Microsoft has submitted two of its Shared Source licenses to the Open Source Initiative for review and approval as open-source licenses: the Microsoft Permissive and Microsoft Community licenses.
The Redmond, Wash., software company did not submit the Microsoft Reference, Microsoft Limited Permissive or the Microsoft Limited Community licenses to the OSI for review.
The move comes more than two weeks after Bill Hilf, Microsofts general manager of platform strategy, used his keynote address at the annual OReilly Open Source Conference in Portland, Ore., to announce its licensing plans.
Asked in a recent interview if Microsoft had taken a comprehensive look at all of the OSI-approved licenses already in existence to determine if any of them could meet its needs, rather than creating these new ones, Hilf said the companys license attorneys had taken a deep look at all of those, including the Mozilla Public License and the Apache License, “but there were a couple of things in each that made them challenging for us to work with.”
Microsoft had also simplified the language of its Shared Source licenses to make them understandable to lay people. “That goal of making our licenses simple and understandable was not met by any of these licenses,” he said, acknowledging that some Microsoft projects probably could have been licensed under one of the existing OSI-approved licenses.
“Quite honestly, it is more important to us to have an instrument that we can move things out with and use to encourage the community to grow than it was to find parity with an existing OSI license,” he said.
Microsofts Shared Source licensing program was started five years ago and the licenses were rewritten a few years ago to be more simple, clear and concise.
This was around the same time company officials started thinking about other instruments it needed to participate with its own software in the open source community, including CodePlex, Hilf said.
“There is a linkage between all of these and this is all part of the strategy around having the right tools and new ways to license software and putting all of this together,” he said.
Last year, the Microsoft Community License was submitted to OSI for official approval as an open-source license. However, it wasnt Microsoft that submitted it, but rather John Cowan, a programmer and blogger in New York.
In his submission e-mail, Cowan wrote that “Microsoft is adding new licenses to its Shared Source Initiative, which I believe qualify as open-source licenses.”
Hilf was then contacted by the OSI board and asked whether he wanted them to proceed with evaluating the license.
“I told them I needed to talk to my team and others inside Microsoft first. But one of the issues that I had on behalf of the company was that it was hard for me to have our licenses become part of the OSI and which involved a certain amount of collaboration, because they were taking a very anti-Microsoft stance and trying to promote an anti-Microsoft sentiment in many cases,” he said.
Microsoft officials had to evaluate whether they were willing to work with an organization that it saw as deliberately and publicly trying to create sentiment against the company. That was a difficult decision, Hilf said, noting that he had a number of conversations with OSI board members at that time to explain the companys issue on a one-to-one basis.
“While the board members did not necessarily agree with me, they all listened and taught me a lot, which was very instructive. So while we didnt have a formal agreement, they undertook to tone down the rhetoric and to respect our decision not to submit the license for approval,” he said.
“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, and they started looking at what was needed to submit the licenses to the OSI and what this would mean.
Microsoft then contacted the OSI board to let them know it was considering submitting its licenses to them, and was assured that it would be treated objectively and fairly and that the license would be evaluated on its own value and merits, exactly the same as any other license submission.
But the issue of license proliferation has been a controversial one in the community, and companies like Sun Microsystems have been criticized for creating new “vanity” licenses rather than using existing OSI-approved ones.
With regard to criticisms that these licenses, if approved by the OSI, would be yet more “vanity” licenses, Hilf said that was not the case as there were nearly 600 software projects under its Shared Source licenses, and only 170 of those are Microsoft projects, including the Dynamic Language Runtime, the Aids Vaccine Research tool from Microsoft Research and a video game plug-in.
“I would challenge any other vendor to claim that they had that substantial a volume of work on the day that submitted their license,” he said.
But Rod Johnson, CEO of Interface21, in West Melbourne, Fla., which makes the open-source Spring Framework, said one of the problems with companies that work to create their own licenses is that they tend to migrate to their own licenses after finding a way to legitimize them.
Asked why Microsoft even wanted its licenses to be OSI-approved, given that there were already 700 projects under the licenses, Hilf said part of the rationale was to make a gesture of its motivation, sincerity and recognition that when working with open source, it was important to work with the OSI.
“It does mean something. The OSI means something and having a brand that says this is an open-source license is valid. So, for us to say that we are trying to proactively work an open source strategy with the community and not be part of that would not be genuine. This shows our commitment to working with, and participating in, an existing community in the way they already do,” he said.
The other motivation is that developers, and some customers, needed the licenses to be OSI-approved in order to be able to use them and the technologies licensed under them, he said.
Asked about the likelihood that Microsoft would create new licenses, Hilf said it would be very difficult to convince him of the need for that as the ones that currently exist fit its needs.
Hilf said Microsoft would try to use an OSI-approved license going forward if it met its needs, but added that Microsoft did try and encourage the use of its own licenses.