IANAL, BSD, GPL, LGPL, ABCs

Slashdot pointed me to this article by Bruce Parens aimed at clearing some of the air around using GPL and LGPL and commercially licensed product on the same device. Of course, the summary of the article is “Check with your lawyer” as it should be. But I hope it alleviates fears over the FSF licenses that I know people have.

I especially like the description of the motivation that open source developers use to license their software. BSD is a “gift” software license. The developer is giving it to you as a gift, do with it as you wish, just give him some of the credit. LGPL is “non-gift”. And I get it. They essentially don’t want you using their stuff for free unless you help with it. And then you have GPL, which falls into the category that they just don’t want you using their stuff for free, unless you’re doing your stuff for free too. This categorization puts a little bit of a human face on it, and I appreciate that.

This also made me think about our situation at Eclipse. It’s very difficult to get third party software approved at Eclipse. I’d love to be able to host the GNU tool chain binaries along with the CDT to help new developers get started. Now, I am not a lawyer, but Bruce’s article doesn’t mention restrictions on distributing binaries, only the run-time requirements. Maybe I’m missing something there, and maybe lawyers are reading more into the license than what I see. So be it, they’re professionally responsible for their opinions, I tend not to be.

But there is no mistaking it. Despite whatever legal issues surround open source software, it’s popularity can’t be denied, especially in the embedded world.