OSI Calls for Major Revisions to Microsoft Permissive License

 
 
By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-09-20
 
 
 

OSI Calls for Major Revisions to Microsoft Permissive License


LAS VEGAS—The Microsoft Permissive License, one of two licenses the software maker submitted to the Open Source Initiative for approval as open-source licenses in August, is unlikely to be approved in its current form.

There have been two principle objections to the license from the open-source community, Michael Tiemann, the president of OSI, told eWEEK in an interview here at the annual Gartner Open Source Summit on Sept. 20.

The first objection is that the use of the word "permissive" in the license title implies an expectation that the license does not meet. The second complaint is that the MS-PL (Microsoft Permissive License) is incompatible with a large number of other open-source licenses, he said.

"Microsoft submitted their licenses to us and there was, of course, a certain amount of flak that went up about this. But we attempted to pre-empt some of that by saying this was not about militating for or against a given company, but rather looking objectively at the licenses and proactively at the Open Source Definition, and running the approval process in a fair way," he said.

Read more here about Microsofts submission of two licenses to the OSI.

But the two primary criticisms of the MS-PL are valid, Tiemann said.

"I, and others, would characterize the BSD license as a permissive license. The MS-PL, as drafted, does not have any of the properties of the combinability that BSD permits. So one of the complaints launched was that it should not be called a permissive license if it is not," he said.

"My understanding is that the Microsoft guys are considering whether it is more appropriate to change the legal language to make it more permissive," he said.

Microsoft could also change the name to something that was more faithful to the legal language, Tiemann said. "That is up to them and I think the community does not have a position one way or the other, except that they dont like the fact that something which is restrictive is called permissive," he said.

Click here to read more about Microsofts evolving open-source strategy.

The MS-PL is also particularly restrictive, and is "uniquely incompatible" with the maximum number of other open-source licenses, Tiemann said, noting that in its examination of license proliferation, the OSI had encouraged experimentation with license terms to encourage new ones to be written that were better than what currently existed.

"We certainly dont want to presume that we have already invented everything there is to be invented. However, the specific innovation of maximum incompatibility of the MS-PL is not what we were looking for, so I think what we have is a submission that has two fairly major strikes against it," Tiemann said.

It was also important to point out that the end result of OSI license approval is not a certification, but rather permission to use a trademark conferring the open-source brand, which means that the license name and its compatibility or utility is important, he said.

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"We are doing what we have done with all the others, which is following our promise to be fair, and so we have put these concerns to Microsoft, which has acknowledged them and is discussing what to do about them. The OSI is not in a huge rush to come out and just reject the license, especially when we know Microsoft is trying to correct these concerns," he said.

Asked specifically if the MS-PL would be rejected as submitted, Tiemann said he believed it would, based on the response to, and complaints about, it. "I believe it does not meet the criteria of the definition as it stands, but I am speaking for myself and not the board, as that is what the vote is for," he said.

A blogger was unable to tempt Microsoft to drink the OSI Kool-Aid. Read more here.

While Microsoft had not responded to requests for comment by the time this article was published, Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy for Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., has told eWEEK that Microsoft officials struggled in the past with the issue of working with an organization that it saw as deliberately and publicly trying to create sentiment against the company.

"Look at it from my perspective. If I told customers we were working with open source and the OSI and they went to opensource.org and saw all the anti-Microsoft messages, what would they think? It just didnt make any sense," he said.

Then, about six months ago, Hilf and his team decided the time was right for a number of reasons, including that there was a body of work already represented by the licenses. Then they started looking at what they needed to do submit the licenses to the OSI and what this would mean.

Microsoft then contacted the OSI board to say the company was considering submitting its licenses, and was assured that it would be treated objectively and fairly, exactly the same as any other license submission.

This all proved that the license approval process was working, and Microsoft could look to past discussions to see that it wasnt going to present OSI with anything that had not been presented to other people in similar circumstances, Tiemann said. "I am proud of how the OSI has managed this and I also know that everybody is watching and the process is going to be as transparent as possible."

Click here to read about how Microsoft slashed the number of its Shared Source licenses.

With regard to the status of the Microsoft Community License, the second license submitted to the OSI for approval, Tiemann said the licenses were examined separately and that the focus had been on the MS-PL until now.

"I can remember hearing some criticisms that community participation and use of the MS-CL has not been very strong, but that alone is not a reason to condemn a license that is trying to build community. But, as our focus, and that of the community, has been on the MS-PL, I really cant comment on the likelihood that the MCL will be approved," he said.

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