Open Source Initiative Approves Microsoft's 'Public,' 'Reciprocal' License

In a move which officially inaugurates Microsoft as a member of the open source community, the Open Source Initiative - designated the official caretaker of the concept of open source - late last week officially approved the language of two licenses submitted by Microsoft for inclusion with its open source software. However, Microsoft admitted today, the OSI did have a hand in changing their names.

Now officially part of the open source library of licenses is the Microsoft Public License which grants the licensee the right to use copyrighted and patented material expressed in the software royalty-free; and the Microsoft Reciprocal License, which extends the public license by stipulating that licensees who distribute any derivative of the program must also distribute its source code. The news that Microsoft had submitted these licenses for OSI approval came in late July.

In a blog post Friday, the OSI's Michael Tiemann explained that the group began formal deliberation on Microsoft's petition in August. Throughout the process, Tiemann noted, Microsoft put on its best behavior.

"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."

While OSI member Russ Nelson - who briefly held the post of president of the organization in early 2005 - expressed his skepticism about Microsoft's motives, in a blog post this afternoon, he conceded there's not much that can be done about someone following the rules.

"Of course, Microsoft is not widely trusted in the Open Source world, and their motives have been called into question during the approval discussions," Nelson wrote. 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."

This morning, Microsoft's Director of Source Programs, Jon Rosenberg, struck a very diplomatic tone in a blog post on Port 25, admitting that there were things it learned, and things it changed, during the discussion process.

"In the process of the license discussion, we also heard additional calls for more clarity in our communication regarding the wide range of Shared Source licensing options available from Microsoft," wrote Rosenberg. "Some Shared Source licenses clearly meet the open source definition and others do not. In the future, we will continue to solicit feedback from the community to ensure crisp delineation of these different license types on our website."

What appears to have failed was what Microsoft had been calling its "Limited Permissive License," which explicitly forbade redistribution of shared code to Windows platforms only. OSI rules disallow any restriction of code to specific platforms or groups of platforms.

What obviously changed was Microsoft's nomenclature - the "Public License" had been referred to as the "Microsoft Permissive License." Though on the one hand the term had a certain marketing ring to it, OSI members may have objected to phraseology that made it appear Microsoft was in a higher position to permit or deny rights to individuals with whom it plans to share code. The "Reciprocal License" had been referred to as the "Microsoft Community License," though it may not have been entirely accurate for Microsoft to have presumed it was permitting redistribution rights to the "community" rather than just to the licensee.

Back in July, Rosenberg made comments on Port 25 suggesting that, while it's nice to have someone in the open source community finally give its licensing a fair shake, perhaps the authority of OSI to be the one doing do so may not have been adequately established. That language apparently also changed during the approval process.

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