Respecting our roots

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Bruno Cornec's picture

Since the end of 2008, there has been a hot debate on the relative freedom of the afio software.  Everything started by the fact I wanted to incorporate MondoRescue into Fedora. In order to achieve that, I was in need of 2 other additional packages, among which was afio.

Afio was created back in 1985, way before our notion of Open Source existed,  even before the first GPL was written (dating from 1989). At that time, it was frequent to publish a piece of code people wanted to share on Usenet, in the comp.sources.unix. And it was also frequent to publish it with a note saying that people were allowed to share as long as no profit was made with it (same idea in fac t as the GPL to not render a software proprietary aferits distribution).

Of course, after enormous trials such as the SCO one, everybody is scared today and may react in an over-protective way to avoid any potential problem. However, we should always consider that life is dangerous, but so interesting ;-) And so is FLOSS !

The conclusion of the Fedora guys is to not take any risk. They don't want to accept the software. However, some projects accepted it in the past such as Debian. They even considered back in  1999 that the license of afio, even if cumbersome, was "acceptable" ( Now their opinion may change. We'll see.

The best advocacy for afio has been made by the current maintainer Koen Holtman as can be read at And honestly I'm convinced by his feedback, especially by the fact that it's difficult to judge today around the freedom of a piece of software for which a license has been written 24 years ago ! But we should consider the original intention of the author in his context and not throw away part of our past, just because we don't like it today. Wihtout such pieces of software, we wouldn't be where we are today.

So of course, when I write today a software, I chose the GPL for them. If it had existed then, maybe Mark Brukhartz would have chosen it as well. But he couldn't. Is it a good reason to ignore the will of the author ? I think we should be proud to remind ourselves that sharing software was not invented with GPL v2, but that some pionners of the Internet already chose that approach years before.

And I'd like to encourage all the firms that think they have IP in afio to just officially announce that they release their IP under an appropriate license as per today's standard. Afio deserves it.

As for myself, I feel in agreement with Koen's perception, his will to help old but still useful software to stay around as a gift, and I consider it as free for the MondoRescue project that is currently using it and still will.