Aperio radix, pro bono publico. (Open source, for the public good.)

Microsoft Singularity: What is the mess we've been handed?

Date/Time Permalink: 03/05/08 05:24:13 pm
Category: General

I'm totally tortured with agonizing over Microsoft's Singularity. See, I have a standing moral obligation with myself as follows: If Microsoft ever released a purely Open-Source or Free Software system - as defined by the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, or common conventional wisdom - I have said (and will repeat here) that I would download it, try it out, review it, and possibly adopt it, to be treated no different from software from, for example, Red Hat Inc. or BSD.

But I'm poring over the license, and this seems like it doesn't qualify. It seems to be proprietary with the extra feature of being able to see the source, and modify and redistribute it only in the interests of academic research, with the stipulation that:

  • It allows no "activity which purpose is to procure a commercial gain to you or others." Does blogging about it on a website with ads count? Does publishing an ebook hacking guide count?
  • "That Microsoft is granted back, a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free, and sub-licensable license to, for any purpose, reproduce, publicly perform or display, install, use, modify, distribute, make and have made, sell and transfer modifications to and/or derivative works of the Software source code or data that you provide to Microsoft through the CodePlex tool or otherwise make directly available to Microsoft."

Which pretty much seems to amount to "by running this and contributing anything to it, even a 2-line batch script, you become Microsoft's voluntary employee." That alone seems to serve to hamper the cause of academic research.

You know, I really want to encourage proprietary and commercial software companies when they dip their toe into the open source end of the pool. I've cheered for Sun Microsystems over open-sourcing Java and Solaris, and applauded id Software and Xara for releasing their products as open source. I want to show corporations that when you make nice with the libre computing community, you gain friends you wouldn't have had otherwise.

But sadly, and yet again, this action does not qualify. At least, as far as my tiny brain understands it. I don't have a good legal head for reading pages of licenses to compare them. The closest thing I see here to an OS license is Sun's CDDL and Mozilla's MPL, and even these are a huge step of openness and freedom compared to Singuality, while still protecting the commercial interest of their parent companies to a reasonable degree.

Slashdot isn't helping me make up my mind, either. The debate rages on over there.

Seriously, it could just be the case that Microsoft really wants to do the right thing, but has no idea how to go about it. But common sense is telling me that that's a thin defense. Microsoft has two licenses approved by the OSI (MS-Pl) and (MS-Rl); and it only takes a minute to research the Free Software Foundation's philosophy.

Microsoft knows damned good and well what an open source license looks like. And I guess I can't kid myself about that fact, as hard as I would like to.

Jules from Pulp Fiction asks, What does an open-source license look like?

Bonus Buck: Speaking of proprietary software turning open source, here's a list of them.

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