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Microsoft 'Shared Source' Attempts to Hijack FOSS 381

aacc1313 writes "An article that details how Open Source is being hijacked by Microsoft and the sort via 'Shared Source' licenses and how Open Source licenses have become so much more confusing. From the article, "The confusion stems from the fact that Microsoft's 'shared source' program includes three proprietary licenses as well, whose names are similar in some ways to the open-source licenses. Thus, while the Microsoft Reciprocal License has been approved by OSI, the Microsoft Limited Reciprocal License (Ms-LRL) is not, because it allows users to modify and redistribute the software only on the Windows platform" and "The 'shared source' program was and is Microsoft's way of fighting the open source world, allowing customers to inspect Microsoft source code without giving those customers the right to modify or redistribute the code. In other words, "shared source" is not open source, and shouldn't be confused with it.""
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Microsoft 'Shared Source' Attempts to Hijack FOSS

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  • Auditable source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:18AM (#23377722) Homepage Journal
    Read-but-not-reuse source really should be called auditable source or, if you are allowed to change and recompile it for your own use, a traditional commercial source-code license except it's free-as-in-beer.

    Both have value and are better than closed-source software. Neither is free-as-in-freedom.
  • by skulgnome ( 1114401 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:18AM (#23377730)
    You wouldn't take a fox's vegetarian food recipes without a barrel of salt either, would you.

    Also in b4 blogspamwhoring is called, because I'm calling it first right here.
  • shared source... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gbrandt ( 113294 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:19AM (#23377740)
    is not open source. Any english language speaker should be able to get that.

  • License confusion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rxmd ( 205533 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:25AM (#23377800) Homepage

    Open Source licenses have become so much more confusing.

    To be honest they were pretty confusing already, with license proliferation leading to a large number of very similar free software licenses with minute, but potentially decisive differences. It didn't need Microsoft for that. Even the general overview at Wikipedia [] lists 54 different Open Source licenses, not counting superseded or volunarily retired ones.
  • by Simon (S2) ( 600188 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:27AM (#23377834) Homepage

    "shared source" is not open source, and shouldn't be confused with it."
    I think this is not true. Open Source means nothing more that the source is "open", that you can see it. I never interpreted the term "open source" whit the meaning that you are free to modify it and distribute it. That is GPLed code for me. A piece of code is Open Source when you can see the code. So, shared source *is* open source, because the code is there for you to see. What you can do with the code, is part of the licence agreement attached with the code. There is no "open source" license, but there is a GPL, BSD, Apache, MIT and so on license.
    Am I the only one seeing it like this? Am I wrong?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:31AM (#23377900)
    If you get to view the source, it sounds like Open Source to me.

    I think the problem is that FOSSies equate open source with the GPL... which is false. The GPL is not "open source", since you can have open source without the GPL.

    It's kind of funny- the FOSSies hated MS for not supporting open source... and now that MS supports open source, they just moved the target and start hating Microsoft for something else. It's no wonder Microsoft ignored everything they say: sounds like time to go back to that policy.
  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:35AM (#23377948)
    Open source software doesn't mean you can just LOOK at the source. It means you can look at it AND modify it and use it (redistributing it is another matter, and depends on the specific license). That's what "open" MEANS. Microsoft is playing semantic games with the "shared source" license. It *sounds* like it's open source, but it's not. It's "shared".

    So, yeah, you're the only one who sees it that way. And you're wrong. That's not what open source means at all.
  • by adpsimpson ( 956630 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:44AM (#23378036)

    ...impose a bunch of draconian restrictions that didn't used to exist...

    Rising to the bait, GPL's restrictions act to restrict the current user in order to the benefit the community. They arguably don't necessarily benefit the original code developer, although the developer is free to the same benefits as the community receives.

    Microsoft's restrictions benefit, well, Microsoft. That is, the original developer. Not the community, not the current user. Nobody else.

    This seems like a pretty important distinction.

