GPL cannot take advantage of Microsoft’s recent Open Specification Promise. We know that. We expected that.
Recently there is an interesting spin on the issue of GPL with Open Specification Promise. It started with Groklaw’s rant on the issue. Then Patrick Durusau decided to lecture PJ on it. Followed up by subnetmask255x4 comments to Durusau’s lecturing. To keep a long story short: Groklaw says Microsoft is up to its usual trick of discriminating against Free and Open Source Software, Durusau turn the table around and say that there is no discrimination since the problem GPL is self-inflicted, and subnetmask255x4 come out in defense of Groklaw by saying that the ability to pass rights to parties downstream (sublicensing) is important.
Obviously, with this post, I am (hoping to) insert myself in this argument. My view is all are concentrating on different parts of the full story. I therefore, surprise surprise, will try to give you the whole picture. More accurately, what I think is the whole picture.
Rule 0: By default, Microsoft need not open up anything. It can keep everything to itself and it owes nobody anything. If it share anything, it can choose how it wants to share. It is a private company. Its size is of course very much bigger than even the average box-standard big company. It is, nonetheless, a private company and the rules should not and cannot be changed simply because of it size. Therefore, until some authority decided that it breach some rules, or is demonstrably broken some ethical rules, we must treat it just like any other private company. Most importantly, Microsoft is under NO obligation to help anyone, especially its competitors.
Second point. GPL has self-imposed restriction on what it can or cannot use. It is narrower than most software entity. It is GPL’s choice so It cannot, by default, blame others for not providing things it cannot use. To Free Software Foundation credit, it lived without those things even when most of us could not (think pre-1995).
Final point, I understand subnetmask255x4 point on no sublicensing right on Microsoft’s standard Random and Non Discriminatory Licensing is strange. I can see it is almost equivalent to the standard sub-licensing clause in practice. However, I am sure it is not simply a linguistic exercise and some lawyer(s) thought long and hard before coming out with this “workaround” of standard sublicensing terms. Nonetheless, it is known that a lot of entities find this unacceptable. It torpedoed the senderID for example.
The important thing, at least to me, is how all these points mixed together. I had established my belief that Microsoft is not in anyway required to share anything. And if it does share anything, it can do it at its own term. GPL software choose to exclude itself from using a lot of other software for essentially “philosophical” reason, that is its choice and it cannot blame anyone for “discriminating” against it. However, I still have a problem with RAND from Microsoft. To me, the problem is the claim of “openness” or “Non-discriminatory”. It is not open when one’s licensing term is specifically designed to exclude the competition. Period. I have no doubt that Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise for example is there to exclude GPL because it is viewed as the competition or highly likely to be one. It is wrong to claim openness or “non-discriminatory” when the language is specifically written to exclude your competitors or potential competitors by exploiting their handicap. If software are humans, we would see anti-discriminatory laws kick in.