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Microsoft bans open source on Windows Phone 7 Marketplace

GPL licenses get the chop
Fri Feb 18 2011, 16:00

CLOSED SOURCE SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Microsoft has prohibited open source software running on Windows Phone 7 (WP7) from being sold at its apps store.

Buried in Microsoft's Windows Phone Marketplace Application Provider Agreement, the document that all developers for WP7 have to follow, is article 5 clause 6 which states, "The Application must not include software, documentation, or other materials that, in whole or in part, are governed by or subject to an Excluded License, or that would otherwise cause the Application to be subject to the terms of an Excluded License." That sounds fair enough, until you go back up the document and read the definition of an Excluded License.

Microsoft's Excluded License for Windows Phone Marketplace is defined as "any license requiring, as a condition of use, modification and/or distribution of the software subject to the license, that the software or other software combined and/or distributed with it be (i) disclosed or distributed in source code form; (ii) licensed for the purpose of making derivative works; or (iii) redistributable at no charge. Excluded Licenses include, but are not limited to the GPLv3 Licenses." It continues, "For the purpose of this definition, 'GPLv3 Licenses' means the GNU General Public License version 3, the GNU Affero General Public License version 3, the GNU Lesser General Public License version 3, and any equivalents to the foregoing."

So Microsoft will not allow developers to either publish source code of their Windows Phone applications or release them under GPL or GNU Affero licences. And it's not immediately clear why. After all, Microsoft doesn't stop users from running open source software on its Windows PC operating system, and has in fact had a policy of encouraging open source software developers to code applications that run under Windows.

Perhaps the firm still believes that by keeping all source code under wraps it will somehow improve security. If this is indeed the case then it's the usual error of trying to get away with 'security by obscurity' that closed source software outfits tend to fall into.

And while Microsoft does allow software that is distributed under GPL licences to run in Windows, with the Windows Phone Marketplace it's the first time the company has complete control over the delivery of applications to one of its operating systems. Given that the security through obscurity model has been widely discredited, the question is, what is Microsoft gaining from shunning developers who want to release applications under GPL and related licenses?

We tried to ask Microsoft these questions but the firm was unable to get back to us by press time.

It's likely that some developers will be put off by Microsoft's overly restrictive developer agreement and simply head off to develop for other mobile operating systems.

If that does happen, Microsoft and its new best friend, Nokia, can only sit back and watch as both companies fall off the mobile communications and computing industry radar completely. µ


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