OSI Calls for Major Revisions to Microsoft Permissive License

Critics say the Microsoft Permissive License is restrictive and incompatible with too many other open-source licenses.

LAS VEGAS—The Microsoft Permissive License, one of two licenses the software maker submitted to the Open Source Initiative for approval as open-source licenses in August, is unlikely to be approved in its current form.

There have been two principle objections to the license from the open-source community, Michael Tiemann, the president of OSI, told eWEEK in an interview here at the annual Gartner Open Source Summit on Sept. 20.

The first objection is that the use of the word "permissive" in the license title implies an expectation that the license does not meet. The second complaint is that the MS-PL (Microsoft Permissive License) is incompatible with a large number of other open-source licenses, he said.

"Microsoft submitted their licenses to us and there was, of course, a certain amount of flak that went up about this. But we attempted to pre-empt some of that by saying this was not about militating for or against a given company, but rather looking objectively at the licenses and proactively at the Open Source Definition, and running the approval process in a fair way," he said.


Read more here about Microsofts submission of two licenses to the OSI.

But the two primary criticisms of the MS-PL are valid, Tiemann said.

"I, and others, would characterize the BSD license as a permissive license. The MS-PL, as drafted, does not have any of the properties of the combinability that BSD permits. So one of the complaints launched was that it should not be called a permissive license if it is not," he said.

"My understanding is that the Microsoft guys are considering whether it is more appropriate to change the legal language to make it more permissive," he said.

Microsoft could also change the name to something that was more faithful to the legal language, Tiemann said. "That is up to them and I think the community does not have a position one way or the other, except that they dont like the fact that something which is restrictive is called permissive," he said.


Click here to read more about Microsofts evolving open-source strategy.

The MS-PL is also particularly restrictive, and is "uniquely incompatible" with the maximum number of other open-source licenses, Tiemann said, noting that in its examination of license proliferation, the OSI had encouraged experimentation with license terms to encourage new ones to be written that were better than what currently existed.

"We certainly dont want to presume that we have already invented everything there is to be invented. However, the specific innovation of maximum incompatibility of the MS-PL is not what we were looking for, so I think what we have is a submission that has two fairly major strikes against it," Tiemann said.

It was also important to point out that the end result of OSI license approval is not a certification, but rather permission to use a trademark conferring the open-source brand, which means that the license name and its compatibility or utility is important, he said.

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