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Microsoft seeks open-source status for its 'shared-source' licenses

Exec says vendor will submit them to the Open Source Initiative for certification

By Eric Lai
July 27, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

After months of antagonizing the open-source community, Microsoft Corp. now appears to be trying to engage it by seeking an official stamp of approval for the licenses that the company uses to share its own software and source code.

During a keynote speech at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore., on Thursday, Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, said that the software vendor is submitting its so-called shared-source licenses to the Open Source Initiative for certification as true open-source licenses.

The plans were also detailed on Port 25, a blog written by workers at Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab.

Neither OSI President Michael Tiemann nor Mark Radcliffe, the organization's general counsel, returned e-mails and calls seeking comment on Microsoft's announcement.

Russ Nelson, who chairs the OSI's license approval committee, said via e-mail that he expects Microsoft to submit its shared-source licenses for approval within a week or so, but he didn't comment further.

Initial reaction by outside commentators tended toward the positive.

"This is a huge, long-awaited move," Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media Inc., wrote in his blog. If the shared-source licenses are accepted by the OSI, he added, "it will be a lot harder to draw a bright line between Microsoft and the open-source community." O'Reilly Media sponsored the conference at which Hilf made the announcement.

In his blog on CNET Networks Inc.'s Web site, open-source executive and OSI board member Matt Asay said that seeking the group's approval shows that Microsoft "respects the community."

"I welcome this move by Microsoft," Asay wrote. "It continues to impress me as being one of the few big companies that truly understands open source, even if I don't always like how it works with the open-source community."

Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing at open-source database vendor MySQL AB, also applauded Microsoft's plan in a blog entry on the Web site of InfoWorld, a sister publication of Computerworld.

"Although a bit late to the party, I think this is still a good step on Microsoft's part," Urlocker wrote. "It shows that they appreciate there's a community outside of Microsoft and [that] they are adapting their business practices and licensing in order to be successful there. That, to me, is highly significant."

Microsoft has released 650 internally developed software programs to the general public via its shared-source program, according to Hilf.

But don't expect Microsoft to release open-source versions of products such as Windows or Office anytime soon. Most of the products released under the shared-source licenses are lesser-known applications hosted on Microsoft's CodePlex site, the company's equivalent to SourceForge Inc.'s popular open-source development site.



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