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.
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.
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.
No Grandfathering the New
Matusow told eWEEK that the new licenses, in an interesting decision, would only apply to future Shared Source projects and not to the existing ones, like WiX, FlexWiki and WTL, which will remain under, and be governed by, the conditions of their existing licenses.
“If it makes sense to do so in the future and after the community talks to us about it, we may decide to [retroactively apply the new licensing scheme]. But there is certainly no commitment to do that at this time,” Matusow said.
Microsoft will also announce on Wednesday that it is releasing and making available eight new Visual Studio 2005 starter kits under the Permissive License, so, Matusow said, “the door is wide open for people to take the code, modify it and turn it into a business if they choose to.”
Next month, Microsoft also plans to release the next version of the Windows CE Bluetooth Wrapper under the Permissive License. The first version will continue under its existing license.
“But none of these newly licensed technologies will use the platform restriction [or the Microsoft Limited Permissive License]. That license is essentially an option for Microsoft, as a commercial software provider, to reserve some rights,” Matusow said.
“At some point as a commercial provider, there may be something we wish to release that has more complex, competitive issues associated with it or different things that we may be concerned about and we then have as an option the ability to limit its use to the Windows platform,” he said.
The decision to create two separate “Limited” licenses, for the Community and Permissive Licenses, was made to avoid confusion and make it clear that projects licensed under them had a platform limitation and could only be used on the Windows platform, he said.
With regard to compatibility with the GNU GPL (General Public License), under which the Linux kernel is licensed, Matusow said that these reciprocal licenses from Microsoft were not compatible with other reciprocal licenses like the GPL.
But the licenses would be compatible with a large number of existing OSI-approved licenses, he 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.”
Microsoft also intends to restrict the number of licenses it allows in the future, to make the process more efficient internally, which would lower the transaction cost of getting projects out of the door and allow its product groups as well as customers and partners to focus on the technology rather than the license, Matusow said.