  • Re:Duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:44AM (#23378042)
    The PHB signing your paycheck.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:45AM (#23378056)
    GPL isn't free as in freedom either.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:48AM (#23378100) Journal
    No, the problem is that people started using the term Open Source because Free Software was 'confusing.' Open Source is supposed to mean the same thing as Free Software, but it doesn't sound like it does. Free Software is ambiguous because free has two meanings in English. Open Source is ambiguous because open has a huge number of meanings in computing (visible, editable, redistributable, conforming to standards, and so on). An unambiguous term like Software Libre would be better, but unfortunately Open Source seems to be the buzzword de jour.
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:04AM (#23378322) Homepage Journal
    It's very easy to see why the GPL is the very best license to choose for a FOSS project. Quite simply, it is the license that Microsoft abhors the most. The very mention of its name sends Microsoft people into foaming fits of anger.

    From this, we may safely draw the conclusion that Microsoft has done a lot of research, with a lot of lawyers, and they've determined that the GPL represents the biggest threat to their revenue model. And what's bad for Microsoft is generally good for everyone else. So if you're going to develop FOSS, the GPL is the obvious safe choice.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:13AM (#23378448)
    How does Microsoft's license "hijack" FOSS? It would only be hijacking if they forced you to use their code, thereby encumbering yourself with their license.

    If you don't like the Microsoft's license, don't use Microsoft's code. Simple.

  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:14AM (#23378474)

    No really, they were very clever in both creating and naming these licenses. You see most people who have heard of open source software don't understand why it is beneficial. They have, at this point, some vague idea that it is beneficial, but do not understand the mechanism. If you sit down with someone and explain the benefits of open source code the normal topics to discuss are: security and cost. The most easily explained reasons for why open source is cheaper is that people can look at the code and donate improvements, lowering the cost. The most easily explained reason why it is more secure is that people can look at the code and find security holes themselves, thus providing a more extensive security audit. You'll note I said those were the most easily explained mechanisms, that by no means makes them the most potent mechanisms.

    So when someone is making a purchasing decision, MS an trot out shared source (which the purchaser does not understand) in comparison to open source (which the purchaser does not understand). They can explain how both those two, most common talking points from the OSS crowd are taken care of, and thus get a sale. They don't explain the more important aspects of OSS or how those benefits are not the same, but not even all OSS advocates understand them either and they certainly aren't going to try to explain them to a PHB. So when you tell the boss OSS will save them money; they ask how. You tell them there is no up front license fee and a lot of the code is donated for free. MS tells them the same thing about shared source (which sounds oh so similar). You probably don't bother explaining to them how the GPL works to insure contributions from everyone are available to all nor how it allows you to take avoid vendor lock-in and take competitive bids on improvements, resulting in lower ongoing costs... because those things take significant understanding and most people don't want to put that much effort in.

    Basically, "Shared source" is just MS's way of providing something that looks like OSS enough to fool people who don't really understand how OSS works and they have named it in such a way that is does, sort of, describe what it is and what most people think OSS is. It is just MS removing the most beneficial features for the actual user (but which would cost MS money) and trying to pass it of as the genuine article to anyone gullible enough. And there are a lot of people gullible enough.

  • by Bootarn ( 970788 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:18AM (#23378528) Homepage
    Linux is Open Source, but Open Source isn't Linux.
  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:22AM (#23378584) Homepage
    The GPL may have more restrictions than BSD, but the GPL itself doesn't take anything away, it actually grants you rights you wouldn't normally have under copyright law while placing some restrictions on those rights.

    If you look at most commercial licenses, they are far more "draconian" as you put it, since not only do they usually not grant you any rights you wouldn't already have, they often seek to take away the rights you would have had through copyright law.

    GPL is good for the community because it insures that future users have the same rights, and that a third party cannot take the code and re-release it under draconian restrictions (as often happens to BSD code). Obviously it's far from ideal, and i'm sure Richard Stallman would be the first person to agree, but so long as there are people out there seeking to take free code and rerelease it under draconian restrictions there will be a need to do something to stop that happening. I would say that the restrictions of the GPL are more than livable, given the alternative of completely closed source.

