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   RE: XML Connect.

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  • From: James Fowler <jfowler@roguewave.com>
  • To: xml-dev@xml.org
  • Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 20:06:04 -0600

> It's interesting what people call "free". Anything that requires my
> address, company name, a login, phone number and business 
> type, isn't free
> in my book... Just a thought.

Note only is that interesting, you are required to accept the following
license restrictions before downloading:

   b.  Restrctions.  You may not (i) copy (other than once for
   back-up purposes), distribute, rent, lease or sublicense all
   or any portion of the Software; (ii) modify or prepare
   derivative works of the Software; or (iii) reverse engineer,
   decompile or disassemble the Software.  You agree to keep the
   Software confidential and use your best efforts to prevent and
   protect the contents of the Software from unauthorized use or

Aside from the fact that their lawyers apparently can't even spell
restriction, I find it odd that a product with a programmatic APIs grants no
rights to build anything using said APIs, and in fact specifically says you
cannot "prepare derivative works".  Does this mean that there is no legal
way to develop anything using the product?

Having been involved much more deeply in licensing issues than I ever wanted
to be, here's what the actual literal meaning of the license terms as I read
  You can legally download and install XML-Connect. 

  You are in a gray area if you use the API to create any
  applications,  although you can use applications which 
  others created.    They, in turn, would have to be using
  some other license, first to build and then to be allowed
  to legally distribute whatever built.  One wonders whether
  _this_ license is "free".  Applications could be
  considered a "derivative work".  Even if you can legally
  build an application with the API (which is questionable),
  you certainly cannot distribute it.

  Perhaps most importantly, you absolutely can NOT build any
  higher level general purpose APIs or middleware /
  infrastructure layers on top of XML-Connect under this
  license (although On-Display can, and does).  These would
  undoubtedly be considered "derivative works".  Since much
  of the current XML community is still focused on building
  up such infrastructure, XML-Connect under this license
  seems to be of little use, and perhaps active harm to the
  ongoing work on "open" architectures.

So basically, the use of "free" combined with this style of license is
little more than a bait-and-switch.  It is "free" to download and install,
but there's very little you can legally do with it after that.

I do not mean to imply that this is their intent, in fact I suspect that
this is more a case of not carefully crafting their licensing policy, which
unfortunately happens more than you might expect.  I would tend to give them
the benefit of the doubt, in that they meant this to be "free", but didn't
consider what that meant in terms of the licensing restrictions nor did they
have an adequate understanding of what "free" really means.  

I have no qualms whatsoever about commercial vendors providing XML
solutions, but don't call it "free" unless it is.  If they really want to be
"free", they should consider a commercially friendly Open Source project,
like the Apache model.  If they considered XML-Connect to be too "thin" or
of insufficient quality to survive as an Open Source project, releasing it
as merely "free" is somewhat duplicitous, especially since all the "really
cool" stuff happens in the add-on products which are certainly not free.
Regardless of the licensing, building mission-critical applications (which
is exactly what they are targeting) on APIs for which you don't get the
source code is a risky move at best.  (to be fair, they may provide source
code - I wasn't willing to accept their license terms in order to find out)

At the very minimum, any license which (a) does not allow free development
of derivative works, (b) does not guarantee free availability of future
releases, or (c) does not allow free redistribution of the product and
derivative works, is not a "free" product.  Hopefully, this was just an
unintentional oversight on On-Display's part, which will be rectified soon -
either by changing their license or by ceasing to misrepresent this as a
"free" product.

- James

 James Fowler
      Senior Field Architect, Rogue Wave Software
 jfowler@roguewave.com | 770-218-2571 | mobile: 770-335-3220

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