Microsoft aims ‘shared source’ spoiler at Java

Look, don't touch

"We're code sharing capitalists!" beamed Microsoft's John Montgomery in an interview with C|NUT radio* yesterday, as Redmond released 11MB of source code - almost two million lines of Hungarian notationally-correct sweatwork - for its .NET infrastructure.

This made good a promise by Microsoft punchbag Craig Mundie to make code available to third parties, but as we'll see, there's less here than meets the eye. Even less than you might have dared expect, in fact.

The 'Rotor' release is substantial indeed. It compiles the Microsoft common language infrastructure (CLI) on Windows or FreeBSD, and that's effectively the technical plumbing of .NET: all over your PC. The Beast's own homepage is here, O'Reilly has good overviews here and here.

While no one can doubt Montgomery's claim that Microsoft are capitalists - or at least, some ethically-challenged incarnation of the capitalist ideal - how does his claim to be a "sharing" company hold up?

Not too well, according to license watchers who've examined the terms in detail.

O'Reilly's Brian Jepson observes that the CLI terms permits people "to read the Rotor source code, and then go out and implement their own version of the CLI, so long as they don't step on any of Microsofts patents or copyrights."

Kinda like inviting people for a rave in a minefield, once you factor the recent barrage of filings, and acquisitions, such as SGI's 3D patent portfolio, into the equation, we figure.

Veterans also point out that the Rotor license - unusually terse by the verbose standards of Microsoft's legal department - adds little to recent academic ventures by The Beast.

"It's a tease," says Karsten Self, moderator of the Free Software Law discussion list.
"It's source-viewable license, but like a lot of crippleware licensing, nobody can produce anything "useful" in a commercial-use way from the code."

"If you look at Microsoft over the years they've done similar things from time to time - saying: here's the source, but you can't do anything with it. Microsoft has been playing this game of trying to get academic interest in their products because it's so easy to play with Linux. It's frivolous."

The important rider to this license is the ability to prevent derivative works, which makes life for clean-room implementations, such as the Ximian-sponsored Mono project, difficult. Mono wisely encourages developers not to look at the "shared source" Rotor project.

"This puts the bar really low at re-engineering the product," says KMS.

It isn't so much an assault on software libre, but a marketing torpedo aimed at Sun, whose JavaOne conference is taking place in San Francisco this week, he adds. And we can't help but agree. ®

*The C|NUT radio link can be found here. The audio-video division of C|NUT seems to be a lot of fun: it doesn't have the self-regarding, patronising pomposity of the web news site, and has been reporting on interesting stuff from JavaOne this week. We only hope we don't curse them by offering this commendation. They're fine folk.

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