CyberTech Rambler

October 24, 2005

MS introduces five new Share Source Licenses

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:38 pm

Website : http://www.microsoft.com/resources/sharedsource/licensingbasics/sharedsourcelicenses.mspx

Well, not really, more like 4 new licenses and a rename for an old one. The new name for Share Source is MS Reference Library. Of the four new ones, there are actually two licenses and both of them have a slightly modified license each.

Like FSFE, I did not do a full analysis of the license, but rather just skim through it. The devil is always in the detail, and one cannot actually know what the detail is until one have to study it because one wants to use it. MS is notorious for having a lot of legalese in their licenses. However, this time, the licenses are quite short and rather easy to read. It is certainly easier to read than the GPL or LGPL or the Eclipse Public License. Hence, on first glance, well done to Microsoft.

The first new license, MS Permissive License (MS-PL) is very BSD-like. Cannot find any problematic clause in it. The second one, MS Community License (MS-CL), is GPL-like because of the requirement to share the file which contains call to the source code licensed under this license. To paraphrase Bill Gates, this is smaller version of the “Viral” GPL clause containing provision of “compulsory licensing”. I sense a problem here. I cannot really figure out what constitute “the file”. Furthermore, I cannot understand what is the purpose of asking the developer to open up that file. Perhaps it is to write interface to the proprietary portion of the developer’s code, but then it would just be necessary to use the LGPL clause of permitting reverse-engineering to discover the interface (and no more). The other two licenses is like these two licenses, but restricts the use of the programs to the Windows Platform only.

If I were to speculate how MS will license their source code under these licenses. Their most valuable source code, like those for Windows and MS Office will be available under the MS Reference Library, the second most valuable under the two Windows-only licenses, and the least valuables one the Permissive License and the Community License. My hunch is that among the two, Community License will be used for the slightly more valuable source code than the Permissive License. This is very subjective assessment as sometimes, the viral condition of Community License may means that the source code is not used to its full potential as it would under the Permissive License.

On the wider picture, we might be seeing a change in direction on Open Source in Microsoft. Microsoft had been hiring a lot of open-source people lately and I guess this is the results of their work.

FSFE says that this is a good sign, but mourn that MS is introducing new licenses into a already crowded Open Source License space. They would had preferred that MS uses GPL or LGPL (what’s new?). Well, first and foremost, Microsoft have the rights to introduce new licenses and most importantly, the rights to determine how they want to share their source code. Moreover, if the position of their American counterpart (FSF) is a guide, FSFE will have problems with all licenses, including Open Source License, which are not compatible with GPL or LGPL. Please do not get me wrong as I think their aim and aspiration is a good one and I support their cause, but the world is not perfect and we live in a real world. It is true that open source landscape is more challenging than commercial or properitory licenses where the licensees know that they have to pay either a lum sum to use the licensed software, or a per-user/per-site license charge for the licensees and the customers of licensee. The reasons for this complicated Open Source Landscape is effectively the results of dabbling by commercial interests. Every companies have to struggle to reconcile their commercial interest with that of open source and they all want different levels of restriction on their source code, and a desire to tailor-build their open source license rather than rely on a small set of reference licenses. Looking at the bigger picture, the proliferation issue is just a sidetrack. It may be difficult to navigate the landscape, but everyone have to manage licensing issues, even if one goes on the purely proprietory license route. To have someone open up their source code, even if it is for a very limitted scope, is a step forward as it may save somebody time to reinvent the wheel.

Defining the license(s) is a good first step. As FSFE point out, having licenses available is not sufficient, since it is access to source code that counts. What I would like to see now is not Microsoft rejigging existing share source code from Microsoft, e.g., (Windows CE) to align it with the new licenses without adding any more “openness”, but that Microsoft made available more source code under these licensing scheme.

In the end, I will judge them by looking at the how they license their source code and the value of their contributions to open source. My ultimate criteria how much they contribute to the open source community and humanity. I will definitely view very dimly any company that uses open source as a tool to foster a set of complementary technology to their technologies while keeping their technology firmly proprietary. This to me is not open source but rather a market ploy and a cunning ruse to promote and enhance the value of the proprietary technology.

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