Wine Project Enlists Legal Backing

The Wine Project has enlisted the help of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), a firm that specializes in free and open source software legal issues. The SFLC, which engaged the Wine Project to be its client, will provide legal counsel concerning software licenses, patents and copyrights.

Proponents say that strong legal principals will build confidence in open source software and further the adoption of Wine.

Wine is a compatibility layer for running Windows programs in non-Windows environments, which makes it possible to run Windows applications, such as Microsoft Office on Linux desktops. The project has a roster of over 600 programmers who have contributed over 1.2 million lines of code since the project's inception in 1993.

"The SFLC's announcement should come as welcome news to companies using, or considering using, Wine in commercial applications. Much like similar programs such as Sun's Wabi and the popular VPIX, Wine enables users of other operating systems to run Microsoft Applications without using Microsoft's proprietary OS. Instead, companies are able to run free or low cost open-source operating systems, while still utilizing other Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Word or Office," said Allonn Levy, an attorney at San Jose-based Hopkins & Carley.

Wine fell under the media spotlight after programmers uncovered a special function in Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation software dedicated to detecting Wine. The discovery of that function set off a firestorm of protest throughout the open source community.

WGA authentication will become mandatory for all non-critical Windows updates starting in the second half of 2005. Customers must run a program that verifies their Windows license, or they will not have access to Windows Update or the Microsoft Download Center.

Just as Microsoft customers may want to know that they are running genuine Windows, open source customers may want to manage the risk that the software would contain derivative works from other developers.

"Although it is unclear whether the SFLC is focusing on any specific legal issues involving Wine, it is possible that they are simply seeking to ensure that the code was created in completely 'clean' manner. For example, they might wish to ensure that none of the contributors to the project used proprietary information previously obtained from Microsoft, Phoenix Technologies or other companies," explained Levy.

"Although Wine's proponents have previously indicated that it is free from any legal entanglements, SFLC's public agreement to defend the code is a signal to companies using Wine that they are less likely to have that burden fall on them."

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