    Additionally, the extra restrictions imposed by the GPL compared to BSD don't really affect people who just want to use the sofware, or who want to modify it and contribute the changes back to the community. They only have an impact on those who want to leech by taking existing code, packaging it up and selling a closed source derivative.
  • by Mr. Picklesworth ( 931427 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:34AM (#23378786) Homepage
    Go to a general public computer store and count the number of people that ask for "Lin..ux" routers when they mean "Linksys", or who think Trend Micro Antivirus ("powered by the PC-Cillin engine") is "Penicillin". ...Then say people won't be confused by Shared Source, and won't prefer the Microsoft license because it says Windows.

    It's sad, but true. I think they are playing on that idea that a horrifying number of people are idiots and will read clear phrases as entirely different things, never to correct themselves...
  • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:37AM (#23378828)

    The OSI did not invent the term "Open Source". The phrase means only that you can get and use the source code, NOT that you can redistribute works based on it. We have a name for code with licenses like that already, it's called "Free Software".
    What makes "Free Software" and less ambiguous than "Open Source"? There's been plenty of discussion on that subject that covers the confusion of that phrase. Although I'd expect a fair amount of folks around these parts would associated "Free Software" with the Free Software Foundation and/or GNU project.

    And that's the core of the issue. Who gets to define what a phrase means? Some phrases gain special meaning - even when they consist of common words. If the meaning of a phrase has certain value, you can expect people to make an effort to alter that meaning to meet their goals.

    Who gets to define what "Open Source", "Free Software", "Windows", "Solaris", or "Apple" means? None of these phrases are really all that unique in the English language. Yet they all have very distinct meanings in the IT industry.
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:43AM (#23378902)

    How is this any different than what GPL did to BSD? Show up, act like you invented the term "free software", impose a bunch of draconian restrictions that didn't used to exist and loudly tell everyone that your choice of strictures does good for the community?

    The GPL and BSD are different licenses, each ideal for different uses. In many cases the same developers will develop both BSD and GPL licensed code depending upon what they want to do with their creation. Sure there are idiots who claim everything should be GPL or BSD and that the other is not "real OSS" but those people are mostly uninformed twats. Seriously, very rarely are those opinions expressed by anyone here or in knowledgeable forums. The development community as a whole accepts and utilizes both; GPL for projects that are larger and need a lot of ongoing input from different players and the BSD license for core technologies where adoption of that technology is more important than keeping contributions to a reference implementation available to all.

    For example, if I (or my employer) is investing in writing a userspace application like a page layout program, the GPL is most likely to garner contributions from others in a way that benefits me and the other developers as well as the user base. If I (or my employer) invests in writing code for a new auto-discovery over IP daemon the BSD license allows that code to be integrated into more devices and OS's more easily and both users and developers benefit only if adoption is widespread. The same developer or company will often find itself contributing under both these licenses. Very few developers consider it some sort of competition between the two or advocate only one license for all things... and most of those people are not industry insiders and probably have not contributed significant code in any case.

    The shared source license is somewhat different in that the specific use case it is designed to solve is a marketing one, rather than a functional one. It is simply a way to provide a license that benefits the one and only developer at the expense of the user, by providing a very small subset of the benefits of other OSS licenses, while intentionally castrating the most important (but less understood) benefits. MS's problem is not that developers or users need more freedom to make the code better, it is that developers and users are demanding OSS because OSS code is helping others in ways they don't really understand and those developers and users need to be convinced that MS is giving them those same benefits, in a vague and not specifically explained way.

    Preparing for inappropriate troll and flamebait mods. It's still a legitimate question.

    If you're preparing for troll and flamebait mods, then you probably at least have an inkling that your view is both inflammatory and reflects a poor understanding of those licenses as they are commonly used by the OSS community. In future, if you think you're going to be modded down as a flame and troll, maybe you should assert less and instead ask people to inform you as to why the opinion would be so large of a misunderstanding that it would potentially result in such a moderation. You obviously have doubts about the legitimacy of your question, otherwise you would not phrase it the way you did.

  • by malevolentjelly ( 1057140 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:53AM (#23379056) Journal
    I've always heard the FOSS debate having something to do with the technical merits of being able to modify and view your source code for security or customization purposes. Even if it's platform-locked, this still applies to that general principle.

