Microsoft, OSI Discuss Shared Source Licenses

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-10-21

Microsoft, OSI Discuss Shared Source Licenses

While Microsoft Corp. has publicly said it has no immediate plans to submit its newest Shared Source licenses to the Open Source Initiative for approval, the company met with the OSI board this week to discuss the matter.

At issue for Microsoft is the fact that the OSI has, at times, taken positions that could be viewed as anti-Microsoft.

"I think people should be able to say critical things about Microsoft, but that should be completely separate from being a neutral body for any and all the players in the industry to be able to make use of your standard," Jason Matusow, the director of Microsofts Shared Source program, told eWEEK in an interview from Amsterdam.

Read more here about Microsofts decision not to seek OSI approval in the short term.

In response to questions from eWEEK about Matusows comments, OSI board member Danese Cooper posted an item on her Weblog saying the OSI "believes that the Open Source Definition can and should be applied equally to any license with a bearing on source code.

"It is not uncommon for organizations wishing to submit a license to contact the board for a conversation ... After their announcement this week, Microsoft did meet with a quorum of the OSI Board and we discussed our commitment to equal application of the license approval process and gave them very preliminary feedback on the licenses as they appear on the MSDN Web site. So far, Microsofts licenses have not yet been submitted to License-Discuss for public discussion, but OSI is hopeful that they will be," she said.

Others in the free and open-source software industry also called on Microsoft to make the move. Tim OReilly, an open-source activist and founder and CEO of OReilly Media, urged Microsoft to go ahead and to go ahead and submit them for OSI approval and "become a full-fledged member of the open-source community. They are clearly getting closer and closer to a tipping point. Lets encourage them to go all the way," he said.

To read more about the move to reduce the number of open-source licenses, click here.

Asked why Microsoft had not just used an existing license like the BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution), Matusow said the company wanted to make sure that its new licenses contained terms it was comfortable with as the holder of the intellectual property, "just like the Mozilla Foundation wanted to write their own license and IBM did for their property and Lucent for their property," he said.

Ronald Mann, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin, said two of the new licenses—the Microsoft Permissive License, which is modeled on the existing BSD license, and the Microsoft Community License, based on the Mozilla Public License—appeared to satisfy the Open Source Definition administered by the OSI.

"One of the most interesting things about those licenses is that in technical respects, at least as compared to other open-source licenses, they take relatively moderate positions in protecting Microsofts patent portfolio, and in protecting Microsofts other software products from patents held by people using open-source software covered by these licenses," he said.

But Matusow acknowledged that combining these new Microsoft licenses with other open-source and commercial licenses was a complex issue, and one that would have to be looked at closely.

"This is a very complicated discussion and there is no uniform way to answer questions about this. If someone asks us about a specific license combination, we will look at it. It always depends on the project and what people are trying to do," he said.

Next Page: Reciprocal licenses and Microsoft.

Reciprocal Licenses and Microsoft

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.

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