FSF Settles Suit Against Cisco

The long dispute with Cisco has finally come to an agreement. For me, that means two things: first, they’re not trolls sucking money from the big corps for stupid patent infringement, as some might fear. Second, they’re very patient, understanding and sometimes a bit too naive.

Why the fear?

When building embedded systems or when you’re too close to the hardware (such as Cisco) you may take a wise decision to use open source software, as it’s quite likely to be stable and taken care by a good bunch of good people. Even though there are several ways of doing it independently, so your software is not virally infected by the GPL, it’s not always possible and you may have to re-invent the wheel because of that.

It’s not only GPL, patents can also cause a whole lot of damage, and it seems that TomTom has decided to go head first with the Linux community.

So, although the fear is understandable, it’s more of a hysteria than based on actual facts. The FSF hasn’t had much to show on court, and that adds up to the uncertainty of the lawyers, but it’s in cases like the Cisco that they show a much higher maturity that most companies have shown recently, even mature companies like Microsoft.

Richard Stallman

The FSF is not only Stallman. Even though he’s the boss, the organization is a large list of people, sponsors, advisers (and now interns). One thing is to fear what RMS will do when he finds you using GPL in your kitchen scale, but a completely different matter is what the FSF (as an organization) does.

The Cisco case has been going for several years. They offered help, they’ve asked politely, they’ve warned about the potential dangers and so on. A lot has been made before they have actually filled the suit, and they’ve settled it nicely. This shows that they’re not just waiting the next infringement to get you down, they actually care about their (and your) freedom.

The day the FSF starts acting stupid is the day people will drive away. It’s not like Microsoft that you have no option, there’s plenty of options out there, software, licences, partners, advisers, programmers, etc. GNU/Linux is not the decent open source operating system, the BSDs are as good, sometimes better, especially in the embedded case.

The year of Linux

Every year since 1995 is the year of Linux. For me it always was, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the world. Recently, Linux (and other open source software) has played an important role in defining the future of mankind and more and more the Linux community feels that it’s their sweat and blood.

There is a great chance it’ll become the platform of all things in a very short time-frame. Cars, mobile phones, PDAs, netbooks, laptops, desktops, servers, clusters, spaceships. One platform to rule them all and in the darkness bind them, but if they play dumb, their glory might never see daylight.

Lots of people disagree with the new revisions of the GPL license, they feel it bites the hand that feeds it. Many companies feed back open source regularly and that kinda broke the synergy. I personally think that it’s excellent for some cases, but not for all. For instance, development tools should not be restricted, especially when it comes to platforms they can’t reach. Opening the platform is an obvious way around it, but not everything can be exposed and they can’t figure out every implementation detail.

Drivers might also have trouble with GPLv3 for the same reason. Again, there are ways around it, the FSF recently opened a backdoor to develop proprietary plug-ins if they’re blessed, but that might not be suitable for every case.

Solution?

Sorry, not today. Stick to FreeBSD if you can’t cope with GPLv3, find a way to co-exist with the GCC exception and provide the source code of what you have to. If it’s not your core business, you could donate your code to the community and make it GPL too and treat your program as enabling technology, of course, providing your code doesn’t expose any patent or trade secret.

So, well, yeah. Each case is a different case, that’s the problem of being in the long tail.