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XFree86 gets underwhelmed by Linux distro support

Xfree licence controversy breaks wind
Thu Mar 04 2004, 10:23
SOON AFTER I I wrote about the Xfree86 4.4.0 release, an email from SuSE's PR department arrived at my inbox, detailing the company's position on the new Xfree licence. It reads.
SuSE LINUX does not endorse the XFree86 project's recent license 

Hence, SuSE will not include versions of XFree86 subject to the project's 
modified license in future SUSE product offerings.

SuSE LINUX 9.1, available in April 2004, and the next generation of SUSE LINUX 
Enterprise Server, available in summer 2004, will include an enhanced version 
of X11 based on a XFree86 version prior to the license change.

For the future, we are exploring different options, e.g. and, to establish a reliable alternative that lets our customers
benefit from future enhancements in Linux desktop infrastructure technology. 
The folks at Sun Microsystems, on the other hand, seem to be still undecided whether to ditch Xfree86 4.4.0 or stick to it, simply saying: "We are looking at 4.4 and X.ORG, we have three X platforms Solaris Sparc, Solaris X86 and the Java Desktop System linux."

Asked what the rejections by distros Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, and now SuSE meant for Xfree86's future, project leader David Dawes told The INQUIRER he is "indifferent to the business decisions of these vendors".

He continued by saying: "I think this provides a good opportunity for XFree86 to cut out the middle-man, and go back to a stronger emphasis on providing our software directly to the end user as we did in the early days."

David Dawes says he "doesn't see anything outrageous" with the new Xfree86 4.4.0 licence. But Linux vendors disagree, and cite two main problems.

  • the advertising clause which would mean that they would need to add the text everywhere
  • that such an "advertising clause" is not GPL compatible, meaning that any files under the new license cannot be used from a program that is under the GPL.
But David Dawes seems a little suspicious: "I have heard privately that some vendors were planning to move to an X.Org release even before this licence issue came up. That probably makes business sense for the vendors given that X.Org is a vendor-oriented organization sponsored by hardware and software companies, while XFree86 is an independent group of volunteer developers. I suspect that the licence issue may have affected the timing, but not the end result", he concluded.

In private, however, programmers at some Linux distros that have rejected the new licence weren't very kind to One said: "The XFree86 project is dead, this was just the last shot," conditions of anonymity.

All this cat-fighting is sad indeed, specially since there are some features in this last Xfree86 update (See here) that are worth having, specially for notebook users.

We also asked Lindows Inc for an official statement on its position on this controversy, but so far it has not responded. It must be busy fighting the Vole's trademark injuctions. But since Lindows is Debian-based, and this distro has already rejected the Xfree86 4.4.0's licence, that might speak volumes, quietly.

We will keep you posted as this soup opera unfolds. µ


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