Microsoft has halted distribution of a tool aimed at making it easier to put Windows 7 on Netbooks amid allegations that the utility makes improper use of open-source code.
The software maker said on Tuesday that it has pulled down the Windows USB/DVD Tool while it investigates the issue, which was raised last week by Windows blogger Rafael Rivera on his Within Windows blog.
In his blog post, Rivera said Microsoft appears to use code from a tool called ImageMaster that is licensed under the GPLv2 open-source license. The General Public License, like other open-source licenses, allows code to be freely used by others, but has its own set of terms and conditions, such as sharing any modifications made to the code.
Microsoft confirmed it has launched a review of the matter and taken the utility off its online Microsoft Store until that inquiry has been completed.
"Microsoft is looking into this issue and is taking down the (Windows 7 updating) tool from the Microsoft Store site until its review is complete," the company said in a statement. "We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience."
Though somewhat arcane, the utility is important because it solves a technical challenge in upgrading the operating system on Netbooks and other PCs without an optical drive.
Microsoft had been exploring for months different ways of trying to help users of Windows XP-based Netbooks move to Windows 7. The tool, which was released last month alongside Windows 7, allows users to take a downloadable copy of the operating system and create a bootable drive.
The issue is also a thorn in Microsoft's efforts to show that it can play nice with the open-source community. As ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley notes, this isn't the first time Microsoft has been accused of misusing GPL code.
The latest dust-up comes as Microsoft is celebrating the third anniversary of its deal with Novell, one of Microsoft's biggest--and most controversial--efforts to blend its world with the open-source world.
Under that deal, Microsoft agreed not to sue Novell customers for their use of its Linux distributions.
Microsoft has also released a number of products under various open-source licenses itself, though typically not under the GPL, which it sees as one of the more restrictive licenses. Redmond has been particularly critical of terms in version 3 of the GPL.
The software maker did release a few Linux drivers under GPLv2, although it appears its hand may have been forced there. Some have suggested the drivers contained GPL code, meaning that they would have necessarily needed to be released back under the GPL.
Microsoft has taken a number of different approaches to open-source software, particularly Linux. The software maker has at times accepted the notion of a heterogeneous world where Linux and Windows co-exist, pledging to do better to make sure IT administrators can manage mixed environments.
At other times, Microsoft executives have lashed out, painting open-source software as violating hundreds of Microsoft patents. In its lawsuit against TomTom earlier this year, Microsoft for the first time made those accusations in court, alleging that TomTom's implementation of Linux in its GPS systems infringed on Microsoft patents. The two companies quickly settled the matter, although terms were not disclosed.