Microsoft Slashes Shared Source Licenses

The software company offers developers a simpler, more efficient licensing scheme for its Shared Source program, now consolidated from 10 licenses to three.

Microsoft Corp. is slashing the number of licenses it will use for its Shared Source Initiative from now on, while at the same time radically shortening and simplifying the text of those licenses.

The move, which will be announced on Wednesday morning at Oscon, the OReilly European Open Source Convention in Amsterdam, will see Microsoft cutting back the more than 10 Shared Source licenses that currently exist to only three template, or core, licenses.

It will also have two derivative "Limited" variations of those licenses for use on the Windows platform alone. Full documentation, including the full text of the new licenses, can be found here.

Microsoft will also announce that it is releasing, and making available under these new licenses, eight new Visual Studio 2005 starter kits.

Jason Matusow, director of Microsofts Shared Source program, confirmed the new licensing moves to eWEEK in an interview late Tuesday afternoon.

The first new license, the Ms-PL (Microsoft Permissive License), follows the lines of the open-source BSD license.

"This is the least restrictive of the Microsoft source code licenses," Matusow said.

"It allows you to view, modify and redistribute the source code for either commercial or non-commercial purposes. Under the Ms-PL, you may change the source code and share it with others. You may also charge a licensing fee for your modified work if you wish. This license will be most commonly used for developer tools, applications and components," he said.

The second license, the Ms-CL (Microsoft Community License), is based on the popular open-source Mozilla Public License. It will be used for collaborative development projects.

"This type of license is commonly referred to as a reciprocal source code license and carries specific requirements if you choose to combine Ms-CL code with your own code. The Ms-CL allows for both non-commercial and commercial modification and redistribution of licensed software and carries a per-file reciprocal term," Matusow said.

This license would also govern future projects along the same lines as the current WiX (Windows Installer XML), FlexWiki and WTL (Windows Template Library) Shared Source projects.

The third license, the Ms-RL (Microsoft Reference License), has no open-source alternative and is a reference-only license that allows licensees to view source code in order to gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of Microsoft technology.

But it does not allow for modification or redistribution, and will be used primarily for technologies such as development libraries, Matusow said.

These licensing moves are not only designed to show the Redmond, Wash., software giants commitment to addressing the issue of license proliferation, which is getting a lot of attention in the open-source community, but also to simplify the licenses available to its customers and give them licensing predictability going forward.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about the issues surrounding complaints of open-source license overdose.

But Microsoft has no plans to apply to have these licenses formally approved as open-source licenses by the OSI (Open Source Initiative) at this time, he said.

"At the heart of the move is the goal of simplifying the licensing of Shared Source code, making the licenses short and easy to understand. The existing licenses were getting longer all the time as more people touched different programs throughout the company and we were seeing a proliferation of licenses," Matusow said.

Paring the number of these licenses back also meant that Shared Source licensing would become predictable and that people would know exactly what the terms that applied to each were, he said.

Microsoft also wanted to make sure that the licenses were modern, Matusow said, which meant that they had to be easy to understand for a lay person as well as for an attorney, so they could be compared to copyright law and easily understood.

"We did not need to have a license contract that was hundreds of pages long to achieve that. We also looked very closely at how both individual developers and our partners would potentially be using the code and how they would work with it," he said.

Next Page: No grandfathering the new licenses.