Issues with VSCODE License — You should worry

twitmyreview profile image Priyab Dash Updated on ・5 min read

Note: This blog post is purely my thoughts about the topic and in no way is meant to discredit the product or the company behind it. My sole purpose for this blog post is to put my thoughts and get constructive feedback and criticism.


We developers are very particular about our IDEs and with a good reason. We spend most of our development time with an IDE and lot of effort, love and care goes in choosing the right IDE, the ease of coding, testing and running your code is just one side of the coin. We also spend a lot of time in seeing what kind of ecosystem the IDE provides and why others in your community use it. And for that reason for me VSCode was one of the first choice since last few years.

First it is free and open source, it has support for multiple programming languages and then it has whole ecosystem of community driven plugins which makes my life as a developer very easy. So it was a surprise when I just came across a project called vscodium which is a re-distribution of vscode where the binaries are licensed under the MIT license. Telemetry is disabled. Now this got me thinking, we know that vscode is open source, then what kind of open source license VSCode has. If you want to check the VSCode license please jump to the this License link.

My problem with the VSCode License

After reading the license VSCode did not seem any more open source as the purest form I know of. The open source I know is either GPL, Apache, MIT or BSD license. But reading the VSCode License looked more of a stock Microsoft License which is a more condensed form of its regular license for other propitiatory products. Hence to me suddenly VSCode looked like a more of a Freeware where code is open sourced but not really Open Source in its real sense.

This is so anti-thesis to recent news and announcements that you hear about the commitment of Micrsoft to Open Source but the skeptics were always suspicious. And after reading the license I am too very skeptical. While its very difficult to find a really good alternative to VSCode and in near future I many be using VSCode out of compulsion than free will, but I will definitely stop recommending VSCode as a IDE of choice.

What is Worrisome about the License

Please read the below section from the Microsoft License of VSCode.

SCOPE OF LICENSE. This license applies to the Visual Studio Code product. Source code for Visual Studio Code is available at https://github.com/Microsoft/vscode under the MIT license agreement. The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights. Unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, you may use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. You may not

  • reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble the software, or otherwise attempt to derive the source code for the software except and solely to the extent required by third party licensing terms governing use of certain open source components that may be included in the software;

  • remove, minimize, block or modify any notices of Microsoft or its suppliers in the software;

  • use the software in any way that is against the law;

  • share, publish, rent or lease the software, or provide the software as a stand-alone offering for others to use.

First VSCode source code is released under MIT License but if you look at the bullet points for the Visual Studio Code product license they are complete antithesis to the MIT license that it is being distributed with. Now lets look at the MIT License.

MIT License  

Copyright (c) 2015 - present Microsoft Corporation  

All rights reserved.  

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy  
of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal  
in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights  
to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell  
copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is  
furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:  

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all  
copies or substantial portions of the Software.  


So if you read between the finer lines, while the source code is open source and free for modification, the binaries with which it is built is not fully FOSS. It has restrictive conditions which I presume Microsoft has to follow being an enterprise software company and is liable to Cyber laws and US Export restrictions. Hence the people who end of the day are using VSCode are liable to all the Microsoft license restrictions. This may very well be applicable to the community contributors who build the rich set of community plugins that make VSCode so attractive.


Hence its time for all to think through if VSCode really is that much open source as lets say Eclipse or pure community owned and driven FOSS IDEs or editors. This is not only the problem of VSCode but problem with many other open source “Community” editions of propitiatory products where while most of the core features are developed by the company but the ecosystem built with others are threatened with the restrictive license. But the particular issue I have with the VScode is where its source code and its binaries are dual licensed and complete opposite of each other.

While I am coming across such a license for the first time, I am sure I may have overlooked many such license and would like to hear more from others as well.

p.s. Originally published by me in Medium

Update: I have written about my journey after VSCODE - Moving Beyond VSCode. Please do read it and give your valuable feedback.

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Priyab Dash


Linux Fanboy and Python Lover


Editor guide

I have a different opinion. Dear Microsoft and VSCode team: Thank you. Keep up the great work!


I agree with you 100%.


Microsoft has code in their version that they don't want you to decompile. That is all. Hence the license agreement.

I still use the version from Microsoft on my Mac for personal projects. If I don't want Microsoft to watch what I do with their software I'll compile my own version. Until then, they will continue to update the software based on the usage data they track. Best of both worlds if you ask me.


I am grateful to Microsoft for a brilliant product which they don't ask me a cent for.

No need for FUD.


This is no different than Chrome and Chromium. The product most people download and install has extra proprietary features and code, but is based upon a truly open source code base. If you have a problem with this, then you should have a problem with Chrome too.


Your point is correct and well taken. This is actually why I use chromium instead of chrome. Since reading this article, I've replaced VS Code with Codium and was able to remove the only Microsoft repository on my system, which felt good. Checking add-ons now. Thanks to the author!


Just like to note that even chromium still includes proprietary code, you need ungoogled chromium for that.


Business speaking: Open source is not sustainable. You can name a few cases where it works but generally, it is not viable economically. Even Linux is backed by Microsoft.

Microsoft is supplying two licenses: open source and commercial. I don't see the problem with it.


You do realize that the entire framework of the net would be unsustainably expensive if not for open source, don't you?
I know MS, Amazon and Oracle would love to see a world where everyone was using their hosting software. I'm sure 99% of us hosting sites are glad that's not the case.


Dont'forget Google.

Ugh. Yeah. It might be a really good time to fork every bit of Google's code that's still open and run away with it. Is the go compiler still OSS?


Microsoft is backing linux because they have to, as half of their Azure IaaS customers are running linux. They have to resort to linux to power their virtual network appliance. They even engineered WSL to keep Windows on desktop relevant


They even engineered WSL to keep Windows on desktop relevant

That was very funny 😂. What percentage of desktops are NOT Windows and Macs, again?

Quite the opposite is true in my opinion; if the WSL 2.0 lives up to the promise, it completely extinguishes the need for Linux on Desktop (which is not being used by anyone, statistically, anyways)

If we're talking strictly about developer, here:
Windows: 45.3%
MacOS: 29.2%
Linux: 25.3%
BSD/Unix: 0.1%
Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_...

Yes, linux are used quite significantly by developers


Microsoft could follow the path of Amazon: (so it does not need to fund Linux)

  • Take an open-source project.
  • Use it and sells service from it.
  • And paid nothing from it.
  • And if the owner of the open-source project complains, then Amazon will create an "it-is-legally-a-not-fork-or-anything-related".

Offtop: a lot of people think that open source is actually sustainable. See this talk on the sustainability of open source by the creator of Ruby on Rails.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s something categorically wrong with developing open source on market-based terms. What I’m saying is that it isn’t a necessary condition of sustainability.


Your quote is misleading.

He said "[FOSS] isn't a necessary condition of sustainability" not that "FOSS is not sustainable"

i.e. It may not automatically make your project sustainable, but it definitely won't stop you from achieving sustainability.

Open-Source projects can still be sustainable.

Open-Source projects can still be sustainable

I tried to say the same thing


Though Microsoft has been benefiting from Linux/Unix for years with it's cloud offerings (plus Hotmail ran on Unix for a looong time) I have a feeling this may be flavor of it's Embrace, Extend, Extinguish strategy.
They seem to be in the EMBRACE stage. They joined the Linux foundation and have made heavy "donations" which earned them a director seat - they've bought their way into influencing the future of Linux.

Though Linux can't really be extinguished, I'm curious where they go or hope to go with this new "love" for Linux. Maybe it's true love, maybe it's ...


Nothing but FUD? Times change. SCO tried to destroy Linux to further their software. Oracle releases the JVM under a much more restrictive commercial license. Red Hat might be transforming into a patent troll. Richard Stallman is being petitioned to step away from the GNU Foundation. Linus Torvalds can be incredibly rude and sensitive to his own contributors .

Microsoft employs hundreds of thousands of people across countless teams. I don't think it's fair to classify such a diverse organization of having an evil agenda without being able to provide substantial evidence.

Well... that same "diverse organization" has HAD evil agendas that only became apparent after the destruction was complete, so what are you even talking about?

If you READ my comment you'll see that I didn't make any claims. I said what they've done so far feels like a stage in the strategy they have employed to crush competition in the past.

Like I said, Linux can't be "crushed", but it can be steered in a "direction". For better or for worse