March 04, 2004 Edition

By Eric Bangeman (, Robert Renling (, Datschge (


Disputes and lawsuits

Did you miss us? This week we have a follow-up to the KDE 3.2 overview ( from a couple of weeks ago in the form of an interview with Jo Dillon, the former head of the Harmony Project. We've also got a run down of the license dispute over XFree86 4.4. There's also more lawsuit fun from the SCO, and the usual news bites and tidbits.


SCO sues AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler

After months of posturing and threats, the SCO Group has finally made true ( on its threats to sue "a major Linux user," dropping the lawsuit hammer on auto parts retailer AutoZone and German auto manufacturer DaimlerChrysler. The AutoZone lawsuit demands that the company stop using and copying SCO copyrighted materials as well as damages for alleged copyright infringement. DaimlerChrysler was targeted due to its nonresponse to a December letter sent to SCO Unix licensees requesting certification that Unix technology was not being used in Linux. The German auto maker is a big-time Linux user, using groups of interconnected Linux servers to run crash simulators among other things. SCO admits that they do not know for certain that DaimlerChrysler is using copyrighted code, but are targeting them due to their failure to respond.

SCO shows more of its cards in the AutoZone suit, where it lays out many of the Linux elements it claims infringes on their copyrights. The list includes virtual file system capabilities, user-level threads, message queues and shared memory, System V static shared libraries, and System V dynamic shared libraries among others. This is a small, albeit not-very-significant step on SCO's part towards the demands of Linux users that they identify the exact code that supposedly infringes on their copyrights. Naming allegedly-infringing technologies is a far cry from identifying source code. SCO CEO Darl McBride is comparing his company's situation to that of the RIAA with file-swapping:

"It wasn't until the RIAA launched a series of lawsuits against end users that the end users became fully educated," he said. The RIAA suits decreased file swapping, McBride said, adding: "We think that for the most part we're going to see some similar trends here," with companies starting to pay SCO for a license to use its intellectual property.

Or not. A whopping one company has purchased a license from SCO for Linux thus far. The likelihood of a run on SCO Linux licenses is not any greater than it was prior to filing the lawsuits. Will the suits have any other affect on Linux in the enterprise? The near-term result will be pressure on Linux companies to provide indemnification similar to that already offered by Novell, Red Hat, and HP. Will it slow down adoption of Linux? That is far more doubtful. It would take a couple of major victories in the courtroom on the part of SCO for that to happen. Given the SCO's track record so far, that's not so likely. SCO is likely getting to the point where they will need either settlements or outright legal victories to remain a viable concern. They announced a loss for the first quarter 16? per share vs. 6? a year ago on revenues of US$11.4 million, down from US$13.5 million a year ago.


XFree86 licensing issues

A few months ago, the leader of the XFree project, David Dawes, initiated a heated debate ( on the XFree mailing list. The subject was whether or not to modify the licensing model for the XFree implementation of the X11 server. Dawes chose the very same license that he uses for his company (

The XFree license FAQ states quite plainly that the new license isn't GPL compatible. However, it does mention that the X Client libraries are not affected by the new license, to allow GNOME, KDE, and other GPL projects to link to these libraries. It seems that they do realize the issues that are raised by this new license and have tried to minimize the damage caused. The results, however, are not encouraging as Redh Ht, Debian, Gentoo, OpenBSD, and Mandrake have rejected the new license and have reverted to previous versions of XFree.

The sticking point is this: if a distributor (i.e., Red Hat) distributes a program or driver that can be built against any of the XFree86-licensed (post license change) sources (i.e., the SDK), Red Hat violates the GPL. Similarly, if Red Hat chooses to include the Synapics touchpad driver which is licensed under the GPL and is loaded into the X server, Red Hat violates the GPL.

The legacy left behind by the XFree86 project is a good one a modular, network-transparent architecture before anything else. It is a shame that with the best intentions, the project is withering away in favor of other reference implementations such as the and's Kdrive, X servers.


Interview with Jo Dillon on Harmony

Qt is a cross-platform toolkit offered commercially by Trolltech. It serves primarily as a graphical toolkit, but has been extended with additional features like full internationalization support, database access, and OpenGL integration, among other features. The Qt/X11 version has always been freely-available for Unix-like systems for FOSS development, but the early licensing situation was very controversial. This led to the effort of developing a truly-free software Qt clone Harmony.

Online information on Harmony is a bit scarce, a discovery made while working on the KDE 3.2 overview ( Much of what was available was either incomplete or inaccurate. So the Linux.Ars crew tracked down Jo Dillon, former head of the Harmony project in order to shed some light on the project's history and its impact on Qt developer Trolltech.

Ars Technica: Please introduce yourself. How did you start with computers? How did you get in contact with Qt and KDE?

Jo Dillon: My father bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum when I was about 8 (this was a very popular Z80-based computer in the UK, with 48k RAM). I started programming in BASIC on that, then moved on to an Atari ST and Modula-2 and assembler.

Once I got to college I got myself a 486 running Linux, mainly in order to hack on the MUD I ran at the time, and got interested in GUI programming. I started off playing with GTK, but I'm a C++ person at heart and I soon got tired of all those casts. ;) KDE I got involved with initially simply by happening to prefer KDE 1.1 as a desktop environment to GNOME 1.0.

