Verdict In: Microsoft OSP Is No GPL

The Software Freedom Law Center is panning Microsoft's Open Specification Promise (OSP) and recommending GPL users not rely on promises made in the OSP. SFLC's issues are as follows:

1. Irrevocable but only for now: There's no guarantee that future versions of a specification under the OSP will also be covered under the OSP. When Microsoft produces updates or new specifications, it's at their discretion whether the changes will also fall under the OSP.

Guess what. The same is true of the GPL: the copyright holder can say the same about future changes to specs, e.g. code, and decide not to release them under the GPL. It's the copyright holder's discretion if future revs fall under the GPL. All code already released under the GPL will of course remain GPL'd code.

2. OSP Covers Specifications, Not Code: Here I agree with the SFLC, the OSP doesn't go far enough. It only covers the specifications. You aren't granted any licensing and my interpretation is that you can only implement those specs as long as it's not in a commercial product, i.e., it has to be free or open source software.

3. No Consistency with the GPL: Yep, OSP is much more limited and narrow in its scope. And it doesn't allow the same freedoms as the GPL - I agree, OSP doesn't. Again, the OSP doesn't go far enough in my book. Here also the SFLC also points out that Microsoft takes a pot shot at the GPL saying "the General Public License (GPL) is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone", which is actually true. I see vendors implementing GPL code in their products improperly and GPL code writers creating their own interpretation of the GPL , like what derivative works means, such as has been attempted by open source Snort company Sourcefire.

What's the net-net of the SFLC's report? Is this FUD flinging or will SFLC's objections hold up? Hmm... I don't think Microsoft is trying to say OSP is their equivalent to the GPL, but OOXML is an extremely important test case for Microsoft's strategy to get their OPS covered specs adopted as standards. I believe this is one of the crutial underpinnings of Ray Ozzie's Microsoft Mesh strategy, and the real driver behind OSP.

OSP does need more clarification and no restrictions on implementations of OSP covered specs, or everyone will be hanging back, afraid Microsoft will sic the legal hounds on some unfortunate developer or company doing something Microsoft doesn't like.

RELATED LINKS: Open Souce section of The Converging Network blog.

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