OSI Approves Microsoft License Submissions

A few moths ago, Microsoft submitted the Microsoft Permissive License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft Community License (Ms-CL) to the OSI for approval. Both have been approved, albeit with some modifications, including name changes for both. From the official announcement:

Acting on the advice of the License Approval Chair, the OSI Board today approved the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL). The decision to approve was informed by the overwhelming (though not unanimous) consensus from the open source community that these licenses satisfied the 10 criteria of the Open Source definition, and should therefore be approved.

The formal evaluation of these licenses began in August and the discussion of these licenses was vigourous and thorough. The community raised questions that Microsoft (and others) answered; they raised issues that, when germane to the licenses in question, Microsoft addressed. Microsoft came to the OSI and submitted their licenses according to the published policies and procedures that dozens of other parties have followed over the years. Microsoft didn’t ask for special treatment, and didn’t receive any. In spite of recent negative interactions between Microsoft and the open source community, the spirit of the dialog was constructive and we hope that carries forward to a constructive outcome as well.

Some in the community wanted these licenses to be rejected solely on the fact that it was Microsoft that submitted them. While it’s easy to be mistrusting of MSFT, that would have been being petty for the sake of being petty and not at all in the spirit of the Open Source community. If you truly believe in choice and these licenses meet the OSD (and the OSI thinks they do), then it’s reasonable that they should be legitimate options, regardless of who came up with them. Russ has more to say in this blog post:

Of course, Microsoft is not widely trusted in the Open Source world, and their motives have been called into question during the approval discussions. How can they be attacking Open Source projects on one hand, and seeking not only to use open source methods, but use of the OSI Approved Open Source trademark? Nobody knows for sure except for Microsoft. But if you are confident that Open Source is the best way to develop software (as we at the Open Source Initiative are), then you can see why Microsoft would both attack Open Source and seek to use it at the same time. It is both their salvation and their enemy.

It should be interesting to see where Microsoft goes from here. This isn’t carte blanche for them to start claiming Open Source after all, as only code licensed under one of these two licenses qualifies as Open Source.

Additional coverage:
Matt Asay
Matthew Aslett


Are You Right With Reality?

Michael Tiemann recently asked why it is that the global IT consumer continues to accept IT-related write-downs of $386B/year. They do so in a pattern that sees them repeating the mistakes they have made in the past (buying the same or “upgraded” applications and operating systems from the same proprietary sources). The post is a compelling one and I agree that Open Source will deliver radically different, radically better results than have been observed in the proprietary software world. What I really liked about the post, however, is the paragraph explaining the difference between Free Software and Open Source. It’s a question asked often and one that Michael really nails (as you’d expect):

One of the questions we received during the interview was the question “What’s the difference between the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative?” I chose to answer the question based on the constituencies of free software and open source. In my view, the fundamental difference between the free software movement and the open source movement is that free software is based on the ethics of software freedom, and open source is based on pragmatic implementation of observed results. I am a believer in fundamental human rights, including the right to live a healthy life free from oppression. But I am also heavily influenced by what science teaches, and when science teaches that we need to respect the environment or we need to pay attention to what we eat in order to live a healthy life, I tend to lean in the direction of protecting oceans and forests for the health of all rather than strip-mining and clear-cutting them for profit today. When I first read the GNU Manifesto I was compelled by the moral and ethical arguments that Stallman presented. But what made me willing to do something different, rather than merely take the side of the argument at cocktail parties, was that I saw the commercial benefits of such a model as well. These benefits have now been validated by academic and commercial case studies alike, many of which are referenced in the paper. Is it unethical to adopt an ethical position based on pragmatic reasons? I don’t think so. Is it pragmatic to adopt an ethical position without pragmatic evidence? I don’t think so. Thus, I identify with open source because it takes the position of pragmatic validation, even if it validates a position based on ethics. (I should also note that I know many capitalists who believe that it is unethical to ignore what the free market teaches. I consider that a fairly extreme position, but I include it because it shows that some capitalists are, at their core, deeply ethical people.)

FWIW, I usually find myself on the Open Source side of the fence. I tend to be pragmatic, so that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise.


