Microsoft is looking to cosy up to the open-source community, after years of hostility. The company is looking for an official stamp of open-source approval for the licences that the company uses to share its own software and source code.
Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, said, in a speech at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, that the software vendor is submitting its so-called shared source licences to the Open Source Initiative. The plans were also detailed on Port 25, a blog written by workers at Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab.
Russ Nelson, who chairs the OSI's licence approval committee, said that he expected Microsoft to submit its shared source licences for approval within a week or so, but he didn't comment further.
Initial reaction by outside commentators tended toward the positive.
"This is a huge, long-awaited move," Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media, wrote in his blog. If the shared source licenses are accepted by the OSI, he added, "it will be a lot harder to draw a bright line between Microsoft and the open-source community." O'Reilly Media sponsored the conference at which Hilf made the announcement.
Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing at open-source database vendor MySQL, also applauded Microsoft's plan in his blog on Infoworld.
"Although a bit late to the party, I think this is still a good step on Microsoft's part," Urlocker wrote. "It shows that they appreciate there's a community outside of Microsoft and [that] they are adapting their business practices and licensing in order to be successful there. That, to me, is highly significant."
Microsoft has released 650 internally developed software programs to the general public via its shared source program, according to Hilf.
But don't expect Microsoft to release open-source versions of products such as Windows or Office anytime soon. Most of the products released under the shared source licences are lesser-known applications hosted on Microsoft's CodePlex site, the company's equivalent to SourceForge's popular open-source development site.
Nonetheless, the latest move may come as a surprise to many who have watched Microsoft over the past year. For example, the software vendor has pushed Linux vendors to sign controversial cross-licensing deals in order to avoid any potential legal repercussion from Microsoft's claims that Linux and other open-source products infringe on 235 of its patents.
Microsoft has reached agreements with Novell and two other vendors, but it was rebuffed by three other companies, including Red Hat - raising the spectre of a split within the Linux camp.
And Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who once called Linux "a cancer," further fanned the flames by declaring that because of the alleged infringement of the software vendor's intellectual property, "every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability."
Microsoft wouldn't be the first vendor not normally associated with open-source technology to have licences approved by the OSI. Among the 50 or so software licenses that the group has certified are ones submitted by companies such as Apple, CA, Nokia, RealNetworks and Sybase.