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back to article FSF fandroids fight to 'free' Android from Google's forepaws

The Free Software Foundation in Europe is taking a swipe at Android with a campaign to help punters wrestle their phones and data from Google's paws. The foundation has flagged up seven pieces of software or services it reckons you'll want to use with your Android handset and possibly help develop. These will stop you being “ …

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Do these guys really think that's large corporation will just give away he source to their phone OS and license it freely? Hell, why not demand that hey give away all their hardware and IC designs, too? People don't know what's really in there! How can you feel secure in your car or on a plane when you haven't seen the FEA and the design rationale?

Christ. Bitch when nobody uses Linux, and then, when a company pours millions into a Linux-based OS for an insanely competitive market, which is far more open than any competitors', bitch because it's still not open -enough-.

(Note that any moronic wording is thanks to my PlayBook's autocorrect, which forced "Christ. Bitch..." to "Christmas. Birch...", and fought fiercely to make me keep its version rather than mine. Someone thought this was a good idea? Rot in he'll. Yeah. In he'll. Satan rules in he'll. It's a real word, you assholes! -Hi-Enthusiastic-Life-Life-!

Sigh.)

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Anonymous Coward

@David W. - I'll make it easier for you

Microsoft : closed and not free

Android : open and not free

Linux : open and free

Get it now ? Oh, and by the way, it's not the software that is free, it is you.

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Windows

Re: @David W. - I'll make it easier for you

A Microsoftie here ;-)

Microsoft: Closed, and both free and not free components.

IIS (MTA / FTP server) has an express version which can be used free of charge (even for commercial usage). SQL Server 8 also knows a free express version. Developer tools (usable for Windows development but also for ASP.NET (useful in combination with the free IIS server)) are also available free of charge.

Reason I'm mentioning this is because I honestly believe that this would never have happened if Open Source Software wouldn't have kicked off the way it has.

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Free if you buy Windows

"IIS (MTA / FTP server) has an express version which can be used free of charge (even for commercial usage). SQL Server 8 also knows a free express version."

I haven't checked recently, but I assume that you have to buy or legally acquire a Microsoft Windows operating system to run these products on. It probably says so in the licence terms. So they're free like Microsoft Internet Explorer is free. (If you ignore the Apple Mac edition of Internet Explorer.) Or Windows Media Player.

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Re: @ShelLuser

You do not understand, do you?

SQL Server Express, etc are free as in beer, this is not the same free wanted by the FSF & RMS.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ShelLuser

I'm pretty sure he does understand, he specifically says closed, but free, which implies an understanding of open/free (as in speech) and closed/free (as in beer).

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Re: @David W. - I'll make it easier for you

I would have upvoted apart from your dire idealistic evangelistic outpouring in the last sentence.

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Re: Free if you buy Windows

So free MS software is not free if you have to buy Windows to use it on?

By the same logic, presumably then Linux is not free because you have to buy a computer on which to install it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @David W. - I'll make it easier for you

Are you free to modify any of the products you mentioned ? Thought so!

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Headmaster

Must Try Harder

I think you have a little more work to do on some basic concepts before you comment on technical issues.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @David W. - I'll make it easier for you

What do you find wrong in end-user digital freedom ? As for idealistic evangelistic thingy, historically it has always been like that. Remember young North-American colonies who dared to rebel against the mighty British Empire ? Do you think they were well regarded by the establishment ?

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Unhappy

Re: @David W. - I'll make it easier for you

Words are being put in my mouth.

I said nothing of the value of free software, or of whether MS makes free software, etc.

My points above stand - as a business, you're as well advised to release source for your proprietary software as you are to release engineering drawings for your hardware.

I have a small business manufacturing hardware. Its software is incredibly important - and there are already people out there doing (somewhat incompetent) copies of our hardware. Why on earth would we release the source to our software and lower to zero the barrier for someone wanting to add its functionality to his hardware ripoff?

It would be madness to just give away something that would help the people who are trying to put me out of business. No amount of 'community development' - which would not occur with a super low volume product anyway - could offset the cost of our competition seeing what we're doing, how we're doing it, and being able to implement it, with near-zero effort, while avoiding doing any development themselves.

Look, guys, I get that the idea of free software itself is good. But advocating for a company - particularly a public company - to throw itself across the railroad tracks in the name of principle is just not gonna happen.

