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Mundie Clarifies Open Source Position
posted by pudge on 2001.07.26 18:37
What follows is an email from Craig Mundie, Senior V.P. of Microsoft, sent following his talk/debate at the Open Source Convention this morning. Read and enjoy.
From: Craig Mundie Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2001 1:45 PM To: Microsoft and Subsidiaries: All FTE Subject: Microsoft's Views on Open Source and GPL Licensing In May I initiated our broad discussion on the topics of source code licensing and intellectual property protection by making a speech at New York University. The speech outlined our programs to provide greater access to source code for our customers through a shared source initiative. It also offered our perspective on the economic model that has driven the software industry's long-term success. I appreciate that many of you may be asked about this by our customers or others in the development community, and I thought it might be helpful to provide you with this summary of our views. Our industry has always been based on a diversity of software models that together create a healthy software ecosystem. This includes some source code that is published and some that is not, as well as some software that is distributed for free and other software that is licensed for a fee. Much of this software is developed by commercial companies, while some of it originates in universities and governments. Each approach has certain strengths and drawbacks. Importantly, however, this diversity benefits software users, who can select and even mix and match among different software models, depending on their needs. Equally important - and in a way not always appreciated - this diverse software ecosystem has been fundamental to the long-term health of the software industry. For example, many important technological advances have begun in the public sector, where governments and universities have undertaken basic research to advance the broad state of technical knowledge. They have often contributed this learning to the public domain by publishing freely their research results, sometimes in source code form itself. Governments have also adopted a legal system that recognizes intellectual property rights, providing a powerful incentive for commercial companies to create products that build further on this knowledge. Through these steps governments have helped create the foundation on which our industry has been built. For over 25 years software companies have been adding to this knowledge by undertaking their own applied research and by developing successful commercial products. These products not only advance the state of technology; they help move the entire economy forward by creating jobs, profits, and tax revenues. The fruits of these advances in turn contribute further to the continued vitality of the software ecosystem. The tax revenues and philanthropic contributions that flow directly and indirectly from commercial companies fund further governmental and academic research efforts. Commercial companies also contribute important advances to the intellectual commons by participating in the work of public standards bodies, and they directly support universities through academic source code licenses and similar programs. As in other aspects of our industry, a virtuous cycle develops in which a wide variety of individuals and institutions in the public and private sectors contribute together to everyone's continued success. In the last few years there has been increasing interest in the multiplicity of software models. Much of this has focused on "open source" software - a label applied to what is in fact a range of models, all of which include the publication of source code. As with every other change that is important to our industry, we have thought carefully about what this trend means for the future of computing. As with many changes, we have found aspects that we believe are promising, as well as other features that are less so. The company's shared source initiative represents our effort to learn from and apply those open source trends that we believe offer promise for Microsoft and our customers. For example, by pursuing initiatives to share source code, we can better support a strong community of developers and IT professionals, and we can help promote collaboration in the development of industry standards. Some of this has long been a hallmark of Microsoft's business, including, for example, source code licenses we have had in place with over 100 universities around the world. Our shared source initiative is all about taking additional steps in this area, including our recently-announced programs to license source code to enterprise customers, as well as for Windows CE and aspects of the
.NET initiative. We'll announce more things along these lines in the future. As we pursue our shared source initiative, we are keeping in mind the need to license source code in a thoughtful manner. There are some licensing models that can undermine the integrity of a program's code base, possibly leading to the distribution of incompatible versions. Similarly, there are some licensing models that effectively surrender the revenue-generating potential of software. Some of these would lead us back to the computing model of the 1970's, when users received from hardware companies software that was offered for free, but was provided at the expense of tying customers to a single hardware vendor. While this too has a place in a diverse software ecosystem, it's nonetheless a reminder that in free markets there is seldom a free lunch. We're constructing our shared source licenses so as to avoid these problems. This focus on the strengths and weaknesses of various licensing models has also led us to voice our concern about one particular type of open source license - the GNU General Public License, or GPL. This is only one of a number of different licenses used to distribute open source software, and it stands in sharp contrast to other open source licenses, such as the FreeBSD license, for example. However, the GPL is being used with a number of software programs, including Linux. We are concerned about the potential implications of the GPL for use in disseminating the results of academic or government-funded research. The GPL in this context effectively erects a wall that prevents the public and private sectors from working together. By restricting severely the rights of anyone who incorporates GPL code into their own software program, the GPL makes it impossible for commercial software companies to build on the types of academic works that have been put in the public domain and have helped fuel innovation the last half-century. As we continue to think about the future of software, we believe that we need an intellectual property model that encourages interaction between the public and private sectors, not a model that drives them apart. The problems created by the GPL result from the onerous licensing terms that it contains. The GPL not only requires that all source code must always be published, but also states that all third parties must have the right to make unlimited copies of GPL-licensed software and redistribute them free of charge. Obviously, it is extremely difficult for a software company to generate revenue by distributing a program if everyone has the right to distribute unlimited copies of the same program free of charge. Of additional concern, the GPL effectively transmits these restrictions to other software programs through provisions that even many in the open source community characterize as "viral" in nature. The GPL states explicitly that if another software program "contains or is derived from" any GPL-licensed code, then this second program automatically becomes subject to all of the terms of the GPL as well. Hence, unlike a number of other open source licenses, the GPL restricts very substantially the rights of anyone who incorporates even a modest amount of GPL code in a software program. Moreover, because there is no clear definition of a "derivative" work under the GPL, companies play a game of legal chance even if their employees only study GPL code before creating their own software. When asked about Microsoft's views on these issues, I hope you can help us put these ideas in perspective. We are not criticizing the open source community, nor do we have any wish to do so. To the contrary, we are adopting those aspects of open source models that we believe will benefit the company and our customers. We are raising concerns about one specific open source license - the GPL - because we believe these concerns are important to the future of the software industry and the customers we serve. If you'd like further information, you can find it at www.microsoft.com/sharedsource. Craig