    But there are shades of madness in the open source community- once Microsoft fulfills the realistic argument for why you need the source code, suddenly it's not about actually having the source code. No- it's about porting it to linux and refusing to maintain it for windows, nay- FREEDOM. It's about some sort of weird ideal defined by Stallman, whose primary argument seems to remain that he doesn't like that things cost money or that there's a software industry hustling and bustling out there that he's not qualified to participate in.

    Suddenly it's no longer "you need the source code to make use of the product" but it's evolved into "I deleted the wifi firmware on my laptop because it wasn't free. Now I use a wire."

    Since the slashdot zealot crowd has so many shades of open source mania, it doesn't matter what microsoft will do. Here is my slashdot zeitgeist by MS license-use prediction:

    MS LRL: It's bad because it forces you to use code written FOR windows on windows.

    Ms-RL: It's bad because it's not abstractly free in Stallman's imagination.

    GPL: It's bad because it's Microsoft, and they're planning something.

    BSD: They're just going to make us so we're dependent on it then they're going to sue everybody and everything will far apart. I was abused as a child and have trust issues.

    MIT: The world is going to end and we need to resort to cannibalism immediately.

    My personal thought about this is that the Shared Source license is a way for Microsoft to make use of open source in some applicable categories without having their code licensed under something that is controlled by an organization of wingnuts, like the FSF. Thus, they could release their code under the GPL, but then Stallman will just draft a GPLv4 that says whoever uses the license needs to release the source code to Windows if they are called "Microsoft", which is basically like what the GPLv3 did to Novell. Stallman and his nimrods will cook licenses that include bitter little addendums to address contemporary issues that put his panties in a knot, because suddenly Stallman has the say in how people use Linux.

    This is the same reason that Monsanto doesn't use Earth First! to handle their marketing and to distribute their products to grociers. If Microsoft goes open source, they need to have the assurance that the license is under their terms otherwise their shareholders might get nervous that they're putting some maniac activist organization in control of their distribution rights. There's no reason to do that unless Windows is squarely defeated in the market by open source alternatives.

    Could you imagine how many windows clones would show up overnight? It would be a disaster for their platform and company. They're currently in a state where they can sell their platform for large amounts of money. They won't give that up because it angers a fringe of developers whose religion is FOSS-- they'll only do it if there's no other way to make money.
  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:05PM (#23379246) Journal
    Ah look, the Redmond shills are out again. To most of who know something about criminal scammers like Microsoft, one of the oldest tactics in the book is look-alike or sound-alike products. Microsoft is intentionally trying to muddy the waters this way, and you should know it, REdmond shill, as you're sent to various forums to muddy the waters a little yourself.
  • by the_brobdingnagian ( 917699 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:15PM (#23379414) Homepage
    Who would choose a licence based on how much Microsoft dislikes it? I prefer to choose a licence based on the contents of the licence and how they fit the project. Just ignore Mirosoft and write/use the best open source software you can.
  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:53PM (#23379928) Homepage
    No. This is obvious fraud and deceptive marketing.

    Anyone that's not a total sheep should be up in arms about
    it even if they are Microsoft groupies. Ultimately this is
    about the fact that Microsoft has a long history of using
    misleading trademarks and trying to hijack well established
    terms of art.

    This is by no means the first time Microsoft's done this.
    They tend to do it constantly.

    This is business as usual for Microsoft.
  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:07PM (#23380162) Homepage
    Redhat is not the sole owner of your improvements.

    You can set yourself up as a commercial competitor to Redhat if you
    really wanted to by taking your few improvements and the rest of the
    product that Redhat sells.

    Those improvements can be integrated by all of Redhat's other competitors.

    The two aren't even remotely equivalent (Redhat vs. Microsoft).

    Can we fork Windows so that it's now a compatability ABI for MacOS and Linux?
    Can we do so in a manner that no longer requires anyone to pay Microsoft?
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @02:09PM (#23381186)

    ... is to receive the benefits of open source (having many eyes on the code to ensure quality and lure developers) without incurring the costs (having to pay back those eyes by sharing rights to the code).

    Or, its just an attempt to satisfy some IT checklist item promoting the use of 'Open Source' within an enterprise that the PHBs will buy.

