Microsoft Announces New Shared Source Licences

I’m sitting in a Microsoft keynote at EuroOSCON, and Jason Matusow of Microsoft has just announced that, in the name of licensing simplicity, in future any code Microsoft releases under the Shared Source program will be under one of three licences:

At least, that’s what he said. Reading the small print, it turns out that there are, in fact, five licences in the new set. The other two are the Ms-LPL and the Ms-LCL, where the L stands for “Limited” – in this case, limited to the Microsoft Windows platform. The site says, rather weaselly, that “The platform restriction is a measure that Microsoft, as a commercial software provider, may choose for a particular source code release in order to enable positive interaction with Windows-based developers.” Hmm.

Amusingly, Nat Torkington (conference chairman), when summing up the talk just afterwards, said “Microsoft has just announced a BSD-like licence and a GPL-like licence”. Now that would have been even bigger news! But his slip does point out a noticeable gap in this licence range. The lack of a fully copyleft option means that Microsoft’s opposition to share-everything licences has not changed.

One very interesting feature of the licences, which differentiates e.g. the Ms-PL from the BSD licence, is that they have each got a termination-for-patent-litigation clause. Among other things, this makes the Ms-PL incompatible with the GPL (or, at least, GPL version 2).

If it turns out that the Ms-PL and the Ms-CL are free software/open source licences (and, on a quick reading, it seems to me that they are), then this is a great thing – because more free software is always a great thing. But the rest of Jason’s talk made it clear that Microsoft still doesn’t see customer value in software freedom, and the definite non-freeness of the “Windows only” versions of each opens up great possibilities of confusion. GPL -> free. LGPL -> still free. Ms-PL -> free. Ms-LPL – definitely not free.

So while I welcome moves by anyone to make their code free, Shared Source is still not Open Source or Free Software. Let’s not allow the boundaries to be blurred – Shared Source is not a brand you can trust for software freedom; we mustn’t let it become an “embrace and extend” of Open Source.

Technorati tags (experimental): , ,

7 thoughts on “Microsoft Announces New Shared Source Licences

  1. By MPL-alike, do you mean it might be MPL-compatible? That’s pretty awesome news.

    At any rate, past history of companies creating their own licenses tends towards them making them more Free over time, no?

    – Chris

  2. What this (and the “open”XML formats) might be about is making reverse engineering moot. You can’t reverse engineer a file format (or source code) when it’s made freely available – and thus you’re not protected under law and fall into the licensing model which prevents you using the fileformat/code through its restrictions. “Open” Source MS Software might be 10x worse than the closed stuff.

  3. That termination-for-patent-litigation clause sounds like a good idea actually. I hope they’re considering one for the GPL3. These days, such things are needed a lot more…

  4. Kroc Camen: and what reason is there for believing that, aside from paranoid conspiracy theories?

    All this “Microsoft are going to kill Free software by one day suing everyone in the world for patent infringement at once” talk is getting a bit tiring.

    – Chris

  5. @chris

    They don’t need to. If you can’t reverse engineer a format/program because Microsoft provide the source (but with a non-compatible GPL license), you can’t then use the file format AT ALL in GPL software. Nobody need sue anybody.

  6. Why didn’t they just use the MPL and BSD licenses? Are there important differences in the licenses, or did they just do it so they could have the word ‘Microsoft’ in it. We definitly don’t need more licences to add to the many already out there.

    And is the Ms-LPL even legal!

  7. If you can’t reverse engineer a format/program because Microsoft provide the source (but with a non-compatible GPL license), you can’t then use the file format AT ALL in GPL software.

    What on Earth…? In your capacity as a lawyer, what exactly would be illegal here? It isn’t copyright infringement. It isn’t trade secret infringement. You aren’t arguing that it’s patent infringement. What law is being broken by following published specs?

    – Chris