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Microsoft Open Source Patents Software Your Rights Online

License Details Hint MS Undecided On Suing Users of Its Open Source Net Runtime 198

ciaran2014 writes With Microsoft proudly declaring its .NET runtime open source, a colleague and I decided to look at the licensing aspects. One part, the MIT licence, is straightforward, but there's also a patent promise. The first two-thirds of the first sentence seems to announce good news about Microsoft not suing people. Then the conditions begin. It seems Microsoft can't yet bring itself to release something as free software without retaining a patent threat to limit how those freedoms can be exercised. Overall, we found 4 Shifty Details About Microsoft's "Open Source" .NET.
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License Details Hint MS Undecided On Suing Users of Its Open Source Net Runtime

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  • Nothing new here (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:33AM (#49378939)

    So just like Mono, then?

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:33AM (#49378941)
    Why do people want to take proprietary languages and libraries and use them on open source projects?

    I remember some interest in .net and mono and other Microsoft-derived stuff in Linux a long time ago. Why is there this interest in commingling the Microsoft way with the POSIX way when there are so many POSIX tools already available? I don't understand this choice. It's literally giving ammunition to the party that at one point had a declared interest in trying to replace all UNIX and UNIX-like OSes with its own commercial platforms. Why make it easier for that to happen by developing with their technologies?
    • Why do people want to take proprietary languages and libraries and use them on open source projects?

      For two reasons. One is to run the proprietary software on the free platform, much as Steam games run on Valve's Debian-based Steam OS or other Windows desktop applications run in Wine. The other is to run free applications on an incumbent proprietary platform. With .NET in particular, there have been a couple widely used platforms that use the CLR as their only runtime environment, such as XNA on Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7. The same is true of the Java platform, which all third-party applications for a J2ME phone were required to use.

      • by Chris Katko ( 2923353 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:49AM (#49379019)
        In other words, developers want something that works everywhere, and .NET is the best of the only, crappy, solutions we have available.

        It's much harder (and hugely risky) to make a brand new, gigantic project for cross-platform software, than it is to re-implement someone's existing framework. If you don't have money to burn, nobody is going to do that. What if you commit 5 man-years of effort and then nobody uses it? People usually prefer incremental expansions to existing frameworks. Didn't we just have a thread on re-inventing the wheel?
        • No, .NET is not the best of the only crappy solutions. However it is the solution that is widely used. It's a world where Windows is seen as essentially the only platform, and where what Microsoft does rather than what Microsoft says is the true API. Developers (developers, developers) are trained to use .NET as their first and last option, and they're being told loudly and clearly (and incorrectly) that .NET is highly portable. It's portable yes, but in a world where portability means that it can run o

        • In other words, developers want something that works everywhere, and .NET is the best of the only, crappy, solutions we have available.

          More like, it's the only framework said developers understands or cares to learn, so it's what they use; or it is an easy framework to get past their manager that doesn't want to invest more in training for proper tools like Qt (PyQt, Qt), Gtk, etc that are actually 100% open source and freely available.

    • by Marginal Coward ( 3557951 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:47AM (#49379005)

      at one point

      There's your answer right there. Maybe things have changed. If you see this as a war (e.g. "ammunition"), you're absolutely right: why give aid and comfort to the enemy? But if you see .net as having some sort of technological benefit, and you see the war as having been fought and lost by the enemy who has capitulated by releasing .net as open source (I know, I know, with strings attached...) then there's no longer any need to keep fighting the war.

      In that vein, I see no need to boycott clothing produced in Viet Nam. That war was over long ago. If the clothing has benefits and can be used under acceptable terms, then why not? Alternatively, if you find the terms unacceptable, don't buy the clothing. But the war of the past doesn't much enter into it at this point. Enjoy the benefits of peace. (That said, I know that's easier said than done for those who still suffer from PTSD. ;-)

      • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:54AM (#49379049)
        Clothing produced in Vietnam is a good, once it's sold the original producer has no say over what happens to it.

        Software produced by a corporation is intellectual property. It is not usually sold, it is licensed. The original producer usually retains some say over what happens to it, far beyond the realm of simply protecting it from unlicensed duplication.
      • by DeVilla ( 4563 )

        at one point

        There's your answer right there. Maybe things have changed.

