Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative Adds Seven Nations

In the face of a European Union threat to levy US$5 million in daily fines for allegedly failing to license selected software code, Microsoft today announced the expansion of its Shared Source Initiative to cover seven additional countries in the European Union.

Launched in May 2001 and now encompassing 17 unique code-sharing programs for various Microsoft technologies, the Shared Source Initiative is Microsoft’s main program for sharing source code. The latest expansion gives Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia access to code for Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows CE and Windows Server 2003.

Sensible Move

Matt Rosoff, a lead analyst with Directions on Microsoft, told LinuxInsider that he expected the software giant to act quickly when news broke recently that the European Commission was not pleased with the way the company set up licensing terms. He said that expanding the Shared Source Initiative makes sense.

“Microsoft’s point of view is that if its intellectual property gets incorporated into open-source products and is covered under an open-source license, then it essentially becomes freely available,” Rosoff said.

“Microsoft believes Shared Source is a way to release the information at no charge and allow some sharing while still retaining enough restrictions to protect its intellectual property.”

Seeking Transparency

Jason Matusow, director of the Shared Source Initiative at Microsoft, said expanding the Windows source code access programs to the whole of the EU is another important step in this process.

“Transparency leads to greater trust and opportunity,” Matusow said in a statement. “Over the past four years we have constantly looked for ways to expand the Shared Source Initiative — across technologies, license types and geographies — to better listen to what our customers and partners are asking of us.”

Microsoft began sharing Windows source code with academic institutions in 1991, and in 2001 it established the Shared Source Initiative to address broader customer interest and formalize a program that allows access to a spectrum of Microsoft technologies ranging from Microsoft .NET technologies to embedded operating systems.

A Call to Compromise

Recently, however, EU regulators had reportedly been considering hefty fines for Microsoft for what the Free Software Foundation Europe was calling high fees charged for access to source code. These claims were based on an EU case last year where the region’s Competition Directorate ordered Microsoft to make some of its server software available to competitors.

According to Rosen, European open-source groups were complaining to the European Commission that the licensing terms were written in such a way that it was impossible for them to leverage them.

“The issue here is the open-source community was being allowed to incorporate and use some of the protocols that were covered by the EU decision without being allowed to share this information completely freely or incorporate it into the GPL so it becomes open source,” Rosoff said. “This looks like some sort of compromise by Microsoft to protect its intellectual property.”

Microsoft has repeatedly expressed its desire to comply with EU orders.

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