Microsoft simplifies code-sharing plan

Company strips down its Shared Source Initiative to three licenses, one of which is modeled on the Mozilla Public License.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read
Microsoft has simplified its program for sharing source code in an effort to work better with third parties.

On the company's Shared Source Initiative Web site, Microsoft on Tuesday posted details of three new licenses. Each license is short and designed to be easy to understand and use, the software giant said.

Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative is a program to allow third parties, such as other software companies and large customers, to see portions of Microsoft source code. Viewing the code enables other companies to create closer integration with Microsoft products, such as Windows CE, or build new products based on that code.

Until now, Microsoft had more than 10 licenses, many of which are specific to products or to the type of audience, such as academics, systems integrators, software developers or government customers.

"As with other individuals and organizations, we too have seen the proliferation of source code licenses become problematic," Jason Matusow, the director of Microsoft's Shared Source program, wrote in a blog Wednesday. "We had 10+ Shared Source licenses, and as more and more product groups sought to use source code releases as a means to work with developer communities, this number was only going to rise further."

Although Microsoft does allow third-parties to view portions of its code, none of the company's shared-source licenses is considered open-source by the Open Source Initiative. Microsoft does not intend to submit its new licenses to OSI for approval as open source, though two of them would meet OSI's criteria, a Microsoft representative said.

The three new licenses are:

Microsoft Permissive License: Designed primarily for developer-related products, it enables developers to view, modify and redistribute Microsoft source code. Licensees can charge for modifications made to the original source code.

Microsoft Community License: Meant for collaborative development projects, this reciprocal license requires licensees to distribute changes to Microsoft code in source code form. This license is modeled after the popular Mozilla Public License.

Microsoft Reference License: the most restrictive license, it allows people to view but not modify Microsoft code, only for reference purposes.

Open-source companies and products are one of the biggest challenges to Microsoft. But the company over the past few years has made efforts to work better with open-source products such as Linux and to adopt open-source development practices, particularly with developers.

In a statement describing the three new licenses, the company indicated that it intends to make more of its products available through its shared-source licenses. "These new licenses represent a broad spectrum of approaches needed to facilitate an ever-growing rich set of technologies for release," the statement said.

On Tuesday, Microsoft released Visual Studio 2005 Starter Kits, a set of sample applications and templates. With licenses under the Microsoft Permissive License, the kits provide source code, documentation and the right to modify the code for commercial or noncommercial uses.

In November, Microsoft intends to release version 2.0 of the company's Bluetooth "wrapper," which is designed to make it easier to write .Net applications for Bluetooth devices.