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.comment: Peace in Our Time?

Weird and Confusing Events

  • September 6, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

What a week--and it's only Wednesday.

On Monday, Trolltech, the developers of the Qt libraries against which KDE is built, announced that as of today Qt-2.2 is licensed under the GNU General Public License. On Tuesday, Richard M. Stallman, founder of the organized free software movement, gave Qt and KDE his blessing --sort of. (He may have, later in the day, pronounced KDE illegal after all.)

Still later yesterday Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza, founding developers of Gnome and the leaders of Helix Code, spoke of their project and KDE in largely conciliatory tones.

The score so far: Trolltech has done everything Stallman had demanded of it, but its position in the eyes of the Stallman faction seems little changed. Meanwhile, the leaders of Gnome say they are ready to call a halt to any real or perceived hostilities and let users make their choices based on the quality of the code.

From QPL to GPL--Is There No Satisfying the Man?

Qt has been licensed under something called the QPL, the important parts of which are that it is and shall forever be free for noncommercial use, but if you plan to develop a closed-source, commercial application, you'll need to pay for a license from Trolltech. The license is sufficiently liberal that the Free Software Foundation's board approved it unanimously.

This was not enough for Stallman, however; "flexible" is among the minority of adjectives that have never been used to describe him. And so, now, Qt comes under the GPL, too. The move has been roundly praised, though that from Stallman has been faint and damning.

In addition, he seems confused as to the difference between the GPL and the law. Many of us, no doubt, would jump at the opportunity to create a law or two by fiat; most of us differ with Stallman in that we know that we do not have the power to decree laws. In his Linux Today article yesterday, he pronounces various aspects of KDE as not being legal--something that he has no standing whatsoever to do. His GPL has never been before a judge. Its validity is entirely unknown. If he thought that KDE were illegal and he thought that the GPL were enforcable, he would, one might think, have taken it all to court by now. He hasn't.

He claims that putting Qt under the GPL isn't enough.

"Misusing a GPL-covered program permanently forfeits the right to distribute the code at all. Such situations have occurred in KDE, and now they ought to be cleaned up," he wrote. Authors of GPLed code used in KDE must grant "forgiveness" to KDE before the code may be legally distributed, he said. And as a sign of goodwill or something he granted blanket forgiveness for all the code owned by the FSF used in KDE--which is less than it appears to be, in that there seems to be little or no FSF-controlled code in KDE. (This could explain why KDE's developers were never taken to court: with none of FSF's code in the project, the FSF could not claim to be an injured party and would therefore be without standing. Stallman called on all authors whose GPLed code had been used in KDE to grant forgiveness, too. But again, there's been no deafening outcry from developers who thought themselves wronged, and not a single case of a developer who felt sufficiently harmed to march into court waving the GPL and demanding justice.)

Mid-morning yesterday, a post that purported to be from Stallman appeared on Slashdot . In it, the poster said that until everybody has granted "forgiveness," KDE remains "illegal" and should not be used or distributed. During the night, the poster confessed that the message was a forgery, saying that as ridiculous as it was, it was entirely believable. There was a URL associated with the post that took me to a page that I hoped was a hoax, because it left me with the distinct impression that it sought to depict someone who had made that sad step from being colorful to becoming a full-blown nutcase. My hope was dashed, though, when I found that the GNU homepage has a link to it. I think that those who follow Stallman would do themselves a favor by reading the page in its entirety.

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