Microsoft may say it loves open source software, but it certainly has a funny way of showing it. In fact, the company has now banned apps involving any open source licensing from its Windows Phone Marketplace.
"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," reads section 5.e of the Microsoft Application Provider Agreement for the Windows Marketplace.
Included by that umbrella term "excluded license", explained in section 1.l, are the GPLv3, LGPLv3, Affero GPLv3 licence and equivalents, or pretty much "any license that requires redistribution at no charge," as open source evangelist Jan Wildeboer pointed out on Wednesday. The discovery of the restriction was made over the weekend by members of a Nokia discussion forum.
In other words, Microsoft wants no open source code whatsoever, and nothing governed by an open source licence, in its Windows Phone Marketplace.
The Apple model
It wasn't long ago that Apple kicked the popular free and open source video player VLC out of its App Store because the app used an open licence. Apple is known for its extremely closed nature and its tight-fisted control over its App Store, of course, and now it appears Microsoft is set to take a similar approach.
Both company's stores use a form of DRM to prevent the sharing of applications, and neither offer a way to make source code available. The result is that both are incompatible with open licences like the GPL.
So, for now, it looks like popular open source apps such as VLC will not be available in either store, forcing users to find them elsewhere. Not only will that hurt users and developers of these apps, but it will hurt Microsoft's platform as well.
A Lack of Choice
Microsoft has struggled to keep up in the mobile arena, and recently partnered with floundering Nokia in a bid for greater success. This will surely raise its mobile platform's overall profile virtually overnight, whether that lasts, however, will be determined by the decisions the two companies make moving forward.
It's difficult to see how excluding open source applications, and even proprietary apps that include some open source code, libraries or documentation, could be a smart move for Microsoft. Rather than alienating developers and users, one would think it would want to be as inclusive as possible to ensure the widest appeal for its platform, which must compete with the skyrocketing success that is Android.
Instead, even as it offers the occasional olive branch to the open source community, it can't help but show its true colours, again and again. And whereas Apple at least has some innovative technology going for it, Microsoft doesn't.
Weak technology, lax security, restrictive policies and a lack of choice, these it appears, are to be what the Windows Phone platform is all about. Smart businesses would do well to stay far away from it.