A Hewlett-Packard executive has urged IBM and Sun Microsystems to abandon their own licenses and back the GNU GPL (General Public License).

The existence of too many types of open source licences could cause interoperability problems, said Martin Fink, the vice president and general manager of HP NonStop Enterprise Division, Open Source and Linux Organization.

Speaking at the LinuxWorld conference, Fink called on IBM to deprecate its IBM Public License in favor of the GPL. In return, he pledged to give an HP laptop loaded with Linux to IBM executives, including IBM Vice President Irving Wladawsky-Berger.

"I also want to ask [Sun Microsystems Chairman and CEO] Scott McNealyand [Sun President and COO] Jonathan Schwartz at Sun to deprecate the CDDL [Common Development and Distribution License] and re-license Solaris 10 under the GPL," Fink said, eliciting applause from the audience.

"Similarly, I'll give Jonathan and Scott each an HP laptop, but those I will pre-load with Windows," Fink said, generating laughter from the crowd.

While stressing the importance of open source licensing, Fink warned of the potential incompatibilities resulting from too many licence types. "What's been happening, however, is a proliferation of a number of licences that can call themselves open source," said Fink. "This was originally done to try to grow the open source movement."

Fink cited Intel's decision to deprecate its own open source licence and said that the Open Source Initiative has implemented rules to limit the ongoing proliferation of licences.

A Sun representative lashed out at HP.

"Instead of sniping from the outlands of participation in the open source community it'd be real nice to see HP try and take a run at dislodging Sun from the number one slot as contributor of code among commercial companies. If that were to happen, perhaps Mr. Fink would realize that there isn't one hammer for all nails and not one licence for all projects," said Sun representative Russ Castronovo.

A LinuxWorld attendee sided with HP's Fink on the issue of licensing.

"I would say I agree," said Michael Kohlmeier, Unix systems administrator at Eli Lilly. "It would be nice if [licensing] were more simplified."

Sun could get more people contributing code to Solaris by using the GPL, Kohlmeier said. But he acknowledged that the GPL has raised some concerns over a requirement that anything affected by it also be offered under the GPL. Kohlmeier said Sun would need to figure out a way to deal with this issue.

Fink also recognised that improvements are needed in the GPL. "It is not perfect, but it is a licence that has been around for almost 15 years in its current form," Fink said.

Also during his presentation, Fink said HP would work with universities to integrate capabilities for continuous availability, unlimited scalability, and data integrity into the Linux kernel. HP's NonStop technologies, inherited from Tandem, will be critical to the project.

"It will be a multi-year project," Fink said.

Fink also cited the use of Linux for such projects as the Ellis Island Web site, which provides information on immigrants arriving at the island in New York Harbor between 1892 and 1924.

"We've had nearly 7 billion hits on the site since we opened it," said Stephen Briganta, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, in a video shown during Fink's presentation.

Fink stressed that open source now means more than just Linux.

"It is really more than just about Linux now," he said. "It's about open source."