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How many device drivers equal a file system?

Linux could use a new file system. And Sun Microsystems' Solaris has one of those--a pretty nifty next-generation file system evidently, called ZFS. And the recently open-sourced Solaris sorely lacks device drivers for non-Sun hardware (as well as an army of volunteer developers to keep them updated).

So could the two parties work together, perhaps arrange a swap? After all, both are open source efforts.

Probably not. At least the way things stand now....

Yesterday, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz posted a blog invitation for Linux kingpin Linus Torvalds to meet Schwartz for a home-cooked dinner. From Schwartz's blog entry, it's fairly obvious that at this meeting he will try to persuade Torvalds to change the Linux license to version 3 of the Free Software Foundation's Gnu General Public License, due to be published this summer. Linux is now under version 2.

Now, why would Schwartz want such a thing? Industry observers speculate that if Linux went under version 3, Open Solaris could reuse much of the work done for Linux--work that can't be utilized if Linux stays with version 2. (Although Open Solaris is now under Sun's own Common Development and Distribution License, many observers are sure Sun will try to move it to GPL version 3). Whether current Open Solaris developers want GPLv3 or not is not really a concern: Schwartz probably feels Open Solaris needs the outside muscle if it'and, by extension, Sun--is to flourish.

So what will the Linux community get if Open Solaris went GPLv3? Torvalds took a swipe at the Solaris kernel code itself ("who are you kidding - Linux code is _better_," he wrote). But he did admit that ZFS could be a valuable asset'if it were actually released as open source. After all, as far as file systems have gone, Linux has hit a bit of a dead-end. XFS proved to be too complicated, ReiserFS is too buggy and Ext3 is showing its age.

Still, Linux under GPLv3 probably won't happen. As of this evening, Torvalds seems to remain deadset against moving the kernel to version 3 of the GPL, which he feels doesn't provide the freedoms that version 2 does. "I still think GPLv2 is simply the better license," he wrote in another post.

However, Torvalds did mention that Sun putting Solaris under GPv3 would cause him to consider putting Linux under a dual GPLv2/GPLv3 license. "If we can avoid having two
kernels with two different licenses and the friction that causes, I at
least see the _reason_ for GPLv3," he wrote.

Torvalds just doubted Sun would do it.

By issuing his invitation when he did, Schwartz stepped into something of a huge battle'purposefully or not. The hot topic on the Linux kernel list as I write this is whether whether or not to move to GPLv3 (or even if it could be done).


Many developers appear to be totally against GPLv3. Unlike version 2 of the GPL, version 3 forbids the software to be used in deals such as the one that Novell cut with Microsoft last year. It also requires software under its domain to provide work-arounds for digital rights management schemes--code that locks a program so that it can't be used without some sort of authorization key--for those who wish to modify the code but run it on the same hardware.

(Indeed, one thing I find truly mysterious is why Sun is so enthusiastically embracing GPLv3 when it is also courting the big media companies with the JavaFX mobile platform. How will we be able to watch first-run movies on GPLv3 JavaFX phones when the media conglomerates will require strictly-controlled DRM to protect these movies?)

So will Schwartz release a corporate crown jewel, ZFS, to GPLv3? Will Torvalds and his rogue band of coders soften and reconsider using GPLv3? Who will move first? Or are we starting to see Unix fragment yet again? Stay tuned. It will be the geek drama of the year....

Posted by Joab Jackson on Jun 14, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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