Microsoft Corp. will retain the right to include any commercially used modifications made by licensees of its Windows CE source code in future versions of that operating system, company officials said Wednesday night.
As first reported by eWEEK, Craig Mundie, chief technology officer for advanced strategies and policy at Microsoft, announced Wednesday evening that Microsoft will, for the first time, give OEMs, vendors and systems integrators full access to Windows CEs source code as well as the rights to modify and ship the code commercially in CE-based devices.
Known as the Windows CE Shared Source Premium Licensing Program or CEP, the initiative builds on the existing Windows CE Shared Source Licensing Program, which allows developers, researchers, students and other interested parties to use the code for any noncommercial purpose.
It also further expands Microsofts Shared Source Initiative, which was first reported by eWEEK in March 2001
While CEP licensees will have to pay Microsoft a royalty for every copy of the code that they ship, Mundie made it clear that any modifications they make to the Windows CE source code that are included in a shipping product will have to be sublicensed back to Microsoft, which will not be liable for any ongoing royalty payments for this technology, even if it is included in future Windows CE operating systems.
“As they make the decision [to make changes to the Windows CE source code that is included in a shipping product] and as these changes will be for mutual benefit, we will do the work to do the incorporation and downstream marketing and support, but there will be no recurring royalty that goes back to them,” Mundie said.
If customers do not want to license back to Microsoft the enhancements and changes they make to their products and work, “they can do this work on a developable basis and integrate it with Windows CE. They just cant do it as a modification to the code weve given them,” he said.
Any code modifications will be given back to Microsoft in one of two ways. The first class, where the licensees work was a generic enhancement not of a value-added nature, like performance-tuning work for a particular CPU, will be sublicensed for free back to Microsoft, which will then incorporate this into the product as “its in our mutual interest to do so,” Mundie said.
But in the case where the customer has done some value-added engineering around its product and has some intellectual property that is a “unique capability or differentiator,” Microsofts standard licensing arrangement provides that while the ownership of the value-added work remains with the developing company, that company has to sublicense a copy of this to Microsoft for incorporation into the Windows CE product.
“So we have, essentially, rights equivalent to ownership going forward as required for us to use it in the product going forward. But they would also retain their own rights to the software as well,” Mundie said. “Microsoft will also guarantee that we wont include this technology into our product for a minimum of six months from when they give it to us.
“This is then the basis of a differentiator in their then current work or next-generation product and they are assured of a time-to-market advantage,” he said.
Asked whether Microsoft would expand this type of licensing program to its desktop and server Windows products, Mundie said that the kind of adoption required in the diverse embedded system environment has not as yet emerged at the desktop or server class of implementation.
As such, Microsoft feels little pressure to provide a similar level of licensing or shared source capability for the full Windows or server product. “At this point we dont anticipate doing that, but I would never rule this out completely, but theres not a lot of market pressure for that at the moment,” Mundie said.
While some commentators have said that Microsofts recent “ASP .Net Starter Kit License” seems to be inching closer—at least in spirit—to the open-source GNU General Public License (GPL), Mundie made clear that its licenses remained strictly commercial and makes no claims “in any strange ways to the derivative work or the combination work that is produced in an embedded products.”
“If youve followed my remarks for the better part of the last two years, one of the greatest concerns we have had about some aspects of the free software movement is the facts of the GNU General Public License, particularly in embedded systems, which have unique properties as the operating system platform and the application that produces the end experience are shipped as an integrated unit,” he said.
“The GPL is, in our opinion, viewed as affecting not only the underlying platform but also the application that lives above it. Some companies are now beginning to be a bit more concerned about the loss of their intellectual property in downstream differentiation. In the case of our commercial licensing there is no such risk,” Mundie said.
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