        I hear you. And I've been hearing people just like you for over a decade. "But now things are different." "Microsoft have changed."

        But if ... you see the war as having been fought and lost by the enemy who has capitulated ...

        The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. The appearance of "capitulation" is a documented part of Microsoft's playbook. Usually it takes a few years, but history shows that each time they give the half-hearted appearance of opening up and being more civil to the Open Source Community you find they were doing something far more underhanded at the same time beh

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          THIS!

          MS has a vbery long history of stabbing 'partners' in the back.

        • I hear you. And I've been hearing people just like you for over a decade. "But now things are different." "Microsoft have changed."

          I understand, but help me out here: at what point can we declare that the war is over, and the good guys have won? Here are some possible turning points:

          - The US government succeeds in anti-trust action against MS. Certain other world governments take action of their own.
          - Several strong competitors emerge who dominate in related areas of phones, tablets, cloud, search, social media, etc. Which leads us to:
          - The market changes where the dominance in desktop OS is no longer the dominant factor in computin

          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            I'll believe it if we get another 20 years of the same behavior, or they lose dominance in total OS market share and release Office, even as a paid application, on open source platforms.
            • It's a darn shame that MS still is in control of these things. Wouldn't it be much better if someone would create a full-featured, free of charge, and open source computing system? First things first: we need license. Then, of course, we'll need a compiler. Next, let's use that to build an OS: to make that job a little easier, let's imitate some existing commercial OS. Even so, the kernel's gonna be really hard, though - I hope we can find somebody smart enough to make one that actually works - we can

            • by DeVilla ( 4563 )
              If they lose dominance and get desperate, I'd trust them less. Right now the threat of patents is just a scare tactic. If they get hurt for money, they'll become another SCO.
          • by DeVilla ( 4563 )

            Here are some possible turning points:

            - The US government succeeds in anti-trust action against MS. Certain other world governments take action of their own.

            You realize that case was a long time ago and a lot of the behavior I was discussing happened after that.

            - Several strong competitors emerge who dominate in related areas of phones, tablets, cloud, search, social media, etc. Which leads us to:
            - The market changes where the dominance in desktop OS is no longer the dominant factor in computing

            I'll admit, that's reason for them to do something desperate. Having competition again does not imply Microsoft has become trustworthy.

            - New leadership takes the reins at MS

            ... for the second time.

            - MS begins to open-source their software, not because they suddenly received a vision from the Prophet Richard Stallman, but because they recognize that the old model of "embrace and extend" simply doesn't work anymore.

            You are assuming a reason and an intent. That is where I am lead to believe differently than you.

            If that's not enough, what is?

            Microsoft spent decades working hard to earn the reputation they have. And I have to accent that. They earned their reputation. For a start, how a

            • I'll admit, that's reason for them to do something desperate. Having competition again does not imply Microsoft has become trustworthy.

              Actually, I think that's exactly what it implies. Let's take the premise that MS, like most corporations, does whatever it sees to be in its best interest. I believe that they're smart enough at this point to see that becoming trustworthy (at least as much as any other corporation) is in their best business interest.

              It's axiomatic that corporations need to evolve in order to survive in the long term. Although it's possible that MS would stick to their former "evil" behavior at any cost, in order to do ev

      • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

        Perhaps, but in this case in order to use that 'clothing made in Vietnam', you're going to have to throw away all your existing clothing and reconfigure your body so that only clothing 'made in Vietnam' will fit in the future - unless you're willing to start all over yet again.

        If you're using Java or some other cross-platform dev tools, the only reason to switch to .NET would be if .NET were to become so ubiquitous that you couldn't find Java devs to work on your code. But .NET is not ubiquitous, and there

        • by TWX ( 665546 )

          It seems Microsoft can no longer step into the field and copy what others have done with the assumption that just by being from Microsoft, their copy will become the new standard - even if it's marginally better than the original. And that's a good thing, IMO.

          IBM went through this in the eighties and nineties, when they ultimately lost the PC market. Obviously PCs if we include all devices that run PC operating systems are still going strong despite this. If we include things that aren't considered PCs like keyboard-lacking tablets and phones, then it's absolutely roaring.

          Computing will survive Microsoft losing its dominance over multiple simultaneous markets.

      • In that vein, I see no need to boycott clothing produced in Viet Nam. That war was over long ago.

        The war that the Vietnamese refer to as The American War.

      • But if you see .net as having some sort of technological benefit, and you see the war as having been fought and lost by the enemy who has capitulated by releasing .net as open source (I know, I know, with strings attached...) then there's no longer any need to keep fighting the war.

        Is your name Priam? He thought the war was over too, and that this big wooden horse left as a gift by his enemy would be perfectly safe to bring into his city. He didn't pay much attention to the strings attached.

        • Now there you go again with that "enemy" thinking. I just hope that one day you and Santa Claus can reconcile so that you can finally enjoy that nice wooden horse he left for you under the tree.

          But now you've got me wondering...what is Richard Stallman really up to with all this "free software" business...? He tells us that It doesn't cost anything and that it somehow protects our freedom. Just wait until his army of loyal minions jump out of that horse...

          • Shortly after I posted that, I remembered that Richard Stallman wants us to have nothing running on our computer but his "free software" - even its BIOS should be "free." Just like that famous Trojan horse of yore, every last bit of it is "free"...

            • by TWX ( 665546 )
              And that's where a lot of us differ from Stallman.

              I'm fine with commercial software existing. I just want a level playing-field on which to run it.
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:58AM (#49379081) Homepage
      As somebody who uses .Net for web development, I am actually very disappointed in the fully open source alternatives. Lack of Unicode support (very important on the web), lack of consistency in the language, The fact that they are interpreted languages (compiling the code catches huge classes of bugs that you don't even have to think about leaving your mind free to worry about other things). All of these are huge problem with all or most of the open source alternatives.
      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        If MS carries through with open-sourcing all of the C#/.NET stuff, it will be a great ecosystem. I'd love to write C# for Linux server back-end stuff, without being constrained to some subest of the language, and with full ".NET native" compiler support (or distribution support for the .NET runtime).

      • by jrumney ( 197329 )
        It's really not clear what fully open source alternatives you are talking about here, as I'm not aware of any alternative web development environment comparable in scope to .NET today that lacks Unicode support.
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @11:01AM (#49379089) Homepage Journal

      Why do people want to take proprietary languages and libraries and use them on open source projects?

      Speaking for myself - because C# w/ .NET wipes the floor with the competition, including Java. New, useful features being introduced regularly. Properties, lambdas, LINQ, web frameworks like OWIN that aren't massively over-complicated, etc.

  • What about Facebook? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Open Source Software by Facebook like React also includes some pretty weird PATENTS [github.com] clauses.

    • The very last line is certainly bad:

      "The license granted hereunder will terminate (...) for anyone (...) alleging (...) that any right in any patent claim of Facebook is invalid or unenforceable."

      But there are ways that it's better than Microsoft's promise:

      * It's a licence, rather than a promise, so it remains valid if Facebook transfers the patents to someone else
      * It's titled "Additional Grant of Patent Rights", so there's no implication of this document taking away any rights granted elsewhere (explicitl

  • by bulled ( 956533 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @10:51AM (#49379027)
    I don't mean to start a religious war, but this one of the key reasons that not all open source software is free(libre) software. Sure you can see the code, you can even run the code, but MS isn't promising you a license to use their patents.
    • Yes, there is a difference between open source and free. But you completely missed the point in that the authors are complaining that "Open Source" .NET does not comply with standard open source terms. The promise not to sue over patents is flimsy at best. In the article it paraphrases one of the most troubling aspects as "Microsoft won't sue you so long as you use the code for .NET Runtime projects" which means no code can be used for anything other than .NET ie not for other C# (or C/C++) projects.

      For ex

      • Yes, there is a difference between open source and free.

        Not as Debian and Open Source Initiative define the terms. The Open Source Definition published by OSI is almost word for word the same as the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

      • Yes, there is a difference between open source and free. But you completely missed the point in that the authors are complaining that "Open Source" .NET does not comply with standard open source terms. The promise not to sue over patents is flimsy at best.

        Given that the code in question is released under MIT license (which is considered open source by everyone, including officially by OSI), and the patent promise is on top of that, and only grants you additional rights on top of the license grants, aren't you basically saying that using an open source license alone is not sufficient, then? And that most software released under pretty much any open source license (including GPLv2) does not "comply with standard open source terms"? I mean, most of them don't c

    • All Open Source licenses come with an implicit patent grant, it's an exhaustion doctrine in equitable law.

      The problem is not patent holders who contribute to the code, you're protected from them. It's trolls who make no contribution and then sue.

      Of course these same trolls sue regarding proprietary code as well.

      • Bruce, to clarify: are you saying that, since the code in question is released under the MIT license, which is OSI approved [opensource.org], there is an implicit patent grant there that renders the separate explicit one basically redundant, and this whole thing is a non-story?

  • Oh, wait - it's about .NET. Sorry, false alarm. Nothing to see here.

    • Well,, Microsoft is talking about open sourcing aspects of .NET.

      Apparently they can't decide what that actually means.

      There's definitely something there.

      It means, as usual, Microsoft is trying to get people to use their technology while holding a threat over them. If they're not open sourcing in any meaningful sense of the word, they should be honest about it.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @11:02AM (#49379093)

    Despite the fact that every other big software company is doing the same or worse. If you take a whizbang feature from Java and use it in Python, you're more likely to be sued by Oracle than doing the equivalent getting you sued by Microsoft. Seriously people, the level of chickenshit that formed the foundation of the Oracle-Google lawsuit would make a chicken house unusable for 5 generations and you don't see the level of "ZOMG TEH JAVA IZ RADIOACTIVE" from the people criticizing Microsoft.

    The Gates/Ballmer era is over. Get over it. The petty bullshit about Microsoft makes you sound like someone who is still fighting the PPC/x86 fight.

    • If you take a whizbang feature from Java and use it in Python, you're more likely to be sued by Oracle than doing the equivalent getting you sued by Microsoft.

      Except that Java is covered under the GPL which would forbid that. Oracle can still be dicks about it but the Oracle - Google case, the lower court ruled for Google. It was remanded for reconsideration back to the lower court. The other difference is that Sun open sourced Java and Jonathan Schwartz (former Sun CEO) did not think that Google did anything wrong. It was Oracle who later bought Sun that re-interpreted what they would allow.

      In this case MS from the beginning has issues with claiming .NET to be "

    • Sorry. Developers and engineers have a long memory, by trade. Microsoft doesn't get a free pass just because of a change in the top guy. They don't get their slate wiped clean just because they replaced one person at the very top. Yes, that's asking for a lot.

      Microsoft is going to have to do a lot more goodwill gathering to even break even with the negatives from the shit they've pulled in the past. Hell, they just did it again, with Windows RT, though it's not as big of a deal because everybody learned the

  • Shitty Deal? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Njorthbiatr ( 3776975 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @11:03AM (#49379105)

    Yeah, MS spent a copious amount of dollars developing a clean, efficient, and practical framework. They're being generous by not only continuing to develop it with all sorts of modules and internal testing, but expand it to other platforms.

    And here you are whining that they won't let you butcher the code they wrote and reuse it for your own purposes like it was your own stuff?

    You need to get your head out of your ass. Seriously, I've never heard anything so self-entitled in my life.

    • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

      Depends on how you define 'generous'. They want something in return. In this case that something is wider adoption of their framework so that they don't continue to lose developer mindshare. Their framework might be clean and efficient - but it is also pretty much by definition guaranteed to always work first and best when used on a Microsoft OS. That in and of itself wouldn't be so bad if they had been open from the beginning. It's just that to switch an existing project over to .NET would require a h

    • Yeah, MS spent a copious amount of dollars developing a clean, efficient, and practical framework. They're being generous by not only continuing to develop it with all sorts of modules and internal testing, but expand it to other platforms.

      Generous? I don't think you are using that word correctly. If anything, MS is using this as a means of increasing market share. If that happens, they will come out with the next proprietary version to trap people into. Don't go thinking that MS ever does anything for the "common good."

  • We all know it's a trap.
  • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @01:12PM (#49379647)

    section 10 that "No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface."

    They should look at the annotated definition [opensource.org].

    10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral
    No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

    Rationale: This provision is aimed specifically at licenses which require an explicit gesture of assent in order to establish a contract between licensor and licensee. Provisions mandating so-called "click-wrap" may conflict with important methods of software distribution such as FTP download, CD-ROM anthologies, and web mirroring; such provisions may also hinder code re-use. Conformant licenses must allow for the possibility that (a) redistribution of the software will take place over non-Web channels that do not support click-wrapping of the download, and that (b) the covered code (or re-used portions of covered code) may run in a non-GUI environment that cannot support popup dialogues.

    Section 10 deals with how the license is signed and not the technology used in the code.

    • Hi, one of the authors here.

      We spent _hours_ reading the OSD and its annotations. I can tell you, it's an awful document to have to work with. Lots of ambiguity, some parts are incoherent/inconsistent, and the annotations are certainly no better.

      Nothing in the OSD is clearly stated. The gist of it is spread across all the sections. If we hadn't used sections 3 and 10, we would have used 1, 6, and 7, or we could have used all five of those but we decided two sections were sufficient to make the point tha

      • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Tuesday March 31, 2015 @02:41PM (#49380349)

        As always the un-annotated version is open to interpretation. Your interpretation just slants toward bad things happening.

        Nothing in the OSD is clearly stated

        Sorry but that annotation states clearly that section 10 is about the license and not code content.

        we would have used 1, 6, and 7

        Secion 1 is about bundling as in you can't distribute along with another package. Section 6 is about discrimination in fields of endeavor as in you can not use this code in a specific industry. Section 7 is about redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license. None of those sections have anything to do with modifying the code.

        we decided two sections were sufficient to make the point that the OSD isn't supposed to approve of suing people who reuse your code.

        And you were incorrect in that section 10 does not state what you represent it to state.

        Those are the standards they claim to be living by, so those are the standards we judged their licensing on.

        You are basing your standard on your interpretation of of the OSD instead of doing due diligence and digging further to understand what OSD really means by those few words. The fact you misinterpreted the statement is not Microsoft's issue. It is your issue. That is not what I would call journalistic entirety.

        Section 3 is the only section that talks about distributing modified code. Had you stopped there we would not be having this conversation. Even then your case is weak. Microsoft is allowing the code to be modified and redistributed. Microsoft is just putting certain restrictions on it. Is there anywhere that OSD states restrictions are not allowed?

        • All sections and annotations of the OSD are unclear.

          This lack of clarity allows for ridiculous interpretations, such claiming that nothing in sections 1, 3, 6, 7 or 10 prevents developers from reserving the right to sue people who modify their "open source" software.

          However, I don't think you'll find many people who agree with such interpretations. I find it fairly disingenuous.

          I'm not going to explain the OSD point by point, but I don't want you thinking I'm dodging the argument either, so if you pick one

          • This lack of clarity allows for ridiculous interpretations, such claiming that nothing in sections 1, 3, 6, 7 or 10 prevents developers from reserving the right to sue people who modify their "open source" software.

            I never said that. I just said they said that 1,6,7 and 10 say nothing at all about modifying the code or suing people for modifying the code. Those points are all about licensing and distribution. You are making the ridiculous interpretation that those clauses have anything to do with modifying the code.

            so if you pick one point and I'll respond to it.

            Ok. I pick point 10 since it was in the original post.

            • Ok. Regarding section 10, the text itself says no licence provision can be predicated on a specific technology. Microsoft's licence does *exactly* that. It predicates a patent safety provision on being a .NET project. The osd-fail couldn't be clearer.

              Then comes the annotation that says they were thinking of something else when they wrote section 10. So the question is: does the annotation narrow the meaning of section 10? No, because

              1. while they say it "is aimed specifically", they don't say it's aimed

  • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
    Sounds like the same reason G+ asks for copyright permissions. My guess is MS doesn't freely hand out the patents because they don't want Java whole-sale ripping out chunks of code and dropping it in their product. I assume if you continue to use everything as .Net, you should be fine, but don't try taking MS code and using it for non-.Net related projects.
  • ... if you want to do business with the likes of MS and Oracle.
    If you're small, it's safer to just stay away.

  • Sounds a lot like the Java licensing terms that Microsoft were sued for violating earlier this century. Ironic on both fronts, really.

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