The new covenant covering Novell’s Moonlight is up, and unfortunately it looks like people who weren’t happy before still won’t be happy. In a lot of ways, this is the classic caught between two stools situation: one side wants to give up as little as possible, the other wants something as unambiguous as possible.

So, what are the problems? Jason from “MonoNoNo” gave his thoughts here. While I disagree with much of his analysis – e.g., the Media Pack issue is essentially irrelevant for free software users, and the GPLv3-hate is also basically not a problem – many of the points raised are valid. I don’t think they make Moonlight non-free itself, but they prevent people re-using the code, which is not ideal.

I also raised the issue on fedora-devel-list, and received a somewhat limited reply from Tom Callaway. The commentary on what lawyers are willing (or not) to do is relatively interesting, although I don’t think is entirely apropos. It would be simple for someone to say “these permissions are the minimum that we need” regardless of any specific license, which I haven’t seen anyone do with respect to patents. It’s not a huge step to go beyond that and check off whether each permission has been properly granted.

That all said, I think there are a few key issues here:

  1. Versioning. I haven’t seen anyone else discuss this, but the Covenant is issued for versions of Moonlight which do not yet exist as far as I can tell. So in one sense, all of this discussion is basically moot.
  2. End users vs. distributors. I don’t understand why the Covenant attempts to differentiate these cases, but it does seem to put people such as Red Hat in a situation where they are specifically not covered. Why? This just seems mad.
  3. End dates are not far in the future. This isn’t going to instil confidence in people relying on these agreements.

Unless those issues are sorted out, it seems pretty clear to me that Moonlight is not going to get into Fedora. Of course, there are plenty of people who do not want it in either way, so the effort that might go into fixing these problems is likely to be less than minimal.

It’s sad for a number of reasons: first, because it would be something that I think is easy to fix. Microsoft, if they are serious about Silverlight, could issue a covenant which covers Moonlight properly, without the silly restrictions and time limits, and prove to people that they want it to succeed so much they are willing to give up control of who can implement it.

Second, because Silverlight is technically extremely appealing. Free software players for Flash are not great, and the development tools are terrible. HTML5/SVG/JS etc. is in a similar position; the “players” (browsers) are much better quality (although the user experience is variable) but the development tools are non-existent. And Moonlight is not the only Silverlight implementation on the way: apparently Intel are also working on a completely different implementation.

I doubt anyone from Microsoft reads this blog, but they are the only ones who could fix this. I’m surprised they don’t see the value in doing it.