The Motif License

A couple of weeks ago, the Open Group changed the license of Motif, inviting free software developers to use it. However, the new Motif license does not fit either the definition of free software, or the looser definition of open source software.

Their announcement says they have released Motif to “the open source community,” but this is true only in an unnatural interpretation of the words. They have not made Motif available within the free software community; instead, they have invited the people in the free software community to leave the community by using Motif.

I've written to the Open Group about this, asking them to change the license. We can hope they will, but we can't assume it. In the present circumstances, we have to treat Motif the same way we treated it before: not available for us. Motif still cannot be part of a free operating system, and combining or linking someone else's GPL-covered code with Motif is still a violation of the GPL except in very special circumstances.

Fortunately there is a free software alternative to Motif, called LessTif. Most programs that were written for Motif can use LessTif with no changes. Please support the free software community by using LessTif rather than Motif. Some finishing work still needs to be done on LessTif; to volunteer, contact <>.

Here are some of the problems of the Motif license:

  • It claims that you accept the license merely by “using” Motif. Only a shrink-wrap license or something similar can do that, and shrink-wrap licenses are a bad thing.
  • The license is restricted to use on certain operating systems, those which fit a category they call “open source.” Both the free software movement and the open source camp consider use restrictions unacceptable.
  • Their definition of the term “open source” is very different from the one used by the open source camp, thus causing confusion.

In the free software movement, we disagree with the philosophy and values of open source. (For more explanation, see open-source-misses-the-point.html.) But even though we do not support open source or advocate what it stands for, we think people should not misrepresent what it stands for. The facts of the situation are complex enough; confusing the issue is not welcome.

Later Note

In 2012, Motif was released under the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2.1.