October 19, 2005

FSFE: Early comment on new Microsoft Shared Source

"Since we so rarely have opportunity to say something positive about
Microsoft, let me begin by congratulating them", says Georg Greve,
president of Free Software Foundation Europe. "Microsoft finally seems
to have made a step forward on their long march towards giving their
users freedom: of the five licenses published, our cursory first
analysis suggests that two of them indeed fulfill the Free Software
Definition."

According to FSFEs first glance, the "Microsoft Permissive License"
(Ms-PL) and "Microsoft Community License" (Ms-CL) both appear to
satisfy the four freedoms that define Free Software. In particular:
The Ms-CL also appears to implement a variation of the Copyleft idea,
which was first implemented by the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Given previous Microsoft statements about the Copyleft approach and in
particular the GNU GPL as 'viral', 'cancerous' and 'communist', seeing
Microsoft now publish licenses applying the very same principles seems
quite an evolution.

Naturally, it is not the publication of licenses, but the publication
of software under a Free Software license, that gives people freedom:

It is indeed not very useful if every company, administration or
author publishes their own license; so it would have been preferrable
if Microsoft had made the decision to use the GNU General Public
License (GPL) and Lesser General Public License (LGPL) for its Shared
Source program.

Far more than 50% of Free Software worldwide is published under these
licenses, they are very well-known and people trust them for good
reason.

"Microsoft has walked a mile and is now standing mere inches from the
GNU (L)GPL: We fully understand that Microsoft is first trying to get
the nail of its little toe wet in the Free Software community, and we
welcome that," continues Greve. "But in the course of time we would
prefer to see Microsoft join the large global community of commercial
GNU (L)GPL vendors."

"For now it will be good if Microsoft starts relicensing its portfolio
under the Ms-PL or Ms-CL; but we still have to warn people to be
careful about the 'Shared Source' label and look at the specific
licenses: The other three licenses of the Shared Source program are
clearly proprietary and obviously do not qualify as Free Software."
Greve finishes.

The Free Software Foundations will need more time to study all these
licenses and their interactions with other licenses in depth, so this
is not a final evaluation -- and the final evaluation may as well
reveal problems that were not visible at first sight.

Microsoft still has a long way to go, but for now it seems they made a
step in the right direction, and the Free Software Foundation Europe
hopes they will keep it up.

About the Free Software Foundation Europe:

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), founded 2001, is a
charitable non-governmental organisation dedicated to all aspects of
Free Software in Europe. Access to software determines who may
participate in a digital society. The the Freedoms to use, copy,
modify and redistribute software - as described in the Free Software
definition - allow equal participation in the information
age. Creating awareness for these issues, securing Free Software
politically and legally, and giving people Freedom by supporting
development of Free Software are central issues of the FSFE.

Further information about FSFE's work can be found at
http://fsfeurope.org/ get active yourself at
http://fsfeurope.org/contribute/.

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