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Intel, Red Hat cure open-source hiccup

Red Hat and Intel come up with a solution to a licensing problem that threatened to prevent the Linux company from contributing to the tech giant's open-source project.

Red Hat and Intel have settled a licensing hiccup that threatened to prevent the Linux company from contributing to Intel's open-source project--a reminder of the frictions that can arise between the commercial tech world and the open-source community.

The wrangling came to an end last week when Intel changed licensing terms for the software project. It involved one component of power management software used in Linux and several other operating systems. The component--an "interpreter," which interprets a computer's power management abilities--is an Intel open-source project that Red Hat had been trying to help with. But legal complications connected to the licenses governing the interpreter had hampered Red Hat from contributing.

Intel's interpreter was originally governed by two licenses--the open-source General Public License (GPL) and the proprietary "component architecture" (CA) license. However, when Red Hat wanted to submit improvements covered under the GPL, that license prohibited Intel from incorporating those changes in the proprietary version of the software covered by the CA license.

Intel says it has now expanded the interpreter licensing for the GPL version, adding a variant of the license, which is more liberal than the GPL. The dual licensing essentially bypasses a GPL provision that requires all improvements to GPL-covered software to also be brought under the GPL--which means now improvements may be made proprietary as well as open-source.

"It allows everyone to help improve the code, while still allowing the code to be used by everyone, not just Linux," said Guy Therien, principal engineer of mobile software architecture in Intel's mobile platforms group, in a statement to CNET

Intel's move illustrates the legal complications that crop up as the open-source community intersects ever more frequently with the closed, proprietary world of the traditional computing industry.

Alan Cox, a Red Hat employee and one of the top deputies to Linux leader Linus Torvalds, appears mollified by the new approach. "The business about how to feed patches is one that's--I think--resolved," he said in a posting to the Linux mailing list for power management.

The interpreter at the center of the wrangling is part of a technology called Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), the successor to the older Advanced Power Management technology. ACPI was developed by Compaq Computer, Intel, Microsoft, Phoenix Technologies and Toshiba.

Red Hat is working to make contributions to the power management software--which computers use to control tasks such going into hibernation mode--and to ACPI, to bring these into its version of Linux. ACPI is moving from the domain of development project to shipping product. The latest test version of Red Hat Linux, code-named "Phoebe," included ACPI and was released in December.

It's not the first time open-source licenses have been changed to better accommodate the proprietary computing world. Ximian adopted a more liberal license for some of its Mono software to create an open-source version of Microsoft's .Net, so that Intel software could be incorporated into the project.

Intel proposed the BSD license change in December on the Linux kernel mailing list. Torvalds was among those who chimed in about the move, saying that dual licenses cover several other important sections of Linux kernel software.