MS: X11 License More Appropriate Than GNU GPL

The MIT X11 license chosen by Ximian Inc. for the class libraries produced by the Mono Project is an open-source license that Microsoft feels is far more appropriate for commercial use than the GNU General Public License.

The MIT X11 license chosen by Ximian Inc. for the class libraries produced by the Mono Project is an open-source license that Microsoft Corp. feels is far more appropriate for commercial use than the GNU General Public License, according to Microsoft officials.

The X11 license allows developers to modify, publish, distribute, sublicense and/or sell copies of the software. Developers can also incorporate the code into proprietary products without having to release the source. By contrast, the GPL mandates that any changes or alterations to code that is released to the public must be submitted to the public forum.

Last summer when Ximian launched the Mono Project—a community initiative to deliver a Unix- and Linux-compatible version of Microsofts .Net development platform—Ximian officials said Mono would be licensed under the GPL and Lesser GPL, but it has now changed its mind and decided to go with the X11 license for the class libraries.

The reason for the shift is that the GPL provision that companies have to publish changes to the source code "is a barrier to companies pursuing embedded software development or the provision of software to OEM partners," Ximians Chief Technology Officer Miguel de Icaza told eWEEK recently.

"We just felt it was more important for us to get the class libraries well-deployed, especially through companies like Intel and HP who are working with us on Mono. They feel it is important that the base code they contribute to the class libraries is open for anyone to use in any product," he said.

While reluctant to comment specifically on the decision by Ximian to use the X11 license for the Mono class libraries, Microsoft officials say that the GPL is not a good license for businesses as it fails to protect proprietary intellectual property.

"We have often said there are open-source licenses that we feel are more appropriate for commercial use, and X11 is one of these as its similar to the BSD license and lets those who want to share their source code do so while also giving those who want to develop and protect unique value the option to do so," said Doug Miller, director of competitive strategy in Microsofts Windows division. "It basically gives the developer an option, whereas the GPL really doesnt."

Ximians move has upset some open-source developers and users, who see it as a betrayal of the fundamental principles of the open-source software development model.

"It is insulting that Ximian expects open-source developers to give our time and effort without remuneration working on code only to have this then used by large companies like Intel and HP in their proprietary applications without giving anything back," said a Linux developer who requested anonymity.

But other developers and vendors have mixed feelings on the matter. Jamin Gray, a Unix programmer and developer for GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) in St Louis, said that "in an ideal world, everyone would want to share their work and ideas so that we could all work together to produce really outstanding software. In the world we live in, we need the GPL to protect that process. But that doesnt mean that all software needs to be licensed under the GPL," he said.

Any license that allows open collaboration is an improvement over the method of one company keeping all its source code locked in a vault. Companies needed to bring in revenue, and blindly releasing every bit of code was not the best way to do that, he said.

"They have to determine where they can benefit from moving code to an open community. Its refreshing to see that Intel, HP and others are beginning to see these benefits that Red Hat, Ximian and others have built their companies around," Gray said.

But another Linux developer, who declined to be named, felt that without the GPL, open source software, including Linux, would not be in the position it is in today. "The GPL provides assurances to me and other developers that the contributions we make to a project will not be stolen from us and used for someone elses sole gain," he said.

But he acknowledged that it made sense for the Mono Project to use the X11 license to secure support from Intel and others. "I do think this license change will discourage outside developers from contributing, but if the Mono Project has HP and Intel on their side, thats probably not an important issue for them … though I would be more likely to help out if the project was under the GPL," he said.

However, Paul Cornier, the executive vice president of engineering at Red Hat Inc., in Research Triangle Park, N.C., remains an avid supporter of the GPL license and its terms and conditions.

"The components that we are developing with our products across the board are licensed under the GPL. We still believe in that model of development and, without the GPL, simply do not think Linux would have come as far as it has today," he said.

But Peter Beckman, the vice president of engineering at Turbolinux Inc. in Santa Fe, N.M., pointed out that the push toward the GPL is a relatively new occurrence. "We tend to forget that in the 70s and 80s all open software grew up with licenses like the BSD and X11. It is only fairly recently that the push has been toward the GPL and giving source code modifications back to the community," he said.

The X11 and other licenses of the past have helped make things like TCP/IP an industry standard. The community developed these protocols and then gave them to the industry with no requirement that they gave any code modifications back, which resulted in their broad adoption and drove the industry forward, as would probably be the case with the class libraries for the Mono Project, he said.

Steve Solazzo, vice president for Linux at IBM in Somers, N.Y., agreed, saying Big Blue sees a role for both proprietary and open source software and licensing models. "We are strongly supporting Linux, the open-source movement and the GPL. We intend to continue to contribute to the further advancement of Linux and are more than happy to do that under the GPL," he said.

But IBM also had a multibillion-dollar proprietary software business around products like DB2 and Websphere and would continue to protect those intellectual assets. "We see no reason why there cant be peaceful co-existence between the two models," he said.