OSI email group gets catty over Microsoft's Permissive License request

In what should come as no surprise, it looks like the discussion surrounding the Microsoft OSI submissions are getting a little cantankerous. From the article:

Another community member, Donovan Hawkins, doesn’t like the MS-PL’s requirement to keep its code separate from any other code licensed differently. “I can think of cases where I made MAJOR changes to some open-source function to use in a project,” he writes. “What sort of Frankenlicense would apply to that function if I wished to release my changes under GPL but the original was MPL or MSPL? Every other line of code under a different license?”

Things got really interesting when Chris DiBona, longtime OSI member, open source advocate, and open source programs manager for Google, Inc. chimed in:

I would like to ask what might be perceived as a diversion and maybe even a mean spirited one. Does this submission to the OSI mean that Microsoft will:

a) Stop using the market confusing term Shared Source
b) Not place these licenses and the other, clearly non-free , non-osd
licenses in the same place thus muddying the market further.
c) Continue its path of spreading misinformation about the nature of
open source software, especially that licensed under the GPL?
d) Stop threatening with patents and oem pricing manipulation schemes
to deter the use of open source software?

If not, why should the OSI approve of your efforts? That of a company who has called those who use the licenses that OSI purports to defend a communist or a cancer? Why should we see this seeking of approval as anything but yet another attack in the guise of friendliness?

That query got the attention of heretofore silent Bill Hilf, Microsoft’s general manager of platform strategy. “I’m unclear how some of your questions are related to our license submissions, which is what I believe this list and the submission process are designed to facilitate,” Hilf wrote. “You’re questioning things such as Microsoft’s marketing terms, press quotes, where we put licenses on our web site, and how we work with OEMs – none of which I could find at http://opensource.org/docs/osd. If you’d like to discuss this, I’d be happy to – and I have a number of questions for you about Google’s use of and intentions with open source software as well. But this is unrelated to the OSD compliance of a license, so I will do this off-list and preferably face to face or over the phone.”


Hilf went on to say that one of the reasons Microsoft coined the term “Shared Source” was “to acknowledge that these licenses had not been approved by the OSI, and some of our Shared Source licenses will not be submitted to the OSI.” But, Hilf wrote, “I’m open to make this more distinguishable on where/how we post the [licenses] on the Web site, if it’s important to the community.”

I’d guess this is going to get even more heated from here. The OSI may end up stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one. On the one side, it’s easy to argue that the entity submitting an entry should not even come into play and that a license should be approved or disapproved solely on its merit. On the other hand, some people reason that approving a license from an entity whom it’s perceived is out to harm Open Source is enabling them to do so, and therefor should not be done. That may be a slippery slope to walk on though. We certainly don’t want Open Source to become “whatever the OSI wants”, but at the same time we do need to trust the OSI to steward the Open Source label in the way they see fit. That is going to get interesting…

You can view the entire discussion here.


Microsoft to Submit Shared Source Licenses to OSI

From a Radar post:

In his keynote at OSCON, Microsoft General Manager of Platform Strategy Bill Hilf announced that Microsoft is submitting its shared source licenses to the Open Source Initiative. This is a huge, long-awaited move. It will be earthshaking for both Microsoft and for the open source community if the licenses are in fact certified as open source licenses. Microsoft has been releasing a lot of software as shared source (nearly 650 projects, according to Bill). If this is suddenly certified as true open source software, it will be a lot harder to draw a bright line between Microsoft and the open source community.

Bill also announced that Microsoft has created a new top level link at microsoft.com, microsoft.com/opensource to bring together in one place all Microsoft’s open source efforts. Bill sees this as the culmination of a long process of making open source a legitimate part of Microsoft’s strategy. Open source has survived Microsoft’s process of “software darwinism” and is becoming an ever more important part of its thinking.