Finding ways to run your own stuff on the device is cool, but getting self-righteous when the device maker won't give you the keys to the kingdom just isn't reasonable. Google, Nokia, Apple, my company, and every other company in the world are not morally obligated to give away the things we create. Our entire purpose is to sell the things we create in order to make money, either for shareholders (Google) or to feed our preschoolers (Me).

It's frustrating that people see that I disagree with certain aspects of the way the FS community behaves, and assume that means I'm all for wrapping peoples' computers up with duct tape and sending people to prison for a thousand years for having a copy of gcc. Don't make assumptions about my other positions because they correlate with a rough version of my initial position. Not only is it not nice, but if you happen to say something that might change my mind, you've already shot your credibility to hell!

There are a few exceptions where there can be crossover between the two worlds, of course. But in general, flailing madly at Google and Apple because they don't just take their clothes off and say, "Tadaaaa, come and get it!" makes you look more like Don Quixote than George Washington.

(Oh, and I dug up the menu option to turn off autocorrect. But writing invective is fun, and life wouldn't be much fun if we took the boring way out, would it?)

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Anonymous Coward

Apache vs GPL

Does this mean we can look forwards to another "Emacs vs XEmacs" hissy fit from RMS? XEmacs had a slightly different license to Emacs which was sufficiently "impure" to mean that Xemacs code could not be integrated into Emacs without "tainting" it which led to a length lament from RMS wailing that "they can use all the code I write for free but if they add a new feature I have to reimplement it myself"

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Do these guys really think that's large ...

corporation will just give away he source to their phone OS and license it freely?

Yes.

Next question please.

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FAIL

Re: Do these guys really think that's large ...

Google already does. It's third party drivers that are largely closed.

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Law

Re: Do these guys really think that's large ...

A pain felt when the world moved onto ICS and ICS compatible drivers weren't released for some HTC Desire components.... upshot is, I'm limited to Gingerbread forever, or a really unoptimised/hacked ICS port.

Unless things have changed in the last month or so... last I heard there was a petition for qualcomm to write and release ICS drivers needed for a Desire port, the suspected outcome was that it'd be ignored.

Realistically I don't see how Google can force phone manufacturers (to then force component manufacturers) to give up their driver source code. It'd be nice, but it wont happen.

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Linux

Re: Do these guys really think that's large ...

And so do other large corporations who are the main contributors to significant open source projects: IBM, Intel, Red Hat, Amazon, Oracle (grudgingly perhaps!), etc. - as Tinker alludes to, it is mainly vendors from other sectors, like the mobile manufacturers, who insist on bolting proprietary binary blobs onto things like Android to make it work with their hardware.

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Replicant

So is this the open-source bits of Android where they're filled in the missing bits with reverse-engineered open-source replacements for the closed bits? Is the idea it's 100% compatible with Android?

Sounds like a big task!

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Re: Replicant

If I've read the bits of news correctly, this is what the Cyanogenmod team are trying to do with V9.

Why FSF feels the need to start yet another branch is beyond me, why can't they just help the CM team?

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Two projects, two angles.

As I understand it, they're going at it from different angles.

Replicant is meant to address the "Free = No strings attached" argument. Replicant wants to replace the proprietary foundation apps that Google inserted into Android to tie it into its ecosystem. They're working on things like contact lists, dialers, collaboration, and other programs using systems not tied to Google or any particular method. Their primary antagonist in their struggle is Google itself.

The CyanogenMod team are more interested under the bonnet, in opening access to the internal hardware of the phone, giving you freedom over your phone. In their case, "Free = Full Access". Their focuses on firmware, hardware drivers, and enabling programs meant to open up and extend the functionality of your Android device.

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Go

Re: Replicant

You might recall that this was always Stallman's intention with a free replacement for desktop UN*X about 25 years ago. They started from the bottom upwards with shell utils and compilers.

The result of that process is essentially GNU/Hurd - which is not exactly ready for consumer use, and some parts (GCC for example) are suffering considerable code-rot and look likely to be superseded.

Obviously, in the mean-time, Linux came along, and computer architecture moved on, leaving a lot of the proprietary smarts in device firmware.

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JDX
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Re: Replicant

How would "free Android" avoid infringing about a million patents?

Question - if I release code under GPL can I still patent the algorithms/whatever implemented in the software?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Replicant - Yes of course.

