Lycoris, Mandriva Fumble Source Code Release
There's a dispute breaking out over the availability of libre source code from the former Lycoris' Iris, a software delivery service similar to Linspire's "Click and Run". The dispute broke out into a war of words on OSNews.com recently, leaving users guessing as to what's really going on. When developers release programs under a libre software license, such as the GNU GPL, they are required to make the source code available from the outset, something that did not happen in the case of Iris. Since Mandriva now owns Lycoris' assets, including Iris, it remains to be seen who will take responsibility for making the sources available.
According to former employees and information available from numerous resources around the Internet, Lycoris was a growing company with a solid user base and even recognition in various marketing channels. Lycoris' Desktop/LX was sold on computer systems through stores like Wal-Mart and various devices, such as digital cameras were marketed as supporting Desktop/LX. However, the company still faced growth challenges, and sought to be acquired by Mandriva, formerly known as Mandrakesoft. Mandriva decided to integrate Lycoris' Desktop/LX with their own desktop to enhance its own desktop interface for consumers and expand its market share in the United States.
This past summer, Mandriva acquired several Lycoris assets, according to Mandriva's press release and an article posted on the TechNews website. Mandriva has already incorporated Desktop/LX code into Mandriva Linux 2006, according to materials promoting the current version on their website. Joseph Cheek, Lycoris' CEO now works for Mandriva, and Lycoris' core volunteer developers will continue their development through Mandriva. However, what appears to be a successful hand-off from one GNU/Linux vendor to its buyer is really a fumble that has left users without access to the source code to a popular software delivery service.
Rus Bayne, who headed up Lycoris' sales efforts, has accused Mr. Cheek of failing to make the sources of the GPL'ed Iris software available. Mr. Cheek has acknowledged the problem, and promised to make the source code available - as soon as his computer equipment arrives in France, where he is currently working for Mandriva. He indicated he expected that to take about three months. Yet, Cheek has also stated that releasing the source code is really Mandriva's call, and since Mandriva has already released the Mandriva Linux 2006 Discovery/LX edition, one wonders why the need for Mr. Cheek or Mandriva to wait three months to make the sources available. After all, they must have had some source code. It's no wonder there's so much confusion among consumers.
Mr. Bayne insists that Lycoris never released the source code for Iris in 2003, and also infringed on Adobe's copyrights, related to fonts included with Acrobat Reader in 2004. This was apparently corrected. Mr. Bayne claims that somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-500 packages may have been withheld in violation of the GPL. He has taken his concerns to the Free Software Foundation, and is compiling a list of packages he believes are being withheld in violation of the GNU GPL. With Mr. Cheek in another country, the discussion on OSNews.com left many concerned about whether the source code for Lycoris' GPL'ed packages would be made available at all.
Mr. Cheek responded, saying that the Desktop/LX code has always been available, and that "desktop/lx improvements have been integrated, but not specific code", referring to Mandriva's Discovery/LX edition. He also acknowledged that the computers he left behind, in Washington, contain the GPL source code for Iris. The fact that this code is not available raises the specter of GPL violations, as Mr. Cheek and Mandriva could have arranged to have the sources available prior to Mr. Cheek's departure for France. However, there may not be much that can be done until the computers catch up with Mr. Cheek in France. Mr. Cheek has stated publicly that he would make the Iris code available as soon as his computers catch up with him.
Mandriva's CEO, Francois Bancilhon, in response to questions about the controversy, said that Mandriva would be making the Lycoris system more open than it was under Mr. Cheek's stewardship. According to Mr. Bancilhon, "at Mandriva we have simple rules for compliance to open source and GPL (all the code we develop and distribute is distributed under the GPL licence, and of course the source is made available). It seems that Lycoris was operating under a slightly different mode, maybe less open, but that was their responsibility. So now that Lycoris is part of Mandriva, we will apply the same principle to the Lycoris code. This means a more open system, so everyone should be happy. Now all this takes a little time to realize, understand, decide and implement." Mr. Bancilhon also said that, since Mr. Cheek works for Mandriva, they are both responsible for making the source code available.
That matches Mr. Cheek's statement about the Desktop/LX code being incorporated into Mandriva's Discovery/LX. However, many will not be satisfied until the Iris code is available. While some have suggested Mr. Bayne of wanting to use the code himself, the GPL mandates that the source be made available to whomever might ask for it. Whether the Free Software Foundation will pursue the issue, and what they will be able to accomplish in the short term, remains to be seen. However, a failure on Cheek's part to make the Iris code available could leave his new employer, Mandriva, with a black eye. So for now, the community will have to watch and wait.
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