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Free Software's Anti-Steve

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We now know what happens when big hairy software coders work with big hairy lawyers. The result, understandably, is anything but slick. Meet GPLv3, the free software movement's latest legal tool to keep their code from being fenced in.

At least its author, Richard Stallman, has pluck. The coder and richly bearded patron saint of free software is launching this wad of legal jargon Friday — with practically every geek on the planet fixated on the retail debut of the iPhone — looking to steal a bit of Apple Chief Steve Jobs' hype.

The angle: iPhone users won't be free to mess around with all the $500 phone's code, Stallman's Free Software Foundation asserts, while their latest bit of legal mumbo jumbo will give users the ability to tinker with their gadgets freely. Hey, if the circus is in town, you might as well catch a ride in the clown car.

But while it may sound arcane, the latest version of the General Public License (GPL) is important. And not just because it complicates the efforts of Microsoft to get its hooks into so-called open-source software, as some geeks call it.

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