Microsoft Revamps Shared Source Initiative

Microsoft is streamlining its Shared Source Initiative, cutting seven of its 10 templates in an effort to simplify its licenses governing source code releases.

The software giant said the Microsoft Permissive License, Microsoft Community License, and Microsoft Reference License are short and easy to understand, effective and modern, efficient and ecosystem-friendly.

Steve Garone, vice president for applications and integration infrastructure software at Ideas International, told TechNewsWorld this move demonstrates that Microsoft is feeling pressure to answer a changing marketplace.

“Microsoft is responding not only to the open-source community, but also to other vendors that are beginning to adopt open-source-like models for developing and licensing software,” Garone said. “This is a very positive response and one that isn’t entirely unexpected.”

Sneak Peak at Shared Code Licenses

Microsoft said the Permissive License (Ms-PL) is the least restrictive of its source code licenses. It allows developers to view, modify, and redistribute the source code for either commercial or non-commercial purposes. Under the Ms-PL, developers may change the source code and share it with others. Developers can also charge a licensing fee for theirmodified work.

While the Ms-PL is most commonly used for developer tools, applications, and components, Microsoft said the Community License is best used for collaborative development projects.

This type of license is commonly referred to as a reciprocal source code license and carries specific requirements if developers choose to combine Ms-CL code with their own code. The Ms-CL allows for both non-commercial and commercial modification and redistribution of licensed software and carries a per-file reciprocal term.

Finally, the Microsoft Reference License (Ms-RL), as its name suggests, is a reference-only license that allows licensees to view source code in order to gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Microsoft technology. It does not allow for modification or redistribution. This license is used primarily for technologies such as development libraries.

Eco-System Friendly Licenses

Analysts said the concept of eco-friendly licensing that Microsoft is touting with its latest rendition of the Shared Source Initiative is not a foreign model. It merely illustrates a convergence between completely open models characteristic of traditional open-source communities and commercial vendors with restrictive licenses, according to Garone.

“JBoss is good example of alternative licensing models, which are built around a very specific community of developers and contributors that are more closely controlled by the vendor than original open-source models,” Garone said. “Given Microsoft’s history of controlling the technologies that it develops I am not surprised to see it take this ecosystem-friendly approach.”

Licensing With a Caveat

The software giant released the new licenses with one caveat: a strong recommendation that developers get appropriate legal advice regarding the choice of source code license.

Analysts said with so many software licensing variants in the marketplace, Microsoft wants to avoid consumer assumptions about what developers can and cannot do with the code.

“Microsoft’s licensing may look substantially different than licensing people typically use in the open-source community,” Garone said. “Microsoft is trying to eliminate confusion so that users don’t put themselves in the vulnerable position of violating its intellectual property rights.”

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