Reciprocal Licenses and Microsoft

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-10-21 Print this article Print

Mark Webbink, the deputy general counsel at Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., disagreed, saying, "for years, those who were and are afraid of the growing adoption of open source have tried to raise the specter of complexity, compatibility, etc., and in so doing they spread a great deal of misinformation about open-source licenses, including the GNU GPL (General Public License). "The licenses just arent that complex, especially compared to what is found in a typical proprietary license. At the same time, there has been recognition that the proliferation of open-source licenses that we have seen in the last few years carries a burden.
"We are in agreement with and support the efforts of the OSI to reduce the number of open-source licenses," he said, "but these efforts are not helped when proprietary vendors decide its time to participate in open source and then insist on advancing new licenses as opposed to using those already available."
Click here to read more about the challenges facing the next version of the GPL. With regard to compatibility with the GPL, under which the Linux kernel is licensed, Matusow said Microsofts reciprocal licenses are not compatible with other reciprocal licenses like the GPL. "Thats not because of a strategic decision on our part, but because that is the very nature of those licenses. You cannot combine GPL code with, say, Eclipse Public License code, and you cant combine Mozilla Public License code with Common Public License Code," he said. Webbink did not accept this argument. "We could call these non-GPL compatible licenses from Microsoft and Sun, with its CDDL, SFOSS licenses: Sort of Free and Open-Source Software licenses." But these two new licenses will be compatible with a large number of existing OSI-approved licenses, Matusow said, adding that "probably the majority of them will be compatible, but there are so many variations its impossible to make a blanket statement that they are all compatible with one another under all of these variations," he said. Matusow then cited the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 distribution, which he said has some 1,200 separate components under various licenses, of which more than 500 are under the GPL. "But there is also this broad array of MPL code, CPL code, and it is very unclear what the actual implications are of those combined elements, which is probably nothing unless someone tries to do something in court and it all has to be pulled apart," he said. Webbink disputed those assertions as well, saying that the new Microsoft licenses would most likely only be compatible with those licenses that were of the BSD or MIT type. At the same time, license compatibility is not as big an issue as most believe, he said. "Jason Matusow cites Red Hat Enterprise Linux as having many different licenses on the packages included in the distribution, but the kernel space licenses are the GPL and LGPL, and it is only in user space that you see the other licenses," he said. "The latest update of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 contains a little over 800 individual source packages. Of those, approximately half are licensed under the GPL or LGPL and another 25 to 30 percent under the BSD license. The remaining 150 to 200 are under a variety of licenses, but even a number of those share the same license. Again, it is not that big of a deal," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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