Ruby, the popular general-purpose object-oriented programming language, has ditched the GNU General Public Licence in favour of the more permissive BSD licence in its latest point release.
Ruby 1.9.3-p0, the first release in the new stable series, was released last night, but in addition to several new features and improvements - including better support for library loading, and locking in multi-threaded programs and support for Unicode 6.0 - comes with a change in licensing.
Previously, Ruby has been made available under a dual-licence scheme which allowed users to choose between a dedicated Ruby licence or the GNU General Public Licence v2.
The new release, however, ditches the GPLv2 in favour of a two-clause BSD licence, while keeping the traditional dedicated Ruby licence intact.
GPL, one of the most common free software licences around, has been under increasing attack over the last decade. Microsoft head Steve Ballmer notoriously described it as a 'cancer' in 2001, while senior VP Craig Mundie accused it of being 'viral' in nature.
More recently, open source advocates the FreeBSD project have accused the GPL of being "very favourable to large companies that want to undercut software companies [and is] well suited for use as a marketing weapon, potentially reducing overall economic benefit and contributing to monopolistic behaviour."
The most recent version of the GNU General Public Licence, GPLv3, adds rules on hardware restrictions on software modification and a clause that removes any legal value in Digital Restrictions Management, or DRM, technology, allowing end-users to bypass or remove DRM without falling foul of laws like the DMCA.
A two-clause BSD licence, by contrast, has been confirmed as both GPL-compliant by the Free Software Foundation and as an official open source licence by the Open Source Initiative, but is far more permissive: unlike the GPL, it doesn't seek to enforce a 'sharealike' requirement on its licensees.
Thus far, the Ruby maintainers have been remarkably quiet on what prompted to decision to leap from GPLv2 to BSD, but with such a high-profile project making the move it's unlikely that it will be the last to leave the GPL behind.
Tags: free software, gpl, bsd, open source, ruby, programming language