In his keynote to the recent Government Leaders Conference Bill Gates warned developing countries against using dreaded GPL software in their governments and universities. If they did so, he said, they would be unable to commercialise the resulting programs, and they would never be able to develop an IT industry.
Not such a bad thing that, actually. At the same conference the IDC rep explained how much faster IT spend grew than general investment in the economy, and used that as evidence that IT powers economic growth. Indeed it does, by producing jobs in IT and channeling money back to IT companies headed by people like Bill and analysed by people like IDC. But if, say, brandyballs were deemed an absolutely must-have weapon of competitive advantage, would not the effect be approximately the same, saving that the richest man in the world would be a confectioner?
But we digress. If you look here, you will see the text of something called the Microsoft Shared Source CLI, C# and Jscript License, this one being apparently aimed at the educational market. Shared Source is Microsoft's answer to the GPL, and was referred to in Bill's keynote in the sense that he said Microsoft customers and partners could get access to most of the company's source code if they needed it. So what does it say:
"You may use this Software for any non-commercial purpose, subject to the restrictions in this license. Some purposes which can be non-commercial are teaching, academic research, and personal experimentation. You may also distribute this Software with books or other teaching materials, or publish the Software on websites, that are intended to teach the use of the Software.
"You may not use or distribute this Software or any derivative works in any form for commercial purposes. Examples of commercial purposes would be running business operations, licensing, leasing, or selling the Software, or distributing the Software for use with commercial products."
It's not entirely clear how this fits in with Bill's strictures about not using GPL software because it didn't allow you to commercialise products you produced with it. Perhaps he meant you shouldn't use either GPL or Microsoft software in your universities, but go with BSD or Unix instead?
One of Microsoft's primary objections to the GPL is what it terms its "viral" nature, i.e. anything you produce with it is also subject ot the GPL. So it's a puzzle that the shared source licence says: "if you distribute derivative works of the Software in source code form you do so only under a license that includes all of the provisions of this License, and if you distribute derivative works of the Software solely in object form you do so only under a license that complies with this License."
Which sounds familiar. There is however what sounds like a possible get-out, albeit a weird one: "You may use any information in intangible form that you remember after accessing the Software. However, this right does not grant you a license to any of Microsoft's copyrights or patents for anything you might create using such information." ®