Microsofts Response

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-08-28 Print this article Print

Blogger submits license to OSI for approval but fails to force company's hand

A Microsoft shared Source license was submitted to the Open Source Initiative for official approval as an open-source license—but it wasnt Microsoft who submitted it.

"Someone submitted the Microsoft Community License, one of our Shared Source licenses, to the OSI without our knowledge or approval, but the OSI contacted us and asked if we wanted them to proceed with that," said Bill Hilf, Microsofts director for platform technology strategy, in Redmond, Wash. "We told them that we did not want to be reactive and needed time to think about it." Hilf said he could not remember who had submitted the license to the OSI, saying "it was some name I hadnt seen before."

However, a search of the OSIs license-submit archives reveals that the license was submitted by John Cowan, a programmer and blogger in New York who also volunteers for the Chester County InterLink. A nonprofit organization in Chester County, Pa., InterLink promotes e-literacy and community development using IT. It was founded in 1993 by former OSI President Eric Raymond and Jordan Seidel, now an honorary member of the InterLink board.

Raymonds personal Web site hosts the controversial "Halloween Documents," a series of confidential Microsoft memoranda on potential strategies related to open-source software and Linux, written in the late 1990s.

In his submission e-mail, Cowan said that "Microsoft is adding new licenses to its Shared Source Initiative, which I believe qualify as open-source licenses. The second of these is a simple permissive license called the Microsoft Community License (MS-CL) … I include the full text in plain form here for convenience in commenting.

"I believe that this license should be approved by OSI even though it is basically similar to more widely used weak-

reciprocal licenses, because it is better to encourage Microsoft in particular to release under an OSI-approved license than not—I think it very unlikely that they will go back and adopt some existing license," the e-mail stated.

In response, Brendan Scott, an open-source advocate and a proponent of customer copyright who set up Open Source Law, a "micro-boutique" legal practice based in Sydney, Australia, noted that "the process of approval is undermined unless the copyright holder of the license submits to the jurisdiction of the OSI. … There must be a clear chain of authority from the ultimate copyright holder."

OSIs Russ Nelson, an OSI board member, confirmed in an e-mail exchange that Cowan had submitted Microsofts license for approval. Asked if it was common for people to submit for OSI review licenses with which they have no affiliation or connection, he replied, "It happens."

The submission of the license and its subsequent discussion came several months after Microsoft said in October 2005 that it was slashing the number of licenses it used for its Shared Source Initiative to just three template, or core, licenses, while at the same time radically shortening and simplifying the text of those licenses.

At that time, many in the open-source community felt that at least one of the new licenses would meet the criteria for OSI approval as an open-source license. Then, in February 2006, open-source vendor SugarCRM announced plans to launch a distribution of its Sugar Suite 4.5 software under the Microsoft Community License.

But, while Microsoft does not have a problem with one of its licenses being OSI-approved, the challenge is that the OSI has previously positioned itself as "anti-Microsoft," Hilf said, pointing to the fact that even though the OSI has removed the controversial Halloween Documents from its Web site, a link on the site still points to Raymonds Web site, where the documents are available.

"The fact that people can still get to the Halloween Documents via the OSI Web site bothers us. They are old and dated, and a lot has changed since they were written," Hilf said. He said that having an OSI-approved license is something that appeals to vendors more than customers, adding that "not once has a customer ever told me they wanted or needed this."

But Diane Peters, the general counsel for the Open Source Development Labs and a member of OSIs License Proliferation Committee, in Beaverton, Ore., said, when asked about Microsofts feeling that the OSI was still biased against it, that the OSI Web site had been revamped fairly recently.

"Part of that ... was in response to the pressure to get rid of this legacy bad blood. We have also come quite far since the time of those documents. … Microsoft ... should embrace this and use it in a way that complements their business model," she said.

Whos the blogger busting Microsofts chops?

Heres a snapshot of the man who would force the companys hand on open-source licensing:

* Who John Cowan

* Where New York

* What Programmer and blogger who also volunteers for the Chester County InterLink, a nonprofit organization that promotes e-literacy and community development

* Why In his submission e-mail, Cowan said, "I believe that [one of Microsofts new Shared Source Initiative licenses] should be approved by OSI even though it is basically similar to more widely used weak-reciprocal licenses, because it is better to encourage Microsoft in particular to release under an OSI-approved license than not—I think it very unlikely that they will go back and adopt some existing license."

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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