March 27, 2007

ChangeLog: Reuters gets it wrong, again

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

According to Reuters, the "Linux camp" is trying to "sabotage" the deal between Microsoft and Novell. One wonders if Reuters has a special interest in slinging misinformation about the Linux community, or just deeply misunderstands the Linux community and can't be bothered to get it right.

In February, Reuters' Jim Finkle reported that "Novell could be banned from selling Linux." Our own Joe Barr gave the article a good Fisking, noting that Finkle is conflating the open source and free software communities, and that Finkle fails to understand that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) can do little to prevent Novell from shipping Linux. At best (or worst, depending on your point of view), the FSF could make it difficult to ship future versions of software it controls the copyright to.

The latest salvo, with no byline given, claims that the "Linux camp" is trying to "sabotage" Novell's deal with Microsoft by changing language in the next generation of the GNU Public License, GPLv3.

Many folks in the Linux community do have a problem with Novell's Microsoft deal, but it's misleading in the extreme to try to label the FSF as the "Linux camp." The disagreements between the Free Software advocates and open source developers have been discussed at length in many public forums.

As for GPLv3, Linus Torvalds and other kernel developers have repeatedly indicated that they are not happy with changes in the GPLv3, and plan to stick with the GPLv2. That hardly seems like sabotage from the Linux camp.

The FSF does control quite a few utilities that are important to Linux, but Reuters didn't bother to contact any non-FSF Linux vendors or projects to ascertain whether they'd adopt those tools under the GPLv3 as drafted by the FSF. It's entirely possible that, if the FSF's revised GPLv3 is unacceptable to the real "Linux camp," the utilities would be forked and developed under the GPLv2, which is a license that already has widespread acceptance.

If anyone from Reuters happens to read this, please keep in mind: The FSF does not represent the bulk of Linux users -- nor does any organization -- and it's misleading to suggest that the FSF or any other organization does. Some Linux developers and users are, indeed, free software adherents and FSF devotees. Others subscribe to the "open source" philosophy, and think the Novell/Microsoft deal is perfectly fine.

Reuters also tries to sweep free software under the open source rug, saying that free software "is also known as open source software." While it's true that free software can also be "open source," Reuters does its readers a disservice by failing to clarify the distinctions between free and open source software.

The article would have been better titled, "FSF tries to protect users' freedom," since that is the impetus behind the license changes, but I suppose that headline would not have been sensational enough to satisfy Reuters. It's too bad, because that's really more interesting than the combative picture that Reuters tries to paint, not to mention having the benefit of being accurate.

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