Microsoft Funds Disputed Open Source Study

ACORD XML standards guide Microsoft's effort to improve data exchange between insurance companies and third parties.

A recently released survey of open source developers finds that most want a software license emphasizing flexibility and choice, rather than the rigid enforcement of "dogmatic" principles.

But the report was funded by none other than proprietary software king Microsoft, which recently claimed open source software infringes on hundreds of its patents, and it comes as the Free Software Foundation is wrapping up work on the GNU Public License version 3 (GPLv3). The forthcoming license contains language intended to block Redmond from entering into further patent protection arrangements like the one it signed with Novell Inc. last year.

The study, "A Developer's Bill of Rights: What Open Source Developers Want in a Software License," was written by Harvard Business School Professor Alan MacCormack based on interviews with the 34 open source developers who responded out of a pool of 332 contacted for the survey.

"The majority of developers do not support any organization imposing its views upon other developers or abridging other developers' rights," the study asserts.

Free Software Foundation Executive Director Peter Brown says the research paper is a ham-fisted attempt by Microsoft to cause a split in the free software community in the hopes of derailing GPLv3.

"This paper Microsoft is pushing says a large portion of the developers want free software to be not so free. Well, that's tough. If people don't want software to be free, then maybe they should use a different license, but we believe in free software," Brown says.

Microsoft officials declined to comment, but the survey it funded found the responding developers "often choose licenses to increase adoption without concern over ensuring the code is never used for commercial gain or proprietary purposes."

Brown is quick to draw a distinction between his group, which advocates free software, and the broader open source community, which supports the sharing of code, but not necessarily no-cost software. The GPLv3, he says, "is not written to be popular. It's not written to be interoperable, though that's nice if that happens. It's written for the purpose of stopping free software from being privatized."

Analyst Michael Cote, of Denver, Colo.-based industry analysis firm RedMonk, says the Microsoft-funded survey is interesting but the open source debate is too often about ideology instead of practical concerns. "The important question for both developers and users of open source to ask is what goals they want to accomplish," not which view is the "purest," Cote says.
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