However, that’s not the only FOSS expo on the radar. Next month, Texas Linux Fest takes the center stage down near Austin in San Marcos from Aug. 21-22. With the schedule being set and some of the loose ends being tied up, the Lone Star expo looks like it’ll be a good one.

Quick Takes: SUSE is ready to enter the ARM-for-server derby, according to an article in ZDNet. With ARM becoming more attractive to server customers, SUSE joins Red Hat and Canonical in the hunt…Softpedia reports that KDE developers are working on building a simulated Android environment to allow users to run Android apps on Linux. According to the article, progress on this project will be presented at KDE Akademy 2015 in Spain later this month…That old chestnut about the best distro for Linux beginners — as if those who are new to Linux are akin to the simians in “2001: A Space Odyssey” — rears its ugly head once again in a ChannelWorld article. It’s the usual suspects couched in the usual banter about ease-of-use.

Just give ’em Linux Mint and let ’em go crazy.

I’ve got to finish packing. See you at OSCON.

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  1. Colonel Panik Colonel Panik July 21, 2015


  2. Richard Thornton Richard Thornton July 22, 2015

    I like Ubuntu, and I am glad that whatever issues they have had with use of GNU licensing are somewhat settled, but why stop with Canonical? Why not go after IBM, Oracle, Attachmate(SUSE), Red Hat? Any others? Why are these companies allowed to make fortunes off of a “free” “UNIX”? Imagine if Stallman had 0.5% of the slice of revenue over the past 30 years from all the UNIX/LINUX companies which freely and wantonly use his tools, and then laugh at him behind his back, cause he is “nuts”? Linux hypocrisy is alive and well all over corporate America, not just Canonical. Why not expose it?

  3. Mike Mike July 22, 2015

    Ubuntu’s change may make them specifically GPL compliant, but their policy is still hostile to open source in general. For licenses which fail to include the protections of the GPL, e.g. BSD they forbid redistribution of binaries, requiring you to recompile everything yourself, even if that binary lacks any Ubuntu trademarks.

    As Matthew Garret pointed out, if you have a docker image of Ubuntu that is modified in any way, you are essentially in violation of Canonical’s policy.

    In the short run, what is needed to put a stop to crap like this is for someone to put up an exact mirror of Ubuntu except re-compiled without Ubuntu trademarks. Everyone can then use this for unrestricted copying and Canonical can sod off.

    In the long run, I think it’s time for a new level of transparency in the FOSS world. More often than not the build and packaging process of distros is not very visible – if it is documented at all. What is needed is to open source build environments and processes themselves, allowing any developer to bootstrap their own build environment and recreate the entire distro on their own. FOSS means I should not have to be a member of some select team in order to get access to information like how a distro is assembled.

    I suppose source based distros like Gentoo are close, but not really what I am referring to. For binary distros like Ubuntu or Debian or Fedora I should be able to gather all the same source packages and run the same scripts in the same environment that the distro maintainers do so I can make a distro just like it but alter it as I see fit, not as an end user, but as a way to create variant distros.

    No, I do not think there are too many distros. I don’t think there are nearly enough.

  4. Ricardo Ricardo July 23, 2015

    @Richard Thornton: Why not go after RH, Oracle, et al? Because it’s not about the money but about the freedom.

    In fact, the GPL and RMS himself encourage making a profit from Free Software, RMS even sold Emacs on tapes (IIRC, this was when he quit his job at MIT to start working on the GNU project) to support himself.

    The problem with Canonical is that they seemed to impose additional restrictions over otherwise Free Software, which was against the licences of said software.


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