Microsoft Hangs Up the Phone on GPLv3

Little did we know when Microsoft’s Jean Paoli uttered the words, “We love open source” late last summer that there would be so many occasions in subsequent months to look back on that statement and scratch our heads in wonder.

Case in point: the company’s recent decision to severely restrict the open source licenses that can be involved in any application distributed through its Windows Phone Marketplace.

Excluded from the store, specifically, is all software governed by “any license requiring… that the software or other software combined and/or distributed with it be (i) disclosed or distributed in source code form; (ii) licensed for the purpose of making derivative works; or (iii) redistributable at no charge,” Redmond’s developer agreement stipulates.

Namely, excluded licenses “include, but are not limited to the GPLv3 Licenses,” which Microsoft goes on to explain means “the GNU General Public License version 3, the GNU Affero General Public License version 3, the GNU Lesser General Public License version 3, and any equivalents to the foregoing.”

A Limited Selection

Now, when Red Hat blogger Jan Wildeboer first called attention to the restriction in a blog post last week, many took it to mean 0 that no open source software whatsoever is allowed in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Numerous parallels, in fact, were drawn between this decision and Apple’s ejection of the open source video player VLC from its App Store.

Turns out, however, that Redmond “supports several open source licenses, including BSD, MIT, Apache Software License 2.0, MS-PL and other similar permissive licenses,” as it later told several reporters.

Nevertheless, given GPLv3’s relative ubiquity throughout the open source world — and the rather open-ended wording used in the agreement — FOSS fans were far from impressed by this latest maneuver.

‘Apps I Need for My Job’

“Microsoft says they need more apps, but now they have just banned some of the very apps I need for my job,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl. “I’m guessing they learned the wrong things from the Apple store FOSS app problems and missed that the apps that got removed were some of the most popular.

“Congrats, Microsoft — you have just made sure I can never own a Win 7 phone and keep my job,” Mack added.

Indeed, “there may be some perfectly rational reason Microsoft chooses to proscribe GPLv3, but it doesn’t play well to the technical public,” Slashdot blogger yagu observed.

‘It’s Too Bad’

The fact that Redmond does allow “what I’ll call ‘pseudo’ open source applications licensed under their version of an open source licensing agreement,” meanwhile, “smacks of their (well earned) ’embrace and corrupt’ approach to technology they didn’t create,” yagu added.

“I hope this is mostly irrelevant because Microsoft lags so far behind in this market, and this time maybe they can’t ramp up fast enough before they’re completely out of the game,” he explained. “Squeezing out GPLv3 won’t help their cause — how many programmers in this smartphone universe want to learn the ropes of one more dodgy controlling gatekeeper?”

Ultimately, though, “it’s too bad,” yagu lamented. “It almost seemed at some point MS could be Open Source friendly. There may be genuine advocates within, but Microsoft operates with multiple personalities these days and shoots itself in the foot with seemingly contradictory attitudes and policies, especially in the Open Source court.”

‘No Surprise Whatsoever’

Of course, GPLv3 “differs from GPLv2 primarily in its relationship to patents,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza pointed out. “Microsoft has formerly demonstrated its commitment to software patents as relates to the GPL version 3, so this comes as no surprise whatsoever.”

Indeed, “unlike the implicit patent license grant in the GPLv2, the GPLv3 has an explicit patent grant,” noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Microsoft has been making noises for years about patents,” she added. Nokia’s Elop, in fact, “has said that he sees partnering with Microsoft as offering certain competitive advantages to Android, and I have to wonder if this isn’t an oblique reference to Microsoft’s patent portfolio and the numerous patent disputes before the International Trade Commission.

“After all, any GPLv3 code that Microsoft distributed would grant everyone a license for any patents infringed by the code, or any modified version,” Hudson explained.

In short, “to Microsoft, this isn’t just another case of ‘The GPL is a virus’ — this isn’t a common cold or the sniffles — it’s Ebola!” Hudson concluded. “Ballmer wouldn’t just be throwing chairs — he’d have a haemorrhage.”

‘This Decision Will Be Abandoned’

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, predicted the move will be short-lived.

“No, it is not surprising,” Travers told Linux Girl. “Microsoft has a habit of deciding to do these things, acting surprised when they look like the bad guy, and then reversing course.

“They’ve done this sort of thing before with banning rival browsers from and later releasing SDKs with license terms which said that no software could be developed under it that was later released under the GPL,” he added. “These were all short-term decisions and quickly reversed.”

While Travers prefers GPLv2 over GPL v3, “I doubt that Microsoft will keep this up,” he predicted. “They are a large, diverse organization, and if past performance is any indication of future behavior, this decision will be abandoned within a couple weeks.”

‘The TiVo Trick’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t surprised either, but for different reasons.

“If one were to allow GPL software, one would have to offer the keys and DRM as well, because without it you have ‘the TiVo trick ‘– which is why there is GPLv3 now,” hairyfeet explained.

“As many ‘ZOMG M$!!’ zealots as we have out there, the SECOND they released the source for those DRM measures, there would be a ‘stick it to teh man LOL!’ hack released, which would make piracy #1 and make the Windows market worthless for developers that actually want to get paid,” hairyfeet added.

‘Allergic to Freedom’

The bottom line, blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl, is that “M$ is allergic to Freedom and, like Apple, discourages choice.

“They are also making a good idea — a one-stop shopping place for software — much more limited,” Pogson added. “Good for M$! The more they abuse their customers, the more converts to GNU/Linux, Android/Linux and other Free Software, where such artificial barriers to competition do not exist.”

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