  • by AmaDaden ( 794446 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @02:27PM (#23381484)
    I was thinking that having one axis for openness and another for cost might help. Openness could be
    1. Public domain (or legal equivalent)
    2. Free source
    3. Open source
    4. Visible source
    5. Closed source
    and Cost could be
    1. Give it away
    2. Free version for unlimited time but limited usability
    3. Free version for limited time
    4. Pay software
    So a few examples. Windows is is a O5C4. Rad Hat is a O3C4 or O3C2 if you count Fedora. Ubuntu is a O3C1. Apache is O2C1.

    But I think you are more looking for a mobility measurement for the next guy. In that case I guess Windows could be O5C4->X because you can't do anything with it. Firefox would be O3C1->O3C2 because of logo licensing issues. Apache would be O2C1->O2-5C1-4 because your modified version could have stricter rules.

    I admit this all looks complex but if you know the system it can get the idea across very quickly. But I might just be over thinking it all...
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @02:32PM (#23381560) Journal

    That would satisfy most Slashdotters in terms of licensing
    To be honest, there's always a (very vocal) minority that's not going to be satisfied by anything other than auto-da-fe involving heaps of Windows CDs, and Gates and Ballmer themselves at the stake.
  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @02:39PM (#23381670) Homepage Journal

    "Shared source" IS open source. The source is open. You can open it in a text editor and read it.

    Horse puckey. By that logic, my kitchen windows are open because you can see through them. And yet, they ain't.

  • by Allador ( 537449 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @03:27PM (#23382482)
    Where do you get this stuff?

    If you think the term 'shared source' is confusing, then wouldnt also 'closed source' be confusing?

    Isnt it relevant that MS has plastered all over their documentation that their licenses are NOT traditional open source licenses, and that they scrupulously avoid the term 'open source' for licenses that arent OSI approved?

    Heck, lets look at their FAQ on the subject: []

    Q. Is the Shared Source Initiative "Open Sourcing" Microsoft code?

    No. The term open source software (OSS) is broadly applied to any (or a combination) of four interrelated concepts: the OSS development model, OSS philosophies, OSS licensing regimes, and OSS business models. However, first and foremost, OSS is a development model built around the idea of community creation and sharing of source code. The other three concepts, and the debates surrounding them, lend further definition to the OSS movement or "culture."

    Microsoft has been learning from the OSS community regarding the benefits of deeper collaboration and increased transparency leading to better communication with customers. We believe the most effective pathway for a commercial software company is to strike a balance between investing in research and development and the release of intellectual property assets in the form of source code for both reference and collaborative purposes.

    For more information on Microsoft and open source, please visit [].
    And lets look at the common acronyms of the things used:

    MS-PL, MS-RL

    Compare that to:


    Where exactly do you see the confusion? I cant imagine any better way for MS to make them clear and unambiguous than by sticking MS- in front of them, and making sure they dont look anything like GPL or LGPL.

    It sounds to me that you're so blinded by your zealotry that any MS use of the word 'source' in any form would be perceived by you as some great evil coming to get us.

  • by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @04:03PM (#23383002)
    Even if you use FOSS instead, microsoft hasn't hijacked anything.

    Show me where Microsoft refers to anything under similar terms as free software licenses. They don't even use the word open, nor free.
  • by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @04:06PM (#23383050)
    Yea if you are trying to throw stuff through them, true they aren't open. None of this has anything to do with software and the comparison is meaningless.
  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @04:35PM (#23383498) Homepage
    yeah, yeah, yeah, and free software is zero-cost software, we all know that. There is no perfect term, but everybody except a few people living in Boston seem to have accepted Open Source as the standard name for software you can use, modify, and share freely.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @08:15PM (#23386020) Homepage Journal
    Look, I'm sorry it annoys you. But the day I published the Open Source Definition, Open Source acquired a specific meaning which stands to this day. Eric Raymond and I took the authority to do that. What gave us the right? We chose to lead, and some Millions of people have followed. Today they use "Open Source" as in the definition.

    It's a trademark too. Just not a registered one, because that got botched.

    Can't you do something more constructive and work on hacker? The abuse of that to mean computer criminal is much more bothersome.


To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire