With little fanfare, Microsoft — or at least one part of it — has gone from considering the GNU General Public License v.3 (GPLv3) "evil" to "acceptable."
On October 3, Microsoft announced that, for the first time, it would allow open-source projects hosted on its CodePlex site to specify use of the GPLv3 license. CodePlex is a Microsoft-run site for hosting open-source projects.
GPLv3 is now one of the license choices that CodePlex developers see in a drop-down list offering them licensing choices. Other options in the drop-down include Apache 2.0, Simplified BSD, GPLv2, Mozilla Public License 2, and a handful of Microsoft open-source licenses. Individuals interested in hosting an open source project on CodePlex need to select a license at the time they first put their projects on the site.
Developers have been asking Microsoft to add the GPLv3 license as an option on CodePlex since 2008, if not before. In last week's blog post, Technical Fellow Brian Harry noted that developers' demands were finally being realized:
"We want to keep the licensing of projects on CodePlex as simple as possible which is why we keep the drop-down list of licenses short and simple. But it was clear that GPLv3 is important enough and there was enough community demand that it deserved a place in the list."
Developers who don't see their favorite open-source license in the drop down can contact the CodePlex team and request the right to use other open-source licenses, Harry notes.
It's surprising that Microsoft finally added GPLv3 to its CodePlex list, given Microsoft management's (and legal's) fear and loathing of that particular open-source license.
Back in 2007, when Microsoft kicked off its campaign to get Linux vendors — starting with Novell — to license Microsoft patents to head off potential legal action, GPLv3 was a big stumbling block. There was supposedly concern on Microsoft's part that under the GPLv3, Microsoft itself could be considered a "Linux distributor," and thus beholden to the GPL v3 terms as a result of the support terms that were part of the Microsoft-Novell pact. Microsoft execs publicly expressed worry that GPLv3 was attempting to erode the distinctions between open and closed source.
I asked Microsoft officials what, if anything, had changed around the company's thinking about GPLv3 to merit its inclusion in CodePlex. A company spokesperson didn't provide a direct answer; instead I got a statement reiterating Microsoft's desire to making things easier for developers who want to open-source their projects on CodePlex.