April 18, 2006

Microsoft using Eric S. Raymond's code

Author: Tina Gasperson

Open source software advocate Eric S. Raymond is reporting that his name and copyright information for a bit of MIT-licensed code called the GIFLIB library are included in the end user license agreement of a Microsoft application called Expression 3.3.

Expression is a vector and pixel-based image manipulation application originally created by Creature House, a software production company acquired by Microsoft in 2003. The newest release of Expression runs only on Windows XP, whereas previous versions were also compatible with the Macintosh platform.

Raymond says GIFLIB was originally written by Gershon Elber, whose name is also mentioned in the EULA, for DOS. ESR picked it up and ported it to Unix, adding several features and writing some docs before "passing the baton" to the current maintainer, Toshio Kuratomi. "When Unisys started to jump salty about the GIF patents in the mid-1990s," Raymond writes, "I handed the project off to a maintainer outside U.S. jurisdiction, Toshio Kuratomi." Kuratomi has added a patent-avoiding version of GIFLIB called libungif.

Expression uses GIFLIB to read and write GIF images, but Raymond points out that his little library is included in lots of applications. "If you use open-source software that handles either of the two most popular raster-image formats, it is rather likely that you rely on my code every day," he writes. "Yes, that includes all you Firefox and Netscape and Konq and Safari users out there."

Raymond says he doesn't regret licensing the code under terms that would allow even Microsoft to freely use it. "I think empowering everyone is a far more powerful statement than empowering only those I agree with," he writes. "By doing so, I express my confidence that my ideas will win even when my opponents get the benefit of my code."

Microsoft didn't respond to requests for comment in time for publication.


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