Friday, February 22, 2008

The Microsoft Patent and Open Source Thingy

I think Red Hat's EVP and General Counsel does a good job defining the skeptical response to Microsoft's announcement. While I agree with their desire to see actions, I am confused by the problem Red Hat and others have with Microsoft's limiting the patent license exclusion to non-commercial developers or non-commercial distribution. To me, that seems to pass the common sense test.

If I think about an example, let's say someone who works as a programmer at a for-profit open source company, say Groundwork Open Source, makes a contribution to the expressly non-commercial Open Source project Nagios that includes code that talks to Microsoft's stuff. As long as that piece of code is distributed in a non-commercial way, no problem. But if Groundwork decides to include that bit of functionality in their commercial solution (which may or may not be Open Source), then Groundwork needs to get a license (which Microsoft promises to provide in a non-discriminatory way and at a fair rate - and btw, I agree wholeheartedly with the skeptics here - proof will be in the pudding). I struggle to see what's unfair about this or how it differs substantially from the stance taken by commercial open source companies that have different license terms for different versions / uses of their product - companies like MySQL, and Alfresco. Alfresco's licensing page puts it this way:

Alfresco Software Ltd. provides its software (enterprise content management system, web content management system) under a number of flexible licenses, designed to meet the particular requirements of different types of users:

For Open Source Projects

  • If you are developing and distributing open source software under the GNU General Public License (“GPL”), then you are free to use Alfresco under the GPL License. More Info

  • If you are developing and distributing open source software under an OSI-Approved License, but not the GPL, and want to link Alfresco’s GPL software with yours, Alfresco provides the GPL License with a FLOSS Exception. More Info

For Commercial OEMs, ISVs and VARs

For OEMs, ISVs, and VARs who distribute Alfresco with their proprietary products, and do not wish to license and distribute their source code under the GPL, Alfresco provides a flexible OEM Commercial License. For more details please see our OEM Program Information.

For Enterprises, Government Organizations, Small-to-Medium-sized Businesses

Alfresco licenses Alfresco Enterprise under a Commercial License to paid subscribers, similar to how MySQL, Red Hat, and other leading open source companies license their technology. Those wishing to use Alfresco for free under the GPL should download Alfresco Community. Our Alfresco Enterprise software solution is the industry’s leading enterprise content management system. It comes with full enterprise-class production-level support; documentation; certification of a range of third-party databases, middleware, operating systems, and applications; timely resolution of bugs or other errors in the code; and updates and upgrades.

I just don't see how Microsoft's position is substantively different from Alfresco's

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