Ars: The Qt toolkit was very controversial back in the early days of KDE for not being free software. What was the primary incentive for you to start a project building a free software Qt clone from scratch?

Dillon: The controversy was what actually caused me to work on that; I had the rather utopian idea that if there was a free-software version of Qt there would be no more infighting between the GNOME and KDE camps, and perhaps that the GNOME fork would even cease and its developers move back to KDE. This is why the project was called Harmony (after spending some time in its early days as FreeQt). Of course, there is now a GPL version of Qt and this has not happened. I think I underestimated, among other things, the active hatred many C programmers seem to have for C++.

We also considered, early on, writing Harmony as a wrapper round GTK. I was very opposed to this since inevitably there would be some features Qt would support that GTK would not (and vice versa, of course), and because there were all sorts of possible problems involving differences in event handling, inheritance of widgets and so forth. Fortunately, a majority of Harmony developers agreed with me.

Ars: Please describe the project when it was active. How many people were working on it? How was the project progressing? How was communication with Qt-using communities, like KDE?

Dillon: Well, it varied, but we had something like ten or a dozen regular contributors, with maybe four or five people hacking out lots of code. The largest amount of code was written by Olivier Galibert, with myself coming second, but I managed what administration was involved with the project (for important decisions, like whether to GPL or LGPL Harmony, we held votes of people with code in CVS) and acted as its spokesperson.

As for KDE communications, we had a couple of regular KDE contributors contributing code to Harmony as well and speaking up for us on the KDE lists. KDE's point of view was basically "Hey, if you complete it it'll be nice and we won't oppose it; but we also won't compromise our use of the latest Qt features for Harmony's sake," which of course was sensible enough. Alan Cox was also on our mailing list for a while. :)

Ars: When Trolltech released Qt/X11 under the QPL, activity on the Harmony project quickly stopped. How exactly was this event received by the project's members? Do you think the existence of Harmony influenced Trolltech's decision to release Qt/X11 as free software? Did you have contact prior to this decision?

Dillon: The QPL release came out of the blue for us; we'd had very little contact with the Trolls beforehand. It was decided by most of the contributors within a very few days that our work was done; we weren't out to create a rival toolkit to Qt, and we didn't want to hurt Trolltech after all the work they'd put into Qt. We actually licensed the project as GPL rather than LGPL (with Richard Stallman's approval) specifically because we intended to enable a fully-free KDE, not because we wanted to wreck their commercial business.

A small group of people, none of whom had contributed code, spoke up at this point vehemently asking us to write an LGPL Qt, in order that people could write commercial applications for KDE for free. Most of us let them have our code under the LGPL, and a new CVS was set up, but as far as I know nothing new was ever added to that fork.

Ars: After you stopped working on Harmony you were hired by Trolltech to work on Qt. How did that come about? What were their reasons for hiring you, and your reasons for signing on?

Dillon: Well, I imagine Harmony was part of it there's no better way to learn an API than by cloning it. :) After ceasing work on Harmony I also worked on a port of Qt to MacOS 8, under an agreement between the company I worked for at the time and Trolltech. They invited me to Norway to show them what I'd done and work with the Trolls on it, and when I got there they offered me a job. Trolltech was (and is) a very cool company to work for, so I accepted.

Ars: What did you work on at Trolltech?

Dillon: Some of my Mac code might still be in the current Qt/Mac, but actually, once I got there, I mostly worked on Qt/Embedded, as that was seen as the bigger opportunity at the time. It was also more interesting for me; I like low-level programming, and I was writing framebuffer graphics code and graphics card device drivers (the equivalent of the lower levels of the X server). I also did some work on Qt's threads and the pure-Qt Java port that JVMs use to run on Qt/Embedded.

Ars: As Trolltech is a privately-owned commercial company, it is not nearly as transparent as many open-source projects. Thus Trolltech, albeit employing some developers known from open source projects, often seems mysterious and by times even ominous to outsiders. What is your experience from working at Trolltech? How were issues related to the FOSS communities handled?

Dillon: Well, I wasn't really party to the decisions to take Qt QPL or fully GPL. Trolltech mainly related to the FOSS projects through its employees involved in KDE, although I believe the company heads did talk with Richard Stallman directly about licensing changes, too. There's nothing ominous about Trolltech though; when working on Harmony I had an idea of the company as some huge threatening corporate Borg, but it's actually a rather small company consisting of extremely good programmers. It's not out to get anybody :) When I joined there were only something like a dozen people at the company, although it expanded a lot while I was there.

Ars: You stopped working for Trolltech two years ago. What do you think about the progress both Trolltech and KDE have made since then? Are there any areas where you see need for improvement?

Dillon: Well, sadly I've not had the time to do any work on KDE, so I can't really speak about any API changes that have been made there. I use KDE as my desktop (of course!) and it does seem a lot slicker and prettier than it used to be, while still being very easy to use. Trolltech seems to be weathering the economic downturn very well, and I must say I like the way they've released a non-commercial version of Qt/Windows with the new Qt book.

Ars: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. =)

Dillon: No problem. :)