But you'll have to offer those patents royalty-free or else stop distributing GPLd code based on those patents. Easy! Offering GPL code guarantees nothing will ever come to bite you or restrict you in any way, except for preventing you to add new restrictions in case you redistribute that code.

That's why a lot of corporations are allergic to it.

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Angel

Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

Is the one that puts MORE constraints on the developer than Apache's definition. I have always thought this slightly strange.

They say "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer." Maybe this should be "free as in free love". That would better represent the fact that the code is never really yours.

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Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

When Stallman says 'free' he's thinking of freedom for the user. He doesn't really seem to care about the freedom of the original developer. The liscenses he supports do indeed seem to put shackles on the developer, but they allow the user to do whatever they want, including rewrite and redistribute the app. It seems odd given that he's an incredibly prolific developer in his own right, but I can understand, if not agree, with his thinking.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"... - To help your understanding

GPL puts one single big constraint : when (and if) redistributing GPL software, the developer (or any one redistributing software) is not allowed to add any constraint to the software he got under that license. Like for instance Apple AppStore is not allowed to limit you to only 5 installs of GPL software when the original GPL license allows you unlimited installs.

Pretending you don't understand free software license these days is just bad faith.

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Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

It is a little strange - not that there is anything wrong with "free software" as in Stallman's definition exactly, it's just his somewhat lunatic insistance that every developer should be FORCED to release software in this fashion that I have a problem with. To quote the man himself:

"A non-free program is a system of unjust power and shouldn't exist. The existence and use of non-free software [which] is a social problem. It's an evil. And our aim is a world without that problem.'"

If he ever achieves that aim then I'll be changing career!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

So he says, in effect, that software you have to pay for is "evil", if there any wonder that many IT professionals think that he's increasingly irreverent in the modern world.

Personally I use and support FOSS, I think it's generally a good thing and if an individual or company wants to put out software for free, while making their money elsewhere, that's great. However to suggest that paying for software - which may have cost millions to develop - is "evil" is to be completely divorced from reality.

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FAIL

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"... - To help your understanding

Thanks, but most of us understand it just fine.

Stallman's notion that software should be free to be modified by all and sundry made some sense way back in the late '70s and early '80s, when computers were strange beasts that only an enlightened few could actually work out how to use. But those days are long gone.

99% of computer users not only wouldn't know what "source code" is, but would genuinely wonder if you'd lost your marbles if you insisted that having access to it was in any way remotely useful. Far, far more of those users care a damned sight more about open standards than open source and the bizarre notions of 'freedom' Stallman seems to have.

Personally, I've yet to see the benefit or advantage in having access to source code that may be written in one or more programming languages—languages I'd have to be familiar with, naturally, or the source code would be worthless to me—by people who may, or may not, be any good at design and / or programming.

Note that the mere possibility that I might have to modify said code to make it suit my needs often implies that the authors of said code are probably not much good at design. And, most likely, programming too. Having once spent 15 months in the mid-90s doing nothing other than debugging a certain very well-known PC sports management simulation (and getting a nervous breakdown out of it), I'd much rather walk barefoot through a flooded sewage farm than look at any bugger else's code ever again.

You can keep your damned source code. All I ask is that your software is well designed and supports open file formats and related standards. Do that and I'll be your customer for life. Hell, I'll even pay you money for your work!

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Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

The fundamental principle seems to be to be the difference between capital and services.

Fees based on repeat selling of existing IP capital are a block to progress, but those based on services to improve a given piece of FOSS will encourage progress.

Working in FOSS, we are able to charge for services, which works well when there are particular objectives such as making a Linux port to a new board - it links the service charge to enabling a specific physical product, thereby making that investment possible.

The problem seems to be that some products are entirely software, and so the economics don't link any chargeable end product to creation of specific features. The return on investment just isn't there, so any individual economic unit (person, corporation, etc) investing in FOSS does so to their own detriment, and yet assists every other user by doing so!

Stallman doesn't seem to offer an economic model to show how incentives can be abstracted from a diverse group of interested parties and ploughed into pools of cash, bounties if you like, to fund development of desired features. All we have is charity buttons and altruism, not a basis upon which most sane people would consider giving up their day job.

It's not that his argument is without merit, but he seems to me like a cult leader, with a parasitic relation to his followers, and judgementally promoting a way of life only sustainable within his own situation - effectively, an elitist cunt.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"... - You know very well

he's not speaking about cost. Would you thing Microsoft would sell me a free (as per RMS) copy of windows 7 ? I would gladly pay even a small premium for a copy of Windows without DRM, WGA or a version where I can uninstall IE or Media Player ? And I don't even ask for the source code.

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Stop

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

Incorrect. Mr. Stallman considers both users and developers: users, in that they must be granted the freedom specified by the GPL; and developers, in that they are likely, in a different context, to be users who are free to incorporate GPL licensed material in their own work. Scarcely any programs spring entirely from the mind of a single developer or development organization without benefit of previous work done by others.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"... - To help your understanding

Have you ever thought of the possibility that I might need the source code to remove DRM or other snitching software like CarrierIQ from my machine ? Those programmer were darn good at it but that is not my problem. I just don't want their software and I can get rid of it myself, thank you very much.

They don't deny your fundamental freedoms just because you might not be interested in recompiling the code. They just want you to stand still while they are abusing you. You know it is way much harder to negotiate with a free person than with an enslaved one.

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Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

No developer is forced to release software using the GPL. It is a requirement only if the software is based on a work previously so licensed. The paragraph quoted is an opinion with which some or many would disagree and a statement of one person's goal. The opinion is a bit extreme, but hardly qualifies as lunacy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"... - You know very well

You can buy versions of Windows without media player and I think without IE as well.

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Linux

Re: Stallman's definition of "truly free"...

*sigh*

After a million and one "free as in speech, not as in beer" litanies, I would have thought everyone had it by now.

The GPL does NOT prohibit your paying for or receiving money for software. It prohibits your removing the freedom of the users of your software from using it as they please. This includes the freedom to run the program for any purpose, to study how the program works and change it so it does what the user wants done, to redistribute copies so they can help their neighbors, and to distribute modified copies to others.

So when my cousin needed changes to a GPL-licensed shopping cart manager she was using to implement a client website, she offered me money to make the changes. However, since the author's contact info was in the header of the source, I recommended that she try him first - since he wrote the software, he could likely make the change at less cost, and more easily include those changes in the next release.

She got the features she wanted, the developer earned income, and I can use those features on MY next project or help out my cousin if the original author isn't available next time.

Everybody won.

Does this make it clear?

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FAIL

Not just from Google

The closed parts of these phones aren't just coming from Google - they also come from the chipset vendor.

There are often large of opaque code that interfaces with some highly proprietary features of Systems on Chips. This includes things such as hardware accelerated video for camera interfaces, face-recognition (used for autofocus on cameras), hardware accelerated media decode, and probably most crucially, OpenGLES graphics drivers.

Some vendors, such as TI publicly distribute the binaries (they're all done in user-space incidentally - to avoid issues with the GPL'd kernel) as black boxes. Others don't even do this. None of them release the source code, and you'll need an NDA for the documentation to build your own equivalent (and releasing any resulting source code would probably be a breach of the NDA).

WIthout these components, your open source phone is going to suck considerably - both in experience and on the battery.

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Re: Not just from Google

Which is why I mentioned that Replicant and CyanogenMod are tackling the "non-free" problem from two different angles. Replicant is tackling the Google part of the problem while CyanogenMod is tackling the chipset vendor part of the problem. Both are trying to break veils of secrecy; it's just that each is tackling a different wall.

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'...that is flagging and “in urgent need of help"....'

Hardly surprising. If Stallman's "free beer" nit-pickery is soporifically boring to the likes of us (who actually give a shit), imagine what it sounds like to Joe Punter who, let's face it, probably accounts for somewhere significantly north of 90% of Android sales.

We're beyond uphill struggles here and into bench-pressing SUVs to even get a "meh" out of the great unwashed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: '...that is flagging and “in urgent need of help"....' - Should we understand

you don't quite mind a spyware application (let's say CarrierIQ) being pushed down your throat at the behest of a software vendor or an ISP while being denied the right to refuse it or remove it ?

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WTF?

Re: Re: '...that is flagging and “in urgent need of help"....' - Should we understand

You're happy to be chased up a stairwell by a nun despite having no horse?

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Anonymous Coward

Time to boycott

Android until they make ALL the source open, otherwise we will just be stepped on even more. The amount of closed source in Android is creeping up with each release.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to boycott - It is not necessarily that fact the code is proprietaty and closed

the problem is how they are using it against you as an end-user.

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Facepalm

"What do you find wrong in end-user digital freedom ?"

So, because I don't think it's reasonable or realistic for companies to hand over source code for incredibly valuable products, I'm opposed to freedom. For Christ's sake. I just... God.

"If you're not with me, you're with the child abusers!"

...Oh, and I'm talking about phone operating systems (and other device-specific software) here. As above, don't assume I'm making judgments about whether microsoft has more open components or why or if they should!@

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When will R.S. understand what "free" actually means?

At the risk of being downvoted to hell and back, I would like to point out that a *software* licence trying to mess with hardware implications (the infamous anti-tivosation) is not free. Neither is a licence that specifies works based upon/derived from the supplied code must be released with the same licence - essentially it is a licence only compatible with itself.

We can thank him for giving the open source ethos a big push so we aren't stuck with closed source and products that disappear when the programmer moves on; but on the other hand, his idea of free....isn't free.

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Re: When will R.S. understand what "free" actually means?

"...a licence that specifies works based upon/derived from the supplied code must be released with the same licence"

So you're seriously advocating that I be allowed to change the license of any code that I receive? That's... interesting. In my 33 years in the software field, you're the first person I've heard advocate such a thing.

What would be the point of a license that could be changed by the end user on a whim, exactly? I must be missing something rather profound here.

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Re: When will R.S. understand what "free" actually means?

@ ricegf - Try reading the EUPL. Then you might understand. Code licenced under EUPL can be changed to a compatible licence to satisfy inane constraints imposed by that other licence, namely ideas such as code in a GPL project must be GPL, etc.

Start here: http://joinup.ec.europa.eu/software/page/eupl and be sure to note the "Compatibility clause" in section 5.

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Re: When will R.S. understand what "free" actually means?

I think we're starting to get a bit "meta" here. In the most fundamental sense, nothing's ever truly "free" because there are constraints of some kind: usually physical ones since they depend on either matter or energy: both of which are (AFAWK) finite.

Continuing with the "meta" argument, in order to free the user to be able to modify the code freely, it becomes necessary to "restrict the restrictions" a developer can impose on the end-user/code-hacker. So the onus is on the developer rather than the end-user. That's different from your average EULA. Then again, any user who hacks the code him/herself becomes a developer, thus "switching shoes".

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Holmes

Re: When will R.S. understand what "free" actually means?

I slogged through the EUPL, even though the English PDF is virtually illegible due to numerous formatting errors.

But all it is providing is a single, one-way re-license option clause to 5 (count'em, 5) "compatible" licenses. This is less functional but roughly equivalent in practice to a multi-license, which you are free to use with the GPL today. (That is exactly the mechanism the EUPL invokes, actually.)

For example, I can freely license my code under GPL2, OSL 2.1 or 3.0, CPL 1.0, EPL 1.0 and Cecill 2.0, and I've accomplished the same effect you seem to be seeking. New code can be added under the same multi-licenses, and my code's license won't change.

However, if I use EUPL and then someone re-licenses a derivative under a subset of those licenses, say just OSL, I can't include their code back into my trunk unless I also re-license MY code under OSL. Thus, EUPL code tends to dissolve its own license if it's useful enough to be reused on other projects.

The EUPL authors specify only version 2 of GPL as a re-licensing option, apparently under the illusion that this prevents re-license under GPL3 (I'm not sure why, as EUPL includes GPL3's blanket patent license, which was the most common argument against GPL3 in the first place). But I can still re-license a derivative of your EUPL code under GPL3, merely by first re-licensing it under Cecill 2.0 first. This could quickly become a Kevin Bacon game, couldn't it? How many degrees of freedom is EUPL from license X?

I also note that I can only include the vast body of GPL software if I first re-license the EUPL code to GPL. So any useful EUPL code (by useful, I mean code reused by a significant number of other projects) will likely morph rather quickly to GPL anyway, so I might as well skip the pretzels and go straight to dessert.

Finally, I note the EUPL was introduced in 1999, yet virtually no software outside of that released by its adopting agency appears to use it. That might suggest something to you, or not. *shrugs*

Anyway, thanks for an interesting perspective on EUPL. I'll keep using GPL, though, due to the problems I note above, but it's was an interesting diversion for an early morning.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: When will R.S. understand what "free" actually means?

"At the risk of being downvoted to hell and back"

Don't worry - after the first eight or nine it doesn't hurt anymore.

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