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UCITA is back. LWN's first report on an attempt to rework U.S. software licensing law appeared in April, 1998. The process, then known as "UCC 2B," since renamed "UCITA," is currently stalled. Only two states have passed (modified) versions of the code, and few others have shown any interest at all.

Recently, the law's drafting committee held a meeting to try to resurrect UCITA. The resulting amendments are described in this posting from long-time UCITA critic Cem Kaner. It makes for interesting reading.

Certain aspects of UCITA, such as the "self help" provision that would allow vendors to shut down software remotely, have been cleaned up. UCITA no longer allows vendor back doors, thus closing off one obvious source of problems and security holes. In theory, the provisions allowing vendors to forbid public criticism of their software have been removed. As Mr. Kaner points out, though, a huge loophole remains.

For the free software community, however, the most interesting provisions are likely to be those having to do with warranties and liability. On the surface, the refurbished UCITA allows the disclaimer of warranties on free software. The situation is not as good as it seems, however:

  • UCITA uses a "free beer" definition of free software. Thus, for example, Internet Explorer is free software under this code.

  • Warranty disclaimers are not allowed when the user is a "consumer" (i.e. not a business).
As a result, Microsoft can avoid providing any kind of warranty for much of its business software. On the other hand, free software providers can not disclaim warranties to consumer end users. This opens up free software developers (and those who distribute their code) to consumer lawsuits. Linux on the desktop will not be helped by this provision.

So, the UCITA battle will have to be fought yet again, on a state-by-state basis. The alternative is the prospect of free software being forced off the net (or, at least, out of the U.S.) with implied warranties that nobody was ever paid to back up.

What does 2002 hold for Linux? One of the privileges of editing a publication is the ability to put out annual lists of dubious predictions. LWN is not immune to the attraction of pretending that we know more than anybody else, so here goes. The following stuff might actually happen this year. Or it might not.

  • Linux systems will suffer a major security incident with significant costs to those affected. Names like "Code Red," "Nimda," and "Sircam" inspire disdain and amusement among Linux users. But, while our systems are generally more secure, we do not have an absolute solution to security problems. Sooner or later, we will get bitten too.

  • We will lose a major distributor to bankruptcy, merger, or acquisition. Consolidation in the distributor market has been predicted for some time, but the distributors have proved remarkably resilient. There are limits to resilience, however, and at least one distributor is likely to find out where those limits are. No, we will not try to predict which one.

  • Workable free software business models will begin to emerge. The Bubble Days distracted Linux businesses from the vital task of actually making money for a while, but those days have been gone for a while now. With no alternative, some businesses will actually figure out a way to survive.

  • Desktop Linux will be taken far more seriously by the end of the year. Over the last year, an impressive array of desktop tools have reached a stable state: consider Galeon (and, of course, Mozilla, upon which Galeon is based), Konqueror, GnuCash, Nautilus, Evolution, and, of course, the KDE and GNOME desktop environments in general. 2002 will see the stabilization of a number of office productivity tools, such as KOffice, OpenOffice, Gnumeric, and AbiWord. At that point, the Linux desktop will have almost everything needed by a large number of desktop users. More specialized applications will take years to fill in, but the basics are coming into place.

  • The legal situation will get murkier. A high-level U.S. court ruling against the DMCA is possible; chances are good, however, that we will have another Dmitry Sklyarov to defend.

  • Alternative kernel trees will grow in importance. Linus Torvalds will continue to set the general developmental direction, but, increasingly, the kernels that people actually run will be produced by somebody else.
Remember, these predictions are offered under the terms of the Free Forward-Looking Handwaving License (FFLHL), and NO WARRANTY of any type is implied regarding their veracity or whether they make sense at all.

The LWN.net 2001 Linux Timeline, final version. We are, perhaps, better at looking backward. So, with pleasure, we announce that the final version of the LWN.net 2001 Linux Timeline is now available. Thanks to all of you who offered comments on the previous versions.

Inside this LWN.net weekly edition:

  • Security: Microsoft's security bugs; exploitable mutt problem; glibc updates
  • Kernel: 2.5.2 scheduler changes; development process issues; waiting for kbuild.
  • Distributions: Distributions in Review - Part 2; DutNux.
  • Development: KDE 3.0 beta 1, Ogg Vorbis RC3, P2P Topologies, Gnumeric 1.0.0, Bluefish 0.7, DotGNU yearly review, GCC 3.0.3, Jython 2.1, XML issues.
  • Commerce: News from ActiveState; Creatures Internet Edition now shipping.
  • History: Linux on PowerPC; mirrors for the kernel; Y2K.
  • Letters: Galeon installation; SourceForge; U.K. and open source.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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January 3, 2002


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