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Windows 7 GPL Violation

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Embora não tenha a ver com a Apple, vale a pena para todos os geeks de plantão.

Resumindo grossamente: A M$ "fechou" (ou se apropriou) de um código aberto.

Windows 7 GPL Violation

Contributed by: Lucas Westermann

As some of you may have already heard, the tool that Microsoft offered to create Windows 7 installable USB images (the "Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool"), was pulled from Microsoft servers recently. This was due to the fact that some of the code within the much anticipated tool was lifted from an existing opensource application (the ImageMaster project). Not only did they not offer the sourcecode, or attribute the work to the original authors, but also further restricted the licensing in their TermsOfUse.rtf file.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the GNU General Public License, it strictly states that, among other things, the distributor must offer their source code in one of three ways. Additionally, it strictly states that if you incorporate GPL-licensed code into your own software, you must release your code under the GPL as well, while clarifying any further restrictions (while keeping within the standards of the GPL), and it must carry notices that clearly state that all of the above regulations apply. Since this is technically "old news", I will focus on what happened after Microsoft removed the tool from their servers (without comment).

Microsoft's Peter Galli, who is the open-source community manager for their Redmond-based Platform Strategy Group, admitted that their tool did, in fact, contain code from the ImageMaster project. He went on to say that the use of the code and the lack of proper licensing was unintentional. Microsoft has also admitted that, although the tool was created by a third-party contractor, they share fault in this violation, as they failed to catch the infraction during the review process. Furthermore, this incident has apparently led to a review of other tools provided in the Microsoft Store. No further violations have been found, or at least publicly acknowledged.

The resulting agreement made by Microsoft included the re-release of the tool under the General Public License, along with its source, which was completed on the ninth of December. It is now hosted on the Microsoft CodePlex servers. However, now that it is opensource and under the GPL, the steps for installing the program in question have become slightly more complicated, requiring not one executable, but three. This is due to the fact that it requires the .NET Framework and Image Mastering API, which are not licensed under an open source license. While this may seem unnecessary and over complicated for casual computer users, it actually makes it a smaller download for some systems, as the .NET Framework is likely already installed on most systems due to it's popularity amongst Microsoft developers.

Despite the obvious negative connotations to this scandal, there is a positive side. The opensourcing of the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool allows developers to modify it to their needs. Despite similar opensource tools, such as unetbootin, there is always the chance that Microsoft's offering is more efficient, or at the very least, a different approach. Additionally, the fact that an industry giant such as Microsoft is willing to respect the GPL, even if only after the violation was brought to light, may prompt other companies to follow suit.

On the consumer side of things, hopefully Microsoft's willingness to follow the terms of the GPL will open people's eyes to opensource software. There are some people who follow the belief that anything released as opensource can't be secure or quality software, and who will often opt for commercial solutions when they are able to. By releasing even such a small tool under the GPL, Microsoft may cause some of those who prefer to pay for their software to at least rethink their reasons or take into account possible opensource alternatives.

This incident shows that, whether or not this particular slip-up was intentional, the code revision process can be sloppy at times leading to mistakes. This also begs the question "is this really the only case?". I know that I'll be keeping an eye out for any tools from the Microsoft Store that are moved to CodePlex in the near future. I'm not saying that Microsoft is the only company who can be affected by this sort of thing, it's distinctly possible that similar errors have occurred within other companies. Makes one wonder how many of the top software companies actually respect the GPL? Just because opensource developers give away their code without a commercial company backing does not mean that they deserve to have their chosen license ignored.

Lastly, Software Freedom Law Center technical director Bradly Kuhn recently posted guidelines for how to go about responding to suspected violations. Within these guidelines, he states that it is best for those who suspect GPL violations to give the benefit of the doubt. After all, freedom, choice, and a general respect for individuality are at the core of the opensource community.


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