OSI email group gets catty over Microsoft’s Permissive License request


Author: Tina Gasperson

The OSI License-Discuss mailing list has been ablaze for the past few days since Microsoft submitted its Permissive License (MS-PL) to the OSI [Open Source Initiative] for official open source license approval. Jon Rosenberg, source program director for Microsoft, posted, “Microsoft believes that this license provides unique value to the open source community by delivering simplicity, brevity, and permissive terms combined with intellectual property protection.”

Rosenberg compared the MS-PL to the new BSD license and the Apache 2.0 license. “However, the new BSD license does not contain an explicit patent grant,” he wrote. “In addition, we sought to create a license that is simple, short, and easy to understand.”

Code licensed under the MS-PL cannot be redistributed under the terms of any other license, but it can be combined with works released under the terms of other licenses, as long as those other licenses permit it.

Chuck Swiger, an active member of the license-discuss community, thinks that lets the GPL out of the mix. “…The MS-PL + BSD/MIT/Zlib/Apache2 coe is fine, but MS-PL+GPL or similar is not.” Still, Swiger agreed that the MS-PL was “reasonably close” to the new BSD license, which he called a “canonical example of a permissive license.”

Another community member, Donovan Hawkins, doesn’t like the MS-PL’s requirement to keep its code separate from any other code licensed differently. “I can think of cases where I made MAJOR changes to some open-source function to use in a project,” he writes. “What sort of Frankenlicense would apply to that function if I wished to release my changes under GPL but the original was MPL or MSPL? Every other line of code under a different license?”

Things got really interesting when Chris DiBona, longtime OSI member, open source advocate, and open source programs manager for Google, Inc. chimed in:

I would like to ask what might be perceived as a diversion and maybe even a mean spirited one. Does this submission to the OSI mean that Microsoft will:

a) Stop using the market confusing term Shared Source
b) Not place these licenses and the other, clearly non-free , non-osd
licenses in the same place thus muddying the market further.
c) Continue its path of spreading misinformation about the nature of
open source software, especially that licensed under the GPL?
d) Stop threatening with patents and oem pricing manipulation schemes
to deter the use of open source software?

If not, why should the OSI approve of your efforts? That of a company
who has called those who use the licenses that OSI purports to defend
a communist or a cancer? Why should we see this seeking of approval as
anything but yet another attack in the guise of friendliness?

That query got the attention of heretofore silent Bill Hilf, Microsoft’s general manager of platform strategy. “I’m unclear how some of your questions are related to our license submissions, which is what I believe this list and the submission process are designed to facilitate,” Hilf wrote. “You’re questioning things such as Microsoft’s marketing terms, press quotes, where we put licenses on our web site, and how we work with OEMs – none of which I could find at http://opensource.org/docs/osd. If you’d like to discuss this, I’d be happy to – and I have a number of questions for you about Google’s use of and intentions with open source software as well. But this is unrelated to the OSD compliance of a license, so I will do this off-list and preferably face to face or over the phone.”


Hilf went on to say that one of the reasons Microsoft coined the term “Shared Source” was “to acknowledge that these licenses had not been approved by the OSI, and some of our Shared Source licenses will not be submitted to the OSI.” But, Hilf wrote, “I’m open to make this more distinguishable on where/how we post the [licenses] on the Web site, if it’s important to the community.”

DiBona also wanted to know why Microsoft thought it needed its own open source license, since there are so many OSI-approved licenses already available with similar terms. Hilf wrote that because so many projects already use the Microsoft licenses, “they represent a reasonably large set of existing code, the authors and users of which would benefit from having the licenses assessed as Open Source.”

Community member Dag-Erling Smørgrav, a senior software developer at Linpro AS, accused DiBona of prejudice against Microsoft:

Basically, Chris doesn’t want the OSI to approve a license submitted by an organization of which he personally disapproves, regardless of
the merits of the license itself. Hey, I can sympathize – personally, I really don’t approve of the FSF, and I’d love to see the OSI turn down the GPLv3.

Except I wouldn’t, really, because then the OSI would lose every shred
of credibility and quickly become irrelevant – just like it would if
it failed to carefully consider the licenses submitted by Microsoft,
or to approve them if they were found to adhere to the OSD. I don’t
want the OSI to lose its credibility and become irrelevant, and I
believe that both licenses submitted by Microsoft are OSD-compliant.

Double Mee-ow!

DiBona replied:

OSI should not trade on its reputation lightly… this is not a discussion about licenses but whether or not it is wise for OSI to enable its most vicious competitor.

You may want to try to paint this as personal disapproval, but if you
look on any search engine you would be hard pressed to find anything
from me personally about Microsoft outside of windows refund day in
1998. Note that trying to turn this into a discussion about FSF or
Google or me completely dodges the issue, so , you know, nice try and
all. I’m more than happy to discuss Google’s frankly incredibly
awesome open source practices (including pr, press quotes, not
creating new licenses, marketing and the rest) in a different thread.


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