IBM on Licensing

Douglas Heintzman of IBM wrote,
” Apache also promotes a licensing regime that lends itself to innovation and participation of well-resourced organizations and has a higher comfort level with many corporate customers.

The question of licensing models is for some a key issue that merits examination. The LibreOffice community works with a copyleft regime. This is partly because, when that community forked the code from the OpenOffice project, it was the only licensing regime available to them, and partly because the core of that community comes from Linux vendors that are very comfortable with, and have had prior success with, copyleft licensing. This does not mean that they have failed with permissive licenses; it just means they have more experience, and a greater comfort level, with copyleft regimes.

Copyleft licenses rely on a viral mechanism to enforce disclosure of code modifications. Basically, if you are benefiting from the code, you contractually must disclosure any modifications or enhancements you make.”

Compare that with an article written earlier (2003) by the same authour:
“There is a general consensus that for the most part these licenses do not represent a barrier to the integration of OSS into business solutions and will likely have little, if any, impact on the success of OSS one way or the other.”

Clearly Heintzman does not get FLOSS. The GPL, for instance is a licence, not a contract, so one it not “contractually obliged to do anything”. One is permitted to copy by a licence from the creators under the conditions laid out by the GPL. ships under a mixture of licences for different parts of the code, reflecting its long history and huge number of contributors.

He never does get around to explaining why IBM chose Apache/ASL licensing except to state that IBM chose it. He certainly does not explain why IBM went with the code contributed to Apache instead of the code forked to LibreOffice and the greater numbers of contributors if they were interested in “community”. has yet to make an ASL release while LibreOffice is chugging away making release after release and doing well while is still under code review years later.

Is IBM too proud to admit that it made a mistake? It’s not too late to undo some things. So far, it looks as if IBM and Oracle’s move has come to nothing. is still not a full-fledged Apache project. They are still fiddling away trying to create the website. The latest status report includes:
“Most Important To Address:

1. Completion of the IP-review portions of the incubation checklist
2. A Successful Podling Release
3. Increase size and diversity of the active development community”

They are now doing nightly builds for developers and they have some committers but the whole project seems to have overwhelmed Apache. It seems like a high price to pay for stripping out copyleft code.
” We believe that all category-x copyleft code has been removed.
Development focus has shifted to reparing our initial Polding Release (release 3.4)”

Meanwhile, LibreOffice has made 7 releases, tuned up lots of code, added lovely features and has a huge base of contributors, nearly 400, (and more details on code clean-up)… Judge the licence like a healthy, growing tree, by the fruit of it.

I recommend LibreOffice over any day. It was a good ride for but SUN really didn’t set it free and Oracle and IBM have wrecked the rails.

UPDATE Here’s another article about progress or lack of it at Apache: Update on Apache OpenOffice

Yes, “Removal of Copyleft” is prominent. Yes, it looks like some version of the Munich Migration… It will get somewhere eventually but there does not seem to be any advantage over the energetic advancement of LibreOffice. Is it a case of cutting off the nose of in order to spite the face of it?

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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18 Responses to IBM on Licensing

  1. Clarence Moon says:

    There is a formal write up 2.2.1 section in fact.

    All that says is that the court upheld the requirement that D-Link provide a copy of the original source, which is what they were using and which publication they already had provided. It does nothing to test the copyleft clause of the contractual obligation in the GPL.

    You are showing a lot of ignorance and inability to stick to the point, Mr. Oiaohm. You should stop embarrassing yourself.

    Guess what my job is

    I doubt that you have any job at all, Mr. Oiaohm. Rather you have set yourself a task that consists of spending hours a day posting off-topic verbosity that makes you look like a fool.

  2. oiaohm says:

    Clarence Moon You lawyers are most like USA based

    Sitecom vs Welte is also important. Sitecom tried withholding there extensions to netfilter. Yes this include just releasing the prior GPL code and not what they added they were force to release what they had added. Did not turn out too well they were forced to release. GPL is very heavily tested your legal team really needs to get there research assistants to pull all the german cases linked to GPL and start reading. They will find that most clauses GPL are clarified in the Judges statements and what has been ruled out early in the cases by the Judges there.

    I suspect your lawyers are not operating international enough. Guess what my job is. To find overseas cases that apply and map them into the matching australian laws to produce predictive outcomes. This does cause issues where I have to map stuff differently and it end up in memory wrong at times. Sorry it not my job to do your legal department job for them they should have someone on staff searching the international cases in cases of likes of GPL where USA rulings are lacking. The biggest untested is if consumers can bring case. Rest is either tested in final rulings or legal pleadings at starts of case. So far all cases have been developers.

    LGPL becomes very clear due to some German rulings over it. It limited area of modification permitted as well. So there should be very little issue with LGPL. What GPL demards that is legally proven I can understand a company not allowing it.

    German courts have it tested. Takes a lot of balls to go against that. Since the odds that another court will rule the same.

  3. oiaohm says:

    Clarence Moon Go read the full D-link/Welte case it covers the requirement to release the source code.

    There is a formal write up 2.2.1 section in fact.

    D-link has and they lost in German courts. Sorry about time you get up to speed Clarence moon.

    There are about 12 cases in total you need to fully read most are in German courts. Each expands the power of GPL. That last one is particularly interesting that you cannot lock user out from modifying the device.

  4. John Cockroft wrote, “IBM chose OpenOffice and the Apache license because they can choose to include Apache licensed code in their products without contributing any extensions that they make back to the community.”

    That may actually been what they were thinking but it is false logic based on a false premise. Nothing prevents one application from “calling” another. has an API wherein a script can invoke LibreOffice to do an operation on a file.

    see for example, here. This allows anyone to use LibreOffice as a server and create a client application to use it any way they like. There is no requirement at all to reveal code this way. The end-user sees a completely different user-interface and may have no idea that LibreOffice is running underneath.

    I have used the UnoConv thingy which allows file conversions under BASH. My script ran hundreds of times converting whole libraries of documents in a few minutes. This kind of thing allows one to extend the feature-set of LibreOffice or to automate stuff or to use it over the web etc.

  5. John Cockroft says:

    IBM chose OpenOffice and the Apache license because they can choose to include Apache licensed code in their products without contributing any extensions that they make back to the community. Perhaps they still want to promote Symphony ( – which is based on OpenOffice). GPL protects the community from predators (like Oracle) trying to take code produced in the community and make it part of their own proprietary products.

    I work with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and mostly open source based solutions and I haven’t come across any company so far that is put off by GPL licensing.

  6. ch, I read the article, twice, to figure out what was written and what it means. Sutor wrote that but he then writes that GNU/Linux has to specialize. There are many components to “the desktop” market and GNU/Linux can specialize in all of them. For example those producing multimedia can find distros created by multimedia people for multimedia people. For producing documents in offices, there are excellent tools like LibreOffice in most distros. I use LibreOffice but I can do all kinds of things like using GNU tools to scrape and aggregate data and databases to keep stuff for reference.

    1. In a short time; shortly after any time specified or
    supposed; as, soon after sunrise. "Sooner said than done."
    --Old Proverb. "As soon as it might be." --Chaucer.
    [1913 Webster]

    “Soon” might well mean this year or next. I don’t argue with that but I do know, for any particular task there is a GNU/Linux desktop that will do the job very well. Most OEMs ship GNU/Linux even if they deny it publicly. I recently asked Lenovo for their share of units shipped with GNU/Linux and they replied that they ship none. Yet, we read, “Chinese PC maker Lenovo has hit a mega deal with Indian state Tamil Nadu. The state will buy 3 lakh (0.3 million) laptops from the company making it one of the biggest deals for the Chinese maker. The Tamil Nadu government recenly announced the free laptop project for students of state-run colleges and high schools. ELCOT earlier issued a controvercial tender where it removed Linux as the requirement. Muktware broke this story. Within a few weeks ELCOT was forced to change its pro-Microsoft policy and put Linux on these computers.”

    see Muktware – Chinese Lenovo Secures Biggest Deal With India
    THU, 2012-01-12 02:28 BY JENNIFER BHARTIYA

    300K seats going to GNU/Linux and soon. They are specialized to meed the needs of the people in Tamil Nadu state of India. That’s a state of 72million people and 300K is very significant and will promote huge growth of GNU/Linux in that region. There are similar stories all over the globe, so, if not “soon”, eventually GNU/Linux will have major share on the desktop. It has now, IMHO, but others are still in denial. According to NetApplications, California, USA, a similarly populated state, uses 13% GNU/Linux. So there…

  7. ch says:

    Mr Pogson,

    sorry but you have done it again: You link the article quoting Bob Sutor without realizing what he actually says: “Linux will not replace Windows on the desktop in big numbers anytime soon – get over it. Better to look for niches where some people might want to use Linux.” A much more rational approach than your own “Debian is good for everyone”.

    And why does IBM prefer the ASL for OOo ? Because the GPL makes it harder for developers (and companies) to make money from software they develop. BTW, that’s exactly how RMS wants things to be:
    (Slight formatting mistake by the author: The three paragraphs after the one in red actually contain the salient point that contradicts the bold part.)

    It’s unfortunate that your ideological blinkers prevent you from reading – and understanding – what is right before your eyes 🙁

  8. Clarence Moon says:

    What you seem to ignore, Mr. Oiaohm, is the essence of the GPL and the legal cases surrounding it. You parrot the nonsense put forth by Eben Moglen regarding the “copyleft” theory. In short, Mr. Oiaohm, you are both ignorant of the issues and off-topic. Now that is efficiency!

    The only material difference between the GPL and the ASL, MIT, and other “permissive” licenses is the idea that modifications to the original work, which presumably make it better in some applications, must be completely disclosed if they are to be distributed.

    That is a contractual element in the license and the lawyers at our company who work with us on open source use generally think that it would lose in court, but no one has ever brought it to court with that clause as an issue. Not in the USA, not in Germany either.

    Your cite is quite the opposite, in fact. The German court apparently found:

    “it also confirmed that users of embedded devices with pre-installed Free Software have the legal freedom to make, install, run and distribute modifications to this Free Software.” No word about any obligation to publish the changes nor any assertion that they must. Rather, the plaintiff was praying that the defendant be enjoined from making modifications in the first place.

    Now the FSF doesn’t try to prevent any such modification being made and could be said to encourage it under their provision of additional disclosure. The court decision seems to give the holder of the “Free Software” the right to do such modification and distribution on their own, though, regardless of any GPL consideration. That is in line with what I have been told by our guys.

    The answer vis-a-vis the GPL is still “No!”, though. It is folly to wave a red flag in front of a bull, they say.

  9. oiaohm says:

    Clarence Moon Really just because I stuffed up with a case of conversion. Does not make ignorance of the law.

    Clarence Moon you have major ignorance of what is going on and about time you get up to speed. German courts run far more effectively than USA courts. So cases like the D-link case that were under way in the USA Germany and many others end up in court in Germany first. So when they lose in Germany they settle everywhere else to avoid losing in the other countries.

    So when it comes to how enforce able GPL is you want the test cases start reading the German cases. USA record contains nothing of interest for modern day.

    This one is particularly interesting because it might mean you cannot apply dcma to any Linux kernel containing device. Since you approved modification in the contract of GPL to use the Linux kernel.

  10. Clarence Moon says:

    German courts have tested every stupid path of getting around gpl you keep on bring up.

    You are amusing, Mr. Oiaohm, but not very useful otherwise. Your ignorance of the law goes beyond your ignorance of the English lexicon.

  11. oiaohm says:

    aardvark IBM is a particularly poor example. If you want to use particular techs that were developed for AIX to have patent grant from IBM you either have to license patent from IBM or use a GPL license on your code. LGPL does not pass.

    aardvark also the Linux kernel has a patent pool with many signed up members so it does not need GPLv3 patent clauses to protect itself.

    Now with openoffice they want Apache Public license. Yep IBM up to normal no good here.

    Clarence Moon so you live in a reinvent the wheel company. What is forbin GPL or LGPL. Lot of places doing closed source development have very little problems with LGPL.

    Simple fact your company sux Clarence Moon. Most places I deal with have a list of approved licenses. Sometimes this is only non restrictive licenses like apache, mit, bsd other cases its the restrictive open source licenses approved.

    You are kidding me about the copying bit not being tested in court and conveyance.

    German courts have tested every stupid path of getting around gpl you keep on bring up. Importers have been hit when companies are in countries where GPL cannot be applied in German courts.

    So its tested in 1 country so far. No one has been game to test it in others yet. D-link and a few others suffered in germany claiming stuff like you like that GPL was not enforceable on coping and so on. Its simpler to either recall product or release source code. I will be clear GPL does not exactly force you to release your source code. But if you do refuse you have to recall your product. You rights to ship are directly linked to GPL. If you read GPL carefully its copyleft. This is not copyright. You have to agree to the copyleft to get the conditions that allow you to modify copy or doing anything you need to ship.

    So yes its a contract in combination with copyright. None of the extra provisions in that copyleft are usable if you don’t agree to it.

    So this is the evil part of GPL. You don’t accept GPL its now stolen code if you ship it in your product. GPL does not need to be tested in court in a lot of ways. You don’t agree to GPL you have no license to ship. So if GPL is void no GPL software can be shipped. Multrally assured destruction defence you defeat GPL you still cannot ship your product contain it.

    Yes you might be able to loop hole non restrictive licenses but you are insane to try that on restrictive open source licenses.

    Volitions are simple to avoid Clarence Moon, Microsoft and Music companies and others go around enforcing there license. Why is FOSS forbin todo this???

    Serous-ally you are a evil bit of work if you wish to steal other peoples code. Yes this is exactly what you are if you are trying to break GPL.

  12. aardvark wrote, of IBM, “they’re not in the desktop market, or any other market where GPL3 software matters “

    “The goal of this IBM Redbooks publication is to provide a technical planning reference for IT organizations large or small that are now considering a migration to Linux-based personal computers.”
    see Linux Migration Cookbook V2

    They eat their own dogfood.

    Bob Sutor, IBM’s vp of open source and Linux , in 2009: “Just like you all have done in enterprise space with servers, it works. We bring that focus and attention to the desktop as well – with the cool – because you’ve got to convince people to use it.”

    see The Register – IBM Linux chief: Chasing desktop Windows a ‘dead-end’ – You won’t thrive unless you specialize

    see IBM launches virtual desktop in India

    “In March 2010, Canonical, IBM, and Simmtronics announced an Intel Atom-based, 10.1-inch netbook called the Simmbook (pictured at right), priced at $190. Built by Simmtronics, the Simmbook was preloaded with the IBM Client for Smart Work Linux distro, based on Ubuntu Netbook Remix.”
    see Ubuntu-based netbook hits South Africa at $188

    “In this podcast, CBR editor Jason Stamper talks to Chris De Vere, IBM x86 Modular Systems, about the rise of virtual desktop solutions, whether or not the business case stacks up, and why customers should consider IBM in this market segment.”
    see CBR desktop virtualisation podcast: IBM’s Virtual Client expert

    So, you might think IBM does nothing with GNU/Linux desktops, but you would be wrong.

  13. aardvark says:

    Interesting comments on IBM and the GPL.

    To start off with, I see the particular comment on Open Office and the Apache license simply as proof that they listen to their customers (here, the large companies involved). I expect that IBM talk to their corporate customers quite a lot. I doubt they’d misrepresent the mood of the market.

    I think figures on IBM usage of the GPL would be quite instructive. (Not the dollar price; the range of products/programs.) Like Linus himself, they seem to be quite happy with GPL2, specifically as it applies to the kernel. This seems to be quite a sensible business model (it’s essentially commoditizing the complement, where the thing you sell is consultancy on big iron and the complement is the OS).

    But do they actually do much with GPL3? I doubt it: they’re not in the desktop market, or any other market where GPL3 software matters much. But I’d still like to see some numbers.

    One other thought: why did IBM not pick up on GNU/Linux circa 2000, when it was a thriving alternative and OS/2 was dead in the water and IBM was still turning over decent profits on Thinkpads?

  14. Clarence Moon wrote, “many companies and their employees are in the business of supplying software for the profits available.”

    Many more are not. The users have no interest in the convenience of the suppliers.

    SFLC has not been involved in frivolous suits. Copyright is a fundamental law with criminal penalties. The parties prosecuted with the help of SFLC would not even think of trying to copy illegally M$’s stuff. Why should they be allowed to do that with FLOSS?

  15. Clarence Moon says:

    You have to remember, Mr. Pogson, that many, many companies and their employees are in the business of supplying software for the profits available. People with a need willingly pay for software that gives them some benefits from its use. Argue all you want about how there may be freebie software wholly adequate to many tasks, but that does not change the fundamental premise that there are many vendors of proprietary software that they will only license for an acceptable fee. Acceptable to both the user and the supplier.

    The facts of life are that there are many tens of billions of dollars spent by such customers annually.

    Whatever myths abound regarding IBM and Linux, it is a fact today that IBM is still in the business of supplying solutions to its customers for a handsome fee. Microsoft provides Linux as well and has a commercial relationship with Novell, now SUSE, to do so, farming out the support elements to the Linux vendor.

    What is wrong with the GPL, I think, is that it exposes companies who are relatively innocent of any malicious intent to harassment by organizations who want to push the GPL agenda, notably the SFLC and FSF, if they can be considered as two independent entities. Frivolous suits by the SFLC against companies such as Best Buy or Verizon have been easily beaten down by those businesses, but it is always at some cost to their management focus. No wonder it is considered a cancer by most.

    My own company allows integration or use of open source software only upon a rather complex procedure to clear that use or integration with our corporate legal department. I understand the answer when the GPL is involved is always “No”. More open licenses are sometimes allowed. The advice to the developers is mainly “Forget about it”.

  16. Clarence Moon wrote, “(ASL) has a higher comfort level with many corporate customers”.

    “May” is a pretty weak reason. Many corporations are very comfortable with Free Software. IBM invested $1billion in Linux alone in 1999. Linux is distributed under the GPL and IBM actively contributed code that had much more to do with corporate comfort. The majority of corporations now use Linux one way or another quite comfortably.

    We should ask, “comfort for whom?”. I can see corporations that sell licences for software for big bucks may be uncomfortable with GPL but users of software certainly are not. That GPL etc. is viral and a cancer on software has been discredited for more than a decade when M$ started its FUD campaign against GNU/Linux.

  17. Clarence Moon wrote, “That part has been deemed a contract since the acts of copying and conveyance are separate issues under copyright laws.”

    No. A contract is an agreement between two or more parties to do something in exchange for something. The GPL does not require anyone to do anything. The GPL does not require anyone to pay or provide anything. The GPL is open to children or invalids who are not allowed to make a contract, for instance. The requirement to provide source code is not compensation at all because there is no direct benefit to the provider of the software. It is a donation to the world or the recipient of the software at least. A contract is only one way to obtain a licence for software. The GPL and other Free Software licences come along with the software and the recipient has a licence with no need to enter into a contract.

  18. Clarence Moon says:

    The GPL, for instance is a licence, not a contract, so one it not “contractually obliged to do anything”.

    Many others, lawyers and regular people, have argued that the GPL is both and language used in the few actual court decisions on the GPL have concurred, Mr. Pogson. The GPL unconditionally conveys a license to use and personally copy or modify the work to one and all conditioned on simple possession, that is you have a license if you have a copy of the code, source or binary or both.

    To distribute to others is conditioned on your publishing of the source of the original work and any modifications that you may have made to it. That part has been deemed a contract since the acts of copying and conveyance are separate issues under copyright laws. This latter requirement has never been tested in any court anywhere. There is an expectation that it would fail to be enforceable.

    He never does get around to explaining why IBM chose Apache/ASL licensing…

    He did say why, Mr. Pogson, you choose to dismiss the idea:

    “(ASL) has a higher comfort level with many corporate customers.”


    “(ASL is) more attractive to corporate vendors, and facilitates corporate investment of resources.”

    Fundamentally, if someone does not give a rap about reuse and extensions and such, the ASL is just fine with them and avoids any hassle with the Stallman crowd.

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