The Google Manifesto and Consumer Choice

In 1996, Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and GNU/GPL, defined “The Four Freedoms” by which “free” software must conform too:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1).
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

This concept of freedom has since been slowly revolutionizing the software industry. Version 3 of the GPL was released on June 29th of this year (2007), causing quite a disturbance in Redmond. The fuss Microsoft has been raising over the GPL3 is a testament to the power of this freedom. It’s all about keeping control and having the biggest market share. Section 10 of the GPL3 in particular is what is causing the problem:

10. Automatic Licensing of Downstream Recipients.

Each time you convey a covered work, the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensors, to run, modify and propagate that work, subject to this License. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties with this License.

An “entity transaction” is a transaction transferring control of an organization, or substantially all assets of one, or subdividing an organization, or merging organizations. If propagation of a covered work results from an entity transaction, each party to that transaction who receives a copy of the work also receives whatever licenses to the work the party’s predecessor in interest had or could give under the previous paragraph, plus a right to possession of the Corresponding Source of the work from the predecessor in interest, if the predecessor has it or can get it with reasonable efforts.

You may not impose any further restrictions on the exercise of the rights granted or affirmed under this License. For example, you may not impose a license fee, royalty, or other charge for exercise of rights granted under this License, and you may not initiate litigation (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that any patent claim is infringed by making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the Program or any portion of it.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the GPL3, have a look at it through the link above. It’s remarkably brief and is written in plain English – not in the typical EULA jargon that we have all come to know and love.

On July 20, 2007 Google issued a statement on their blog indicating a …”commitment to open broadband platforms”. In a nutshell, Google wants the FCC to mandate an open and non-proprietary system on the 700MHz band that will soon be auctioned. As an incentive, Google has promised to participate in the auction with $4.6 billion (USD) to spend if the FCC agrees to the terms of this initiative. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin agrees that this concept will spur competition and innovation like we see on the internet. Like other big companies who stand to loose billions of dollars in potential income though, AT&T is slamming Google in the press. Google makes four assertions in this initiative that have far reaching consequences and will certainly give a lot of momentum to the Open Source movement.

  • Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: third parties (like Internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.

In essence, Google would like to see old rules that favor proprietary formats driven by profit be changed to benefit a consumer driven technology boom that will get the US up to par with the rest of the developed world in terms of broadband and mobile communication technologies. The type of competition that Google is seeking to stimulate from FCC mandates serves the greater good through innovation and not the kind of competition that pads the pockets of corporations who drive the market with only their interests in mind. It’s exciting to see the beginning of The Golden Age of Open Source.

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