Shared Source Initiative

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The Shared Source Initiative (SSI) is a source-available software licensing scheme launched by Microsoft in May 2001. [1] The program includes a spectrum of technologies and licenses, and most of its source code offerings are available for download after eligibility criteria are met. [2]



Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative allows individuals and organizations to access Microsoft's source code for reference (e.g. when developing complementary systems), for review and auditing from a security perspective (mostly wanted by some large corporations and governments), and for development (academic institutions, OEMs, individual developers).

As part of the framework, Microsoft released 5 licenses for general use. Two of them, Microsoft Public License and Microsoft Reciprocal License, have been approved by the Open Source Initiative as open source licenses [3] [4] and are regarded by the Free Software Foundation as free software licenses. [5] Other shared source licenses are proprietary, and thus allow the copyright holder to retain tighter control over the use of their product.

Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative has been imitated by other companies such as RISC OS Open Ltd. [6]

Microsoft also uses specific licenses for some of their products, such as the Shared Source CLI License [7] and the Microsoft Windows Embedded CE 6.0 Shared Source License. [8]

Free and open-source licenses

The following licenses are considered open-source by the Open Source Initiative and free by the Free Software Foundation.

Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL)

This is the least restrictive of the Microsoft licenses and allows for distribution of compiled code for either commercial or non-commercial purposes under any license that complies with the Ms-PL. Redistribution of the source code itself is permitted only under the Ms-PL. [9] Initially titled Microsoft Permissive License, it was renamed to Microsoft Public License while being reviewed for approval by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). [10] The license was approved on October 12, 2007, along with the Ms-RL. [11] According to the Free Software Foundation, it is a free software license but not compatible with the GNU GPL. [5] Ms-PL provides a free and flexible licensing for developers using source codes under this license. However, the Ms-PL is a copyleft license because it requires the source code of software it governs to be distributed only under the same license (the Ms-PL). [12]

Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL)

This Microsoft license allows for distribution of derived code so long as the modified source files are included and retain the Ms-RL. [13] The Ms-RL allows those files in the distribution that do not contain code originally licensed under Ms-RL to be licensed according to the copyright holder's choosing. This is similar, but not the same as the CDDL, EPL or LGPL (GPL with a typical "linking exception").[ citation needed ] Initially known as the Microsoft Community License, it was renamed during the OSI approval process.

On December 9, 2005, the Ms-RL license was submitted to the Open Source Initiative for approval by John Cowan. [14] OSI then contacted Microsoft and asked if they wanted OSI to proceed. Microsoft replied that they did not wish to be reactive and that they needed time to review such a decision. [15]

At the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in July 2007, Bill Hilf, director of Microsoft's work with open source projects, announced that Microsoft had formally submitted Ms-PL and Ms-RL to OSI for approval. [16] It was approved on October 12, 2007, along with the Ms-PL. [11] According to the Free Software Foundation, it is a free software license but not compatible with the GNU GPL. [5]

Restricted licenses

The following source-available software licenses have limitations that prevent them from being open-source according to the Open Source Initiative and free to the Free Software Foundation.

Microsoft Limited Public License (Ms-LPL)

This is a version of the Microsoft Public License in which rights are only granted to developers of Microsoft Windows-based software. [17] This license is not open source, as defined by the OSI, because the restriction limiting use of the software to Windows violates the stipulation that open-source licenses must be technology-neutral. [18] It is also considered to be non-free by the Free Software Foundation due to this restriction. [5]

Microsoft Limited Reciprocal License (Ms-LRL)

This is a version of the Microsoft Reciprocal License in which rights are only granted when developing software for a Microsoft Windows platform. [19] Like the Ms-LPL, this license is not open source because it is not technology-neutral [18] due to its restriction that licensed software must be used on Windows, and is also not considered free by the Free Software Foundation due to this restriction. [5]

Microsoft Reference Source License (Ms-RSL)

This is the most restrictive of the Microsoft Shared Source licenses. The source code is made available to view for reference purposes only, mainly to be able to view Microsoft classes source code while debugging. [20] Developers may not distribute or modify the code for commercial or non-commercial purposes. [21] The license has previously been abbreviated Ms-RL, but Ms-RL now refers to the Microsoft Reciprocal License. [13]


Two specific shared source licenses are interpreted as free software and open source licenses by FSF and OSI. However, former OSI president Michael Tiemann considers the phrase "Shared Source" itself to be a marketing term created by Microsoft. He argues that it is "an insurgent term that distracts and dilutes the Open Source message by using similar-sounding terms and offering similar-sounding promises". [22]

The Shared Source Initiative has also been noted to increase the problem of license proliferation. [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MIT License</span> Permissive free software license

The MIT License is a permissive free software license originating at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the late 1980s. As a permissive license, it puts only very limited restriction on reuse and has, therefore, high license compatibility.

The Open Software License (OSL) is a software license created by Lawrence Rosen. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) has certified it as an open-source license, but the Debian project judged version 1.1 to be incompatible with the DFSG. The OSL is a copyleft license, with a termination clause triggered by filing a lawsuit alleging patent infringement.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open-source software</span> Software licensed to ensure source code usage rights

Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration, meaning any capable user is able to participate online in development, making the number of possible contributors indefinite. The ability to examine the code facilitates public trust in the software.

In computing, the Common Public License (CPL) is a free software / open-source software license published by IBM. The Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative have approved the license terms of the CPL.

Source-available software is software released through a source code distribution model that includes arrangements where the source can be viewed, and in some cases modified, but without necessarily meeting the criteria to be called open-source. The licenses associated with the offerings range from allowing code to be viewed for reference to allowing code to be modified and redistributed for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

A permissive software license, sometimes also called BSD-like or BSD-style license, is a free-software license which instead of copyleft protections, carries only minimal restrictions on how the software can be used, modified, and redistributed, usually including a warranty disclaimer. Examples include the GNU All-permissive License, MIT License, BSD licenses, Apple Public Source License and Apache license. As of 2016, the most popular free-software license is the permissive MIT license.

Alternative terms for free software, such as open source, FOSS, and FLOSS, have been a controversial issue among free and open-source software users from the late 1990s onwards. These terms share almost identical licence criteria and development practices.

Eclipse Public License Free software license similar to the Common Public License

The Eclipse Public License (EPL) is a free and open source software license most notably used for the Eclipse IDE and other projects by the Eclipse Foundation. It replaces the Common Public License (CPL) and removes certain terms relating to litigations related to patents.

This comparison only covers software licenses which have a linked Wikipedia article for details and which are approved by at least one of the following expert groups: the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, the Debian Project and the Fedora Project. For a list of licenses not specifically intended for software, see List of free-content licences.

The PHP License is the software license under which the PHP scripting language is released. The PHP License is designed to encourage widespread adoption of the source code. Redistribution is permitted in source or binary form with or without modifications, with some caveats.

Public-domain-equivalent license License that waives all copyright

Public-domain-equivalent license are licenses that grant public-domain-like rights and/or act as waivers. They are used to make copyrighted works usable by anyone without conditions, while avoiding the complexities of attribution or license compatibility that occur with other licenses.

License proliferation is the phenomenon of an abundance of already existing and the continued creation of new software licenses for software and software packages in the FOSS ecosystem. License proliferation affects the whole FOSS ecosystem negatively by the burden of increasingly complex license selection, license interaction, and license compatibility considerations.

License compatibility is a legal framework that allows for pieces of software with different software licenses to be distributed together. The need for such a framework arises because the different licenses can contain contradictory requirements, rendering it impossible to legally combine source code from separately-licensed software in order to create and publish a new program. Proprietary licenses are generally program-specific and incompatible; authors must negotiate to combine code. Copyleft licenses are commonly deliberately incompatible with proprietary licenses, in order to prevent copyleft software from being re-licensed under a proprietary license, turning it into proprietary software. Many copyleft licenses explicitly allow relicensing under some other copyleft licenses. Permissive licenses are compatible with everything, including proprietary licenses; there is thus no guarantee that all derived works will remain under a permissive license.

The Microsoft Open Specification Promise is a promise by Microsoft, published in September 2006, to not assert its patents, in certain conditions, against implementations of a certain list of specifications.

GNU Affero General Public License Free software license based on the AGPLv1 and GPLv3

The GNU Affero General Public License is a free, copyleft license published by the Free Software Foundation in November 2007, and based on the GNU General Public License, version 3 and the Affero General Public License.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free-software license</span> License allowing software modification and redistribution

A free-software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and redistribute that software. These actions are usually prohibited by copyright law, but the rights-holder of a piece of software can remove these restrictions by accompanying the software with a software license which grants the recipient these rights. Software using such a license is free software as conferred by the copyright holder. Free-software licenses are applied to software in source code and also binary object-code form, as the copyright law recognizes both forms.

BSD licenses are a family of permissive free software licenses, imposing minimal restrictions on the use and distribution of covered software. This is in contrast to copyleft licenses, which have share-alike requirements. The original BSD license was used for its namesake, the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), a Unix-like operating system. The original version has since been revised, and its descendants are referred to as modified BSD licenses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Copyleft</span> Practice of mandating free use in all derivatives of a work

Copyleft is the legal technique of granting certain freedoms over copies of copyrighted works with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative works. In this sense, freedoms refers to the use of the work for any purpose, and the ability to modify, copy, share, and redistribute the work, with or without a fee. Licenses which implement copyleft can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works ranging from computer software, to documents, art, scientific discoveries and even certain patents.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">GNU General Public License</span> Series of free software licenses

The GNU General Public License is a series of widely used free software licenses that guarantee end users the four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software. The license was the first copyleft for general use and was originally written by the founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Richard Stallman, for the GNU Project. The license grants the recipients of a computer program the rights of the Free Software Definition. These GPL series are all copyleft licenses, which means that any derivative work must be distributed under the same or equivalent license terms. It is more restrictive than the Lesser General Public License and even further distinct from the more widely used permissive software licenses BSD, MIT, and Apache.

Software relicensing is applied in open-source software development when software licenses of software modules are incompatible and are required to be compatible for a greater combined work. Licenses applied to software as copyrightable works, in source code as binary form, can contain contradictory clauses. These requirements can make it impossible to combine source code or content of several software works to create a new combined one.


  1. "Microsoft announces expansion of Shared Source Initiative".
  2. "Microsoft Shared Source Initiative". Berkman Klein Center. Retrieved 24 Aug 2018.
  3. "Microsoft Public License (MS-PL) – Open Source Initiative".
  4. "Microsoft Reciprocal License (MS-RL) – Open Source Initiative".
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "Various Licenses and Comments about Them". GNU Operating System. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 23 Jul 2018.
  6. "RISC OS Open: Welcome".
  7. "Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure License".
  8. Archiveddocs. "Windows Embedded".
  9. "Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL)". Microsoft .
  10. Foley, Mary. "Microsoft gets the open-source licensing nod from the OSI". ZDNet. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  11. 1 2 "OSI Approves Microsoft License Submissions". 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2013-08-08. Acting on the advice of the License Approval Chair, the OSI Board today approved the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL). The decision to approve was informed by the overwhelming (though not unanimous) consensus from the open source community that these licenses satisfied the 10 criteria of the Open Source definition, and should therefore be approved.
  12. "Microsoft Public License (MS-PL) | Open Source Initiative". Retrieved 2020-08-28.
  13. 1 2 "Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL)". Microsoft .
  14. John Cowan (2005-12-09). "For Approval: Microsoft Community License". license-discuss mailing list.
  15. Peter Galli (2006-08-22). "Blogger Can't Tempt Microsoft To Drink OSI Kool-Aid". eWeek.
  16. Tim O'Reilly (2007-07-26). "Microsoft to Submit Shared Source Licenses to OSI". O'Reilly Radar.
  17. "Microsoft Limited Public License (Ms-LPL)". Microsoft .
  18. 1 2 "The Open Source Definition". Open Source Initiative.
  19. "Microsoft Limited Reciprocal License (Ms-LRL)". Microsoft .
  20. "Microsoft Reference Source License". Microsoft. 2016-07-06. Retrieved 2016-07-06. "Reference use" means use of the software within your company as a reference, in read only form, for the sole purposes of debugging your products, maintaining your products, or enhancing the interoperability of your products with the software, and specifically excludes the right to distribute the software outside of your company.
  21. "Microsoft Reference Source License".
  22. Michael Tiemann (2007-11-11). "Who Is Behind "Shared Source" Misinformation Campaign?" . Retrieved 2011-03-12. Shared source is a marketing term created and controlled by Microsoft. Shared source is not open source by another name. Shared source is an insurgent term that distracts and dilutes the Open Source message by using similar-sounding terms and offering similar-sounding promises. And to date, 'shared source' has been a marketing dud as far as Open Source is concerned.
  23. Evaluating Microsoft’s Shared Source licenses Ars Technica, 2007