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MS expands WinCE 5.0 'shared' source licence

Commercial code derivatives can stay closed

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Microsoft will begin shipping the latest version of Windows CE, version 5.0, on 9 July, the company said today.

And in a bid to better position its embedded OS against open source alternatives - "eliminate many of the barriers to entry found in traditional embedded development", as Microsoft puts it - the software behemoth said it will expand the terms of its WinCE source-code sharing licence programme.

The new licence will allow all developers to ship commercial products derived from changes they have made to the WinCE source code and - crucially - keep their code to themselves.

Essentially, Microsoft is offering a 'cake and eat it too' alternative to the GPL, which mandates that code derived from source material issued under the licence must likewise be made available to all and sundry. This kind of enforced sharing has caused concern among some manufacturers who would like to use an open source OS, like Linux, as the basis for future products but are wary of releasing their own version of the software back to the open source community and to their competitors.

Microsoft's WinCE 5.0 "shared source" licence allows them an alternative option: to leverage shared source code, but keep the results proprietary.

"We believe that the ability to ship commercial derivatives, with no obligation to share customisations, will greatly appeal to device makers - all of whom want to maintain the rights to their competitive advantage," said Ya-Qin Zhang, corporate VP of Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices Division.

Not that this is a great innovation of Microsoft's part - the FreeBSD licence has essentially done this sort of thing for years, recognising that not every line of source code a developer comes up with has a place in the public domain.

And Microsoft still requires anyone wanting to ship WinCE-derived code commercially to buy a run-time licence before they do so.

WinCE 5.0's formal release follows the shipment of a Technology Preview Kit in March 2004. Previously known by its codename, 'Macallan', version 5.0 run on a "dramatically increased" range of processors, including ARM, MIPS, x86 and SuperH platforms - though that doesn't necessarily mean future Windows Mobile offerings will. In addition, Microsoft is touting improved security and multimedia features.

The OS will ship with the maximum level of security enabled, forcing OEMs to reduce the level of protection on a design-by-design basis, rather than encouraging them to raise it if they think it necessary. The real-time OS will also feature Windows Error Reporting, enabling devices to report glitches to the manufacturer, for a faster turnaround of bug-fixes, which can be delivered across the network.

WinCE 5.0 will also feature Direct3D Mobile, a COM-based version of Windows XP's DirectX multimedia API. Direct3D will work with Wireless MMX, the Pentium-derived multimedia instructions Intel is building into its latest XScale CPU, the PXA270. It is also expected to offer DirectDraw for 2D graphics and DirectShow for camera and video digitisation support, which will be included in the Windows Mobile product line. ®

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