Microsoft Slouches Towards Bethlehem

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A fascinating shift is underway at Microsoft, as it tries to reach an accommodation with the ascendancy of open source - a development methodology and an ethic that it has mocked many times and in many ways. Some of the more public efforts, like the most recent embrace of openness, ring rather hollow, and smack of PR. But at the same time, in the background there are some more genuine moves to understand and embrace the new ways of working and thinking.

One example can be found in the recent release of the Internet Explorer 8 beta. Alongside features such Activities and WebSlices, there is the following interesting novelty in terms of licensing:

So with these new features and other initiatives we’re launching in Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1, we want to highlight the ways in which we’re using new approaches to licensing the various intellectual property components involved.We carefully chose these new licensing models because they are the models, or facilitate the kinds of free and open uses, that the relevant communities have adopted for themselves. While we will still evaluate the most appropriate way to make specifications and test cases available on a case-by-case basis, here we concluded that the Public Domain, Creative Commons and BSD licenses (for copyrights) and the Microsoft Open Specification Promise (for patents) are the best vehicles for making these technologies available.

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For the OpenService Format and WebSlice Format specs, we’re using two separate Creative Commons vehicles to allow developers to freely use and build on our work. We’re licensing our copyright in the OpenService Format Specification under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. This license lets others copy, distribute, modify and build upon the specification, even for commercial uses, as long as they simply give credit to Microsoft and license their own changes under the same terms. This license is also consistent with the license adopted by the OpenSearch community, whose work relates to the OpenService Format spec.

We’re setting a new precedent with the WebSlice Format Specification by dedicating our copyright in it to the public domain using the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication, the first time we’ve used a public domain dedication in connection with one of our specs. This allows anyone to freely copy, distribute, modify and build upon the specification for any purpose, without any additional conditions or obligations whatsoever.In this case, our public domain dedication is in keeping with the expectations of the hAtom Microformats community.

The use of the public domain dedication is particularly bold, and shows that Microsoft is getting there, albeit at different rates in different strata of the company.

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