The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has given Microsoft a qualified thumbs-up over its new "shared source" licences.
The foundation said that two of the software giant's new licences at first glance appear to fulfil the definition of a free software licence.
The Microsoft Permissive License (Ms-PL) and Microsoft Community License (Ms-CL) are not so different from the Free Software Foundation's organisation's own Lesser GNU General Public License (LGPL), according to the FSFE. The Ms-CL even implements something like the Copyleft idea first implemented in the GNU General Public License (GPL) that governs Linux and other prominent free/open source software, the FSFE said.
"Given previous Microsoft statements about the Copyleft approach and in particular the GNU GPL as 'viral', 'cancerous' and 'communist', seeing Microsoft now publish licences applying the very same principles seems quite an evolution," the group said in a statement.
Copyleft is the idea of using legal means to ensure the ability of users of copylefted materials to freely use, modify and redistribute those materials.
"Microsoft finally seems to have made a step forward on their long march towards giving their users freedom," said FSFE president Georg Greve in a statement. "Of the five licences published, our cursory first analysis suggests that two of them indeed fulfill the Free Software Definition."
Microsoft said at the O'Reilly European Open Source Convention in Amsterdam this week that it plans to consolidate the licensing terms for its Shared Source initiative under three templates in an effort to simplify the programme for developers. The new licenses aim to reduce complexity and provide developers with more predictable terms for viewing Microsoft's code, according to Jason Matusow, director of the company's Shared Source Initiative. The initiative provides a select group of partners and customers with limited access to Microsoft's source code.
The three principal new licences are the Ms-PL, the Ms-CL and the Reference License (Ms-RL). There will also be limited versions of the Permissive and Community licenses (Ms-LPL and Ms-LCL), Microsoft said.
The FSFE has reservations about the Ms-RL, Ms-LPL and MS-LCL, which it said are "clearly proprietary". "We still have to warn people to be careful about the 'Shared Source' label and look at the specific licences," stated Greve.
The FSFE said it would have preferred Microsoft to use the GPL or LGPL for Shared Source instead of inventing new licences. "In the course of time we would prefer to see Microsoft join the large global community of commercial GNU (L)GPL vendors," Greve stated.
The organisation also remarked that the licences do no one any good unless software is published that uses them.
Microsoft has said it has no plans to seek official approval of its licences from free software or open-source organisations such as the Open Source Initiative, which publishes the Open Source Definition.