What does Microsoft's new shared source mean for you?

We read the small print

Furthermore, the big-ticket items like Windows and Office available under Shared Source for government are unlikely to be re-released under the new licenses. A Microsoft spokeswoman told The Register this would be a decision for the individual technology groups.

Instead, Microsoft is aiming relatively low on what it releases. The spokeswoman said Microsoft's Bluetooth wrapper for Windows CE and eight starter kits for Visual Studio 2005 will be released under Ms-PL. The latter, for example, to add the ability for applications to keep track of new film releases on Amazon.com.

That's a continuation of existing policy. Microsoft released its Windows Template Library, Windows Installer XML and FlexWiki to SourceForge to SourceForge last year.

There is an upside. Ms-PL allows developers to view, modify and redistribute source code for commercial and non-commercial without paying Microsoft royalties. Ms-CL stipulates that where Ms-CL is used in a particular file then the entire file must be re-distributed in source code form with a "per-file reciprocal term".

Hurdles

Microsoft is clearly taking something of a"copy left" approach to Shared Source, an approach that is used widely in the real open source community.

Microsoft is - and always was - notoriously obsessed with detail when it comes to licensing.

The shenanigans around Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP) proved it was more than happy to release code while putting up just enough bureaucratic hurdles to make obtaining that code by developers too complicated and time-consuming for them to bother.

These latest changes should be seen in this context and will come as little surprise when you remember how Shared Source started life: as a response to increased concerns among customers to the security of its products in light of numerous worm attacks, and the growing success of open source and Linux, particularly in the government sector.

The five licenses represent another shift in Microsoft's journey closer to the open source community and development methodologies. While welcome, the changes give the community just enough of what it wants while leaving Microsoft in the driving seat in terms of what code it releases and the conditions it uses. ®

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