How to make app stores open source-friendly

App stores have their roots in open source and can return to those roots with scant business disruption. Just ask ... Microsoft?

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Three app store fixes
What would fix this? First of all, developers may be able to avoid the more restrictive terms of app store agreements by sticking to weak copyleft code. Note that often doesn't include the LGPL. While often considered a "weak copyleft" license, it is actually a strong copyleft license that incorporates a scope restriction setting a boundary on the project to which it applies. In mobile apps -- especially on iOS -- static linking is often used, and that elmininates the restricted scope of the LGPL, making the whole app subject to GPL requirements.

Second, app stores could take a more enlightened approach to open source software by harmonizing their terms to permit its use, by identifying the licenses used for apps, and even by providing links to the source code for apps where the developer requests it. This evolution is gradually taking place, and it's possible we will begin to see more apps admitting to the debt they owe open source and extending software freedom to users.

Remarkably, a pioneer of open source-friendly terms for mobile appears to be Microsoft. Its Windows Phone Store Application Provider agreement (PDF) includes these two fascinating clauses:

4)d: ... Your license terms must not conflict with the Standard Application License Terms in any way, except that if your Application or In-App Product includes FOSS, your license terms may conflict with the limitations set forth in Section 3 of the Standard Application License Terms, but only to the extent required by the FOSS that you use.

5)e: If your Application includes FOSS, (i) you must comply with all applicable FOSS license terms, including any source code availability requirements, and (ii) the Application must not cause any non-FOSS Microsoft software to become subject to the terms of any FOSS license.

That first clause is especially fascinating, and I interpret it as permitting even GPL software to be included in apps on Windows Phone -- progress indeed for a company with such a strong, instinctive aversion to the GPL.

Finally, software freedom communities need to embrace commercial app stores. There's been much caution until now, with suspicion that the closed and proprietary nature of the companies behind the stores is actually covert hostility to software freedom. I believe it's time to change that, as I'll be explaining next week at FOSDEM in Brussels. Communities need to recognize the power of app stores to extend the borders of software freedom. The platform doesn't have to be an open source platform before the software running on it can deliver software freedom. We saw that with Windows, where Firefox and LibreOffice have both introduced millions to software freedom. The time to use app stores as a vector for software freedom is here.

This article, "How to make app stores open source-friendly," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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