The recent release of Microsoft's Wix project code under an open source license has caused quite a stir among those in the open source community. Some welcome the project and some are highly suspicious. OSDir recently had a chance to talk to Rob Mensching, the project lead at Microsoft, about the project.
OSDir: The burning questions on everyone's mind are: 1) Is this a sign of things to come from Microsoft and employees?
Mensching: Microsoft has had the Shared Source Initiative going for three years or so now. This release is just an extension to that type of code that's available through the SSI. They are always looking for more projects to include.
OSDir: Yes, but WiX is the first under an open source license? Will see more like that?
Mensching: The Shared Source Initiative team picks the license that seems most appropriate for each project. For WiX it was agreed that the CPL was the most appropriate license.
OSDir:... and 2) Has MS found open source religion?
Mensching: Microsoft has been learning from the Open Source community for a long while now. The Shared Source Initiative is a result of that.
OSDir: The Shared Source Initiative has been under fire from open source developers before because of the licensing, but this isn't the case with WiX. Has Microsoft learned that aside from seeing the code developers are more likely to actually work on code if the license is truly 'open source'?
Mensching: Again, the Shared Source Initiative tracks a number of different projects and tries to apply the appropriate license to sharing each project. I was not involved in any of the other Shared Source projects so I can't speak to how it was decided what license would be applied to each of those projects.
OSDir: Was releasing WiX sanctioned by your bosses?
OSDir: How did the conversation go when the subject of licensing came up? Was the CPL your idea or your bosses? How did you manage to not get fired?
Mensching: My bosses were not involved in the decision which license should be used for the Windows Installer XML toolset. I worked with members of the Shared Source Initiative team who understand the details of the various licenses available to share source code. They listened to my requirements and found that the CPL seemed most appropriate for the toolset.
OSDir: Is WiX MS code or your own? There seems to be some misconceptions around this.
Mensching: The copyright is very clear in that the code is Microsoft property. I wrote it as I've written other code as a developer in Office. And like most employees of software companies, the software that I write is owned by the company I'm employed by.
OSDir: Many fear that they will end up helping a company that might just close the code, as is the copyright owner's prerogative, once the product is good. Despite the safety valve of being able to fork previously open code how would you address the would-be developer?
Mensching: As the project administrator of the Windows Installer XML project, I consider it my primary responsibility to build a community focused improving the Windows Installer XML toolset. To create that community, the members must first trust that the project is going to continue. If someone doesn't yet trust that the Windows Installer XML project is going to continue but is still interested, then I would suggest he or she wait and watch. I've found the only way to build someone's trust is to continually demonstrate your good intentions and apologize for any mistakes you might make along the way.
OSDir: Why an open source license and not under "shared source"?
Mensching: The CPL is appropriate for this project because I wanted to be able to integrate contributions from the community and have it be available on SourceForge.
I am not well versed in all of the licenses used by the Shared Source Initiative. As I described above, I went to the Shared Source Initiative team with the goals of my project and we agreed that the CPL was an appropriate license for the Windows Installer XML toolset.
OSDir: Why was sourceforge a factor?
Mensching: SourceForge has many tools and applications for developers building other tools and applications for the Windows platform. The Windows Installer XML toolset is another one of those tools for Windows developers. When the CPL was chosen as the license for toolset, it became possible for us to post WiX on SourceForge where the toolset would be visible to a large number of developers.
OSDir: Have other MS employees come to you for any advice on releasing code?
OSDir: Are there more projects from MS employees that are going to spring up because of this? Your downloads for Wix upon the announcement bloomed to six thousand.
Mensching: I hope so. There are already projects under Shared Source Initiative and I would be very happy if this project encouraged more showed up.
OSDir: Have you gotten any developer help since releasing WiX?
OSDir: Did you consider licensing under the GPL or other licenses?
Mensching: I first considered some of the other Shared Source Initiative licenses, some of which are BSD derivatives, and looked at many of the available licenses for hosting on SourceForge.
OSDir: Are you an evil minion bent on destroying the opensource community?
Mensching: Nope. I'm really just trying to add another useful tool into the mix.
Editor's note: WiX is so far the only SSI (Shared Source Initiative) project licensed under an 'open source' license'. Those interested may wish to visit some of the links below to deepen their knowledge of why the SSI is so controversial among open source developers and advocates.
Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative
Michael Tiemann on Shared Source
The Common Public Licnese