Commercial Distribution?

Chuck Swiger cswiger at
Tue Jan 6 10:05:57 PST 2004

Udo Schröter (Trionic Technologies) wrote:
[ ... ]
> I have a question regarding the creation of a branded commercial
> distribution based on FreeBSD.


> Here is the thing: my company wants to offer a standard corporate Unix
> desktop that is certified (guaranteed) to run our enterprise management
> software well. We looked into Linux but, for various reasons, a solution
> based on FreeBSD makes more sense for us. Basically we want to release a CD
> to our customers which installs our own customized FreeBSD environment,
> with our own brand name.

You're creating a "turnkey" system with a known and well-defined layout which 
includes all of the dependencies to run your proprietary software.  Look into
"man release", which discusses how to customize a build and create CD images.

You should also consider managing your software and it's dependencies as a 
port, even though you might never submit the port of your software.  On the 
other hand, some people like anti-virus vendors have their commercial products 
available as a port on a time-limited trial basis (security/vscan, , but 
that's up to you...

> If we want to do this, it is clear that we
> - must preserve the copyright notices
> - should place a description like "based on the FreeBSD Project" on the package

Yes.  Basicly, you should follow and include /COPYRIGHT and 
/usr/src/gnu/COPYING, depending on how much of the documentation and so forth 
you include or remove from your particular distribution.

> - redistribute GPLed source if modified

Section 3 of the GPL requires you to redistribute GPLed source (or offer to 
make such source available when asked), even if you ship a binary of that 
GPLed program which has not been modified.  However, if you configure your 
system so that section 3c applies, this becomes easier:

     c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer
     to distribute corresponding source code.  (This alternative is
     allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you
     received the program in object code or executable form with such
     an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

> - swap out references to freebsd support list in the distro so our
> customers don't spam the community

You should have your own top-level documentation which refers people to your 
support mechanisms, sure.

> - honor the redistribution rules of the ports

Yes, you need to pay attention to the licenses of all dependencies.

> - should make a donation to the project as profits allow

If you like; no doubt it would be appreciated.

> Are there any FreeBSD references that MUST be taken out / MUST be left in? 

What you see is what you get: the BSD license is very simple.

> Are there any other legal or technical issues? How do people on FreeBSD
> feel about commercial distributions generally? Are we going to get sued by
> SCO? (just kidding, sort of)

There are lots of technical details-- while there is a fair amount of 
documentation available for building a release, and many steps are 
deterministic, it really is an iterative process that stops based on 
subjective criteria (yours).

You're welcome to use BSD software in a commercial distribution.  Have fun. 
If you contribute useful things back, that's nice, but you don't even have to 
do that much.

IANAL: I'd worry more about falling in the shower and breaking my neck than I 
would worry about SCO.


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