To expand on the announcement, it’s the Microsoft Permissive License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft Community License (Ms-CL) that will be submitted, as the other Microsoft shared source licenses are fairly closed. I vaguely remember the FSF saying that these two licenses appeared to satisfy the four freedoms, so it’s at least a possibility that they will be approved by the OSI. So, what does this all mean? I’m still digesting it myself. It would seem that at least part of Microsoft is willing to accept the importance of Open Source in the future of software. It also means that at least parts are willing to join the conversation in a legitimate way. By going to the OSI for approval, Microsoft can no longer point at Open Source and say it’s cancer or will eat babies. I’m sure it took a lot of work internally to get this accomplished. Kudos for the effort. Will it matter? That remains to be seen. If they continue spreading patent FUD, then moves like this have far less impact than they otherwise would. It’s impossible to trust a company, even one that uses an OSI-approved license, when the other hand is doing many harmful things. It also remains to be seen how some developers will react if these get approved. Will either license get any usage outside of Redmond? If they don’t, then what’s the point of yet another Open Source license? More questions than answers in my mind right now, but this will be really interesting to watch play out. Stay tuned.


Will The Real Open Source CRM Please Stand Up?

Michael has addressed an issue that has been stewing for a while (and one I have covered on this blog quite a bit). From his post:

Dana Blankenhorn’s story How far can open source CRM get? has finally pushed me to respond to the many people who have asked “When is the OSI going to stand up to companies who are flagrantly abusing the term ‘open source’?” The answer is: starting today.

I am not going to start by flaming Dana. As President of the Open Source Initiative, I feel a certain amount of responsibility for stewardship of the open source brand, including both the promotion of the brand as well as the protection of the brand. The topic of “what is really open source and what is not?” has been simmering for quite some time. And until last year the question was trivial to answer, and the answer provided a trivial fix. But things have changed, and its time to regain our turf.

He continues:

So here’s what I propose: let’s all agree–vendors, press, analysts, and others who identify themselves as community members–to use the term ‘open source’ to refer to software licensed under an OSI-approved license. If no company can be successful by selling a CRM solution licensed under an OSI-approved license, then OSI (and the open source movement) should take the heat for promoting a model that is not sustainable in a free market economy. We can treat that case as a bug, and together we can work (with many eyes) to discern what it is about the existing open source definition or open source licenses made CRM a failure when so many other applications are flourishing. But just because a CEO thinks his company will be more successful by promoting proprietary software as open source doesn’t teach anything about the true value of open source. Hey–if people want to try something that’s not open source, great! But let them call it something else, as Microsoft has done with Shared Source. We should never put the customer in a position where they cannot trust the term open source to mean anything because some company and their investors would rather make a quick buck than an honest one, or because they believe more strongly in their own story than the story we’ve been creating together for the past twenty years. We are better than that. We have been successful over the past twenty years because we have been better than that. We have built a well-deserved reputation, and we shouldn’t allow others to trade the reputation we earned for a few pieces of silver.

Open Source has grown up. Now it is time for us to stand up. I believe that when we do, the vendors who ignore our norms will suddenly recognize that they really do need to make a choice: to label their software correctly and honestly, or to license it with an OSI-approved license that matches their open source label. And when they choose the latter, I’ll give them a shout out, as history shows.

Please join me, stand up, and make your voice heard–enough is enough.

I think most of us in the community agree that some companies are completely and utterly abusing the words Open Source. I’d guess some of it is intentional and some of it is not. In both cases though, it hurts us all. It creates confusion, mistrust and more. However, with the proliferation of companies that are absolutely not proprietary but also not quite OSD-level, I think it’s in the OSI’s best interest to come up with a taxonomy that properly addresses the issue. Without that, you’re telling some very well meaning companies that do a lot of good for the greater OSS community to go away. While I (and, of course many of you) believe strongly in Open Source it is still a bit of a leap of faith for many (and one need look no further than threads like this to see how much confusion and misunderstanding is still out there). Once a proper taxonomy is in place I think action should be both swift and comprehensive. Companies on the fringe can be made aware of the new taxonomy and where they fall. At that point the only violators left will be of the intentional and malicious sort, so they can be dealt with in a harsh way with little chance of collateral damage.

Open Source. Those two words mean so much. It’s important we protect them. It’s also important that protection comes in a way that’s congruent with the community spirit.