OFF-TOPIC: Qt history refresher course?

Rick Moen rick at
Tue Feb 12 07:01:17 UTC 2002

Quoting David Johnson (david at

> I seem to recall that Redhat and Debian (which was first) were the only ones 
> not to distribute KDE based on licensing. Other distros that did not 
> distribute KDE did not distribute Gnome either.

Your recollection is probably better than mine, on that point.  I recall
that Red Hat included GNOME but not KDE for some considerable period of
time.  Linux-Mandrake gained a significant marketing advantage from the 
fact that its policy differed.

Now, being a professional cynic (i.e., a sysadmin) with a dark sense of 
humour, I expect you'd have us believe that Red Hat Software's change of
policy on this point resulted from a sudden stamp of approval from its
legal department, rather than resulting from competitive pressure.

> There were several arguments from the KDE side. One was that certain
> clauses in the GPL were very vague. Was Qt normally distributed with
> Linux? Was it a component of the operating system? 

I remember hearing these things.  Appealing to the "special exception"
clause of GPL v. 2 clause 3 seemed like really reaching, in my view (for
whatever that's worth).  The plain facts seem to not support this.  I 
regard that matter as self-evident.

> Another was the question of whether the GPL could apply itself
> "backwards" in the chain of linkage, or if it only applied to the
> orginal work and derivatives.

I must confess I never saw the logic of this one.  If the forcing
provision of licences like GPL and MPL have any meaning whatsoever, 
it would certainly apply to derivative works like the "K" variants of 
prior upstream works by third parties.

> First, we didn't ignore the problem. We had already analyzed the legal
> issues and concluded that giving a copy of KDE to your friend was
> perfectly legal.  

We obviously have a difference of view as to what "ignoring the problem" 
means.  Ah well.

> The legal departments of Mandrake, SuSE and other distros concurred, and 
> continued distributing KDE.

It would be more accurate to say that the legal departments of several
other companies did not raise sufficient tactical objection to overcome
other considerations.

> Second, that "lasting distrust" was unfortunate, but still nothing we
> could have done anything about.

This is transparently incorrect:  The KDE team could have attempted to 
secure explicit Qt-linkage permission from all upstream authors.  For 
reasons of their own, they did not.  I certainly will not debate
intentions, but I will point out the fact of what did and did not occur.
(For purposes of that observation, the KDE team's view on such an 
effort's necessity is irrelevant.)

> To admit we were wrong when we knew we were not would have been
> dishonest.

Please note that you are introducing a change of subject at this point, 
from whether the KDE team "did nothing" in the context cited to
admission of error.  

This is, of course, the sort of not-well-reasoned reaction the debate
tended to elicit in people at the time, which was a large part of what 
made it difficult to discuss.  Fixing a glitch of licensing turned into 
questions of reputation and honesty, against all logic.  

> Did this controversy cause conditions of use to be casually ignored? I don't 
> think so. I think it did just the opposite. I think it made people read the 
> licenses of their software to see what they actually said instead of merely 
> taking some hacker's lay opinion as legal fact.

If such was a long-term benefit of the debate, then I'm glad to hear of
any silver lining, even a thin one.  But it certainly was not a
short-term benefit -- and bafflegab rationalising about legal
departments not in evidence doesn't give me much hope for the silver
lining, either.

Cheers,      "Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first
Rick Moen     woman she meets, and then teams up with three complete strangers
rick at       to kill again."  -- Rick Polito's That TV Guy column,
              describing the movie _The Wizard of Oz_
license-discuss archive is at

More information about the License-discuss mailing list