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Leading items and editorials

Like standards, software licenses have a nice feature: there's an awful lot of them to choose between. Of course, the feature is not all that nice in either case, especially not with software licenses. Unlike standards, software is often combined in interesting ways. As the amount of free software grows, the interest in building on what has already been grows with it. The proliferation of licenses is increasingly an obstacle to the free use of free software.

Consider some examples:

  • IBM will be releasing the source to the Andrew File System (AFS) in September. This code, however, will be released under the IBM Public License. The IPL is, according to the FSF's license list, not compatible with the GPL. Thus, AFS will not become part of the standard Linux kernel.

  • The Galeon web browser (see below) is licensed under the GPL. It makes use of the Gecko rendering engine to do most of the real work. But Gecko is licensed under the MPL, which is not compatible with the GPL. Thus, Galeon not only must put an addendum onto the GPL allowing linking to Gecko, but it can not distribute Gecko as part of the program.

  • The new Python license, while intended to be GPL-compatible, is still under the shadow of some doubt on that score.

  • The issue of linking KDE's (GPL) code with the Qt toolkit still has not been resolved to everybody's satisfaction.

There has been a surge of interest recently in component architectures and massive code reuse. Much work has gone into providing the infrastructure that makes this reuse possible and easy. But the flood of incompatible licenses threatens to bury the entire effort. What use is interoperable code if it can not be legally linked together?

The release of code from companies is to be applauded. But code that comes out under a unique, overly restrictive license is an island; it can not live up to its potential as part of the free code base. It is heartening to see some high profile companies begin to use the well known, established free software licenses on at least some of their releases. Along these lines, the relicensing of Mozilla, where parts will also be covered by the GPL, is an encouraging development. Let us hope this trend continues.

LWN Feature: Interview with Eazel's Bud Tribble. LWN editor Liz Coolbaugh sat down at LinuxWorld for a chat with Bud Tribble, Vice President of Engineering for Eazel. Here is that interview, for your enjoyment. The focus of the interview is on Eazel's experiences over the past six months, Nautilus and GNOME's future.

Taking a ride on the Galeon. Many LWN readers will likely have heard of the Galeon project by now. Galeon, of course, is a relatively new web browser built around Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine. Unlike Mozilla, however, Galeon [Galeon logo] restricts itself to just web browsing. Other tasks, such as news reading, email, and HTML editing are left to other applications.

Galeon should thus be of interest to anybody who has been dismayed by the sheer bulk and bugginess of Mozilla (and its commercial cousin Netscape 6). After all, many of us have already found ways of dealing with email and such, and simply want to look at web pages. Your editor, being one of those people who could never really relate to the Mozilla milestone releases, decided to pull down Galeon 0.7.3 and give it a try.

The executive summary is this: Galeon is 90% of the way there. It can be used for extensive web browsing without driving the user nuts. It's reasonably quick, and rendered almost every page correctly. Your editor was able to make Galeon crash, but not easily.

Now all that's left is "the other 90%." Galeon may beat Mozilla, but with a 30MB virtual address size, it's not exactly lightweight. And it grows, though more slowly than Netscape does. Pages requiring authentication simply render blank, and it won't even try SSL ("https") connections. Many of Netscape's useful keyboard operations are missing - scrolling a page, for example, can only be done with the mouse. Buttons for basic operations ("back", "reload", "stop") are missing; a pulldown menu must be used. There is no control over cookies - it appears Galeon does not implement cookies at all. There is a nice option to only load images that come from the same site as the page they are in, but no way to get it to fill in the images on a specific page. There is no equivalent to Netscape's essential "open frame in window" operation. And so on.

While Galeon's list of shortcomings is longer than one might like, there is little there that appears insolvable. Galeon is at that point where people can use it for many things, and the remaining problems are likely to go away fairly quickly. Netscape's days on a lot of desktops are likely to be numbered.

It may well be that relatively few Linux users will ever end up using Mozilla directly. Galeon has taken what is arguably the best of Mozilla's work - Gecko - and built it into a tool that better fits the Unix philosophy: do one thing very well. In the process, Galeon has highlighted one of the real benefits of free software: if the people building a tool are not doing it the right way, those who think they have a better idea can implement it using the best of what is available.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: PGP and ADKs (Additional Decryption Keys).
  • Kernel: The Tux2 filesystem; bye bye big kernel lock?; fun with threads
  • Distributions: New distributions and reviews of old distributions, including a peek at Debian from a security perspective.
  • Development:Galeon browser, X11R6.5.1, Xemacs/GTK
  • Commerce: The Open Source Development Lab, Open Source Initiative ejects defamation by DVDCCA, DeCSS art contest.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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August 31, 2000


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