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Mundie Clarifies Open Source Position

posted by pudge on 2001.07.26 18:37   Printer-friendly
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

The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
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  • Why didn't we have a written statement ready?
    That's what happens when you're up against old
    hands at the propaganda game, I guess.
  • I'd love to chop this up when I have more time, but I'm about out the door for work. So, just this for now:

    > There are some licensing models that can
    > undermine the integrity of a program's code
    > base, possibly leading to the distribution
    > of incompatible versions

    Examples please? How is Microsoft immune? Will shareing their source suddenly prevent them from making incompatible versions of software? Whatever license they used in the past didn't prevent this problem.

    > some licens
  • Seems like they are trying to play up the infighting between the OSS and the FSF. Isn't that how the Romans worked? Makes sense for them to attack the GPL though, since the BSD license allows them take stuff without giving back. Didn't they already do this? I guess they haven't heard of the LGPL...
    Waiting on the Road to Eventually, I lost my Place On Line
  • See the To: field, it was widely disseminated within Microsoft, not to the press. (Although Chip's idea of having a statement is a good one.)

    Seems to me that they are readjusting their message and they want everyone in MS to sing on key. No more embarassing "unamerican" quotes.

    The old message, attempting to tar all open source with the same brush, wasn't working so well. So now, MS is not against open source at all. And never was. (We have always been at war with Eastasia.) Now it's just that they are "

  • While I understand Mundie's opinion that government-funded code should be public domain, there is more to it than that. Say a government agency (let's say, the NSA) had two choices:
    • Under the "Shared Source" initiative, make changes to the Windows operating system to make it more secure
    • Hire a couple developers and have them hack the Linux kernel to make it more secure

    Which are they likely to do? More importantly, which benefits the taxpayers the most? With the first option, they are writing code that

  • As an academic, I have to say I love the GPL. It does not hinder collaboration between the private and public sectors. Historically, acadamic research was funded for the public domain with government funds. Nowadays, the government is trying to introduce commercial funds into research in ways that don't cripple the traditional open atmosphere of acadamia. A large number of professors are turning research projects into startups, or selling the products of their research. Whether this is good or bad is a sepe
  • >> 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.

    >Explain please. On it's face, this seems like an
    >outrageous claim. Take perl. Take linux. Take
    >gcc. How have these things lead to this model?
    >What the hell is he talking about, exactly?

    I think this is a dig a