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Leading items and editorials

Qt is to be released under the GPL. Trolltech has thrown in the towel and announced that the Qt toolkit, as of the upcoming 2.2 release, will carry a dual license. For those who prefer it, the QPL may still be used. But for the rest, Qt 2.2 may be used under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

This move will bring an end to more than two years of controversy centered around the Qt license. Qt's initial license was in no way free, and caused much concern among free software users. Trolltech eventually responded with the QPL which was, grudgingly, acknowledged to be a free license. The QPL remained incompatible with the GPL, however, leading many to conclude that linking the (GPL licensed) KDE code with Qt was not legal. For this reason, the Debian distribution still does not include KDE.

Now that everything is covered under the GPL, this trouble should go away (but see the next article, below). KDE is indisputably free software.

Will this change bring about the end of the "KDE vs. GNOME" rivalry? Most certainly not. But GNOME has lost whatever high moral ground it may once have had. The competition will continue, but it will, hopefully, be in a much more interesting vein. The two projects, deprived of the licensing issue, will have to compete on two factors:

  • Technical merit. GNOME and KDE have taken different approaches to a number of technical issues. As LWN has stated in the past, it is going to be very interesting to see how these choices work out. There will be much to learn from watching how the two projects go.

  • Human factors. In the end, the real question is the extent to which KDE and GNOME produce software that people want to use. Creating that software is going to require a great deal of attention not only to the features that people want, but also to usability. Getting the human factors side of things right is seriously hard, and both projects could probably make good use of some more effort directed specifically toward usability issues.

The end result seems reasonably predictable, really. It's already common to see systems with both KDE and GNOME installed. Users may "run" either KDE or GNOME, but they will pick and choose their applications individually, depending on which they like best. In the end, letting users decide what is best for them is what Linux is all about.

(See also: KDE's response to Richard Stallman's editorial, and this additional response from some KDE developers).

Must KDE ask forgiveness for its sins? One would hope that the KDE licensing wars would be truly over. This note from Richard Stallman, however, makes it clear that the hangover may be with us for a little bit yet. Those who violate the GPL lose the right to use the code covered by that license; according to the letter of the law, people who linked GPL code with Qt can no longer use that code without forgiveness from its copyright holders. Nobody has ever been held to that standard before, but RMS seems to think that things should be done differently this time.

Mr. Stallman claims that KDE has made use of (unspecified) GPL-licensed code from other projects. One could conceivably create trouble with this charge - assuming that specifics of the alleged improprieties were to be made public. But what is the point?

RMS has generously offered forgiveness for all software under the FSF copyright, and has called on others to do the same. If one absolutely must make an issue of alleged past violations, this is the only way to do it. KDE's only crime is to try to make the best free Linux desktop it could; to tell them they need to beg forgiveness is insulting at best. It's time to put the whole KDE licensing issue behind us and move on.

:CluelessCat? Thanks to a (previously) little-known company called "Digital Convergence," we now have our latest attack on the right to program.

Digital Convergence came up with an interesting idea. They give away a cheap barcode reader (called the ":CueCat") and some (Windows) software. People plug the reader into their computer, then use it to read a special code printed with advertisements and such. The browser running on the computer will then be directed to a specific web page just waiting to take a credit card number. For added fun, the device can also pick up coded audio signals from a television.

If you put an interesting device out there, some Linux hacker somewhere will try to make it work. If the device is free, and relatively simple as well, quite a few hackers will jump in. And, sure enough, :CueCat drivers started appearing on the net.

Digital Convergence, as it turns out, didn't like that; it called in its lawyers and set about shutting down sites hosting :CueCat drivers. It seems that such a driver violates the company's "intellectual property," though exactly what that property is has not yet been specified. See, for example, copies of the lawyer letter posted on the FBM Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell, Inc page. The case appears weak, but the company has managed to get the :CueCat drivers pulled down - for now.

Why would Digital Convergence do such a thing? While many Linux users may not use their readers to go to advertisers' web pages, some certainly will. So companies that are paying Digital Convergence for the :CueCat referrals should be happy; happy customers are generally good for business.

One part of the answer can, perhaps, be found in this issue of Lauren Weinstein's Privacy Digest. Use of the :CueCat, it seems, requires sending in some personal information, along with the serial number of the device. Every code you scan gets tied together with your information, building a nice little profile. According to the Privacy Digest, Digital Convergence is aware of and responsive to privacy issues, which is encouraging. But the commercial value of the data collected by the :CueCat system is obvious.

And that is why Digital Convergence doesn't like the Linux driver, and why it is so important that the driver exist. When source is available, users of the device who are concerned about their privacy can do something about it. They need not depend on the promises of a company whose commercial interests clearly lie in the collection and sale of personal information.

This is a classic example of what the "free" in free software really means. If we can not write software to work with the things we own, we have lost an important freedom. This case is important, even for those who lack the desire for quicker access to commercial web pages facilitated by a feline-shaped scanner device.

(See also: this Slashdot topic with an unhelpful response from Digital Convergence and 901 (as of this writing) comments).

One last word on Geeks With Guns. Our publication of the Geeks With Guns report has inspired a fair amount of mail. Not everyone is pleased that we ran the article; others feel that we did not run it prominently enough. We covered it as an event involving Linux personalities at a Linux conference, and still feel it was appropriate.

On the other hand, the letters to the editor on the subject have been squelched with a firm hand. Our thanks to all of you who wrote to us - pro or con - but the discussion is heading rapidly into areas beyond LWN's scope.

As always, letters to the editor should be sent to letters@lwn.net.

Minor change to the software announcements. Thanks to changes put in by Scoop over at Freshmeat, the software announcements this week have been broken apart by major category, to make them easier to scan. Several people have asked for this; we expect it to be popular. We will probably also make an alternate version of the software announcements available next week, one that breaks up the announcements by license type instead of by category. Your feedback to these changes is always appreciated.

We've also left in place a minor change which causes an individual software announcement to pop up in an external window if you click on it. This is against our normal policy (we generally hate popup windows) and it can certainly be argued that it should be removed, allowing you to choose to drag and drop a link if you want to see it in an external window. What we want to know is your preference. Please send your comments to lwn@lwn.net.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Vendor coordination, glibc vulnerabilities, lots of updates.
  • Kernel: TUX kernel-based web-server, zero-copy TCP, no Open-Source NDS for Linux.
  • Distributions: FTOSX, MageNet and Scrudgeware join the distributions list, Linux-Mandrake 7.2 beta released.
  • Development:FreeGIS, new Erlang, Perl, and Python.
  • Commerce: iRobot, IBM Asia Pacific Linux Initiative, RSA patent release, M-Systems and LynuxWorks.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

September 7, 2000


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