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Microsoft's Mundie muddies derivatives market

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Microsoft has introduced new terms for licensees of Windows CE code, although its unclear how far this much-touted "freedom" actually takes the manufacturers.

Certain chip makers, device makers and integrators will now have access to all the Windows CE code, excluding a small amount of software that Microsoft licenses from third parties. The vendors can modify the Windows CE code and ship it with their smart toaster, intelligent alarm, phone or other products.

The licensee will retain IP but is restricted in other ways. "You cannot distribute the code or a derivative work independent of the device," added Mundie. And Microsoft promises it will not include modifications created by its licensees into the main CE codebase for six months, which leaves them little time to capitalize on the advantage in which they have invested R&D time to create.

At the same time, Mundie claimed: "This is really the first time Microsoft has allowed derivatives to be produced from our operating platform products."

Perhaps Mundie means an "instantiation" of the code - the device itself. In this new Q&A with Mundie on Microsoft's site, he says the previous "shared source" CE initiative allowed non-commercial derivatives to be made. Or perhaps, he's simply Googlewashing the word 'derivative'. It's not exactly clear.

And in other respects too, Microsoft's openness, is extremely limited.

This new program falls far short of resembling anything open source. Any changes to code go back to Microsoft at no charge and can be included in future versions of Windows CE as Microsoft sees fit. While companies can sell products based on their modifications, other vendors cannot take a peak under the covers and borrow the code.

Microsoft collects its licensing tax, as usual, but now gets third-party performance tuning, hardware support and other help for free.

Mundie said Microsoft will not rule out making a similar move to free up the standard Windows code. However, he said that Microsoft has "seen little market pressure" to alter its licensing for desktop OS products.

Samsung, Mitsubishi Hitachi, ARM, Intel and Toshiba are just a few of the companies Microsoft has been working with on this program over the last 12 months. ®

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