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:
- The Microsoft Permissive Licence (Ms-PL) – a BSD-like licence;
- The Microsoft Community Licence (Ms-CL) – an MPL-like licence;
- The Microsoft Reference Licence (Ms-RL) – a proprietary “look but don’t touch” licence which restricts use and distribution to within your own company.
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.