Microsoft Missed Perfect Chance To Contribute GPL Code

Take advantage of every opportunity to give back to the open source community

Using open source software in your product. Doesn't Microsoft know that bloggers, techno-dudes and everyone else is watch them like a hawk waiting for Microsoft to make a GPL license misstep? Friday blogger Rafael Rivera called Microsoft on the carpet accusing Redmond of lifting code from the ImageMaster project for use in a Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool (WUDT) for netbooks. You may recall, Rafael was the person who called Microsoft on lightening up too much with UAC changes in Windows 7, resulting in Microsoft fixing a significant security issue in the fledgling Windows OS preview.

I don't know whether Microsoft did or didn't use open source code in the WUDT but the real question is did they use it improperly? There are acceptable ways under GPLv2 to use open source code in a commercial, and there are also many ways to violate the license by improperly linking code, or not following the GPLv2 license distribution requirements. Microsoft's now pulled WUDT and is "investigating" the matter.

But let's suppose Microsoft did use open source code from the ImageMaster project. It's not illegal. If you're code's comingled with open source code then your code now falls under the GLPv2 and should be distributed. In this case WUDT is a utility lets users create a bootable flash drive from an iso, so I serious doubt there's any super-secret Microsoft intellectual property in there that can't be disclosed. I'll bet, other than rebadging the software, it's probably all ImageMaker code anyway. (Again, presuming Rafael is right on this.)

What a great opportunity for Microsoft to contribute whatever code they added back to the ImageMaster project. That's the idea behind open source, if you change it you should give back your changes for others benefit since you benefited from the code. An unimportant utility like this is a slam dunk situation for Microsoft to give back code to an open source project. Every gesture, even small ones, to the open source community helps slowly build credibility.

Microsoft, if you did use open source in WUDT, immediately turn right around and whatever small amount of code you added back to the open source community. It would have been better to do it up front but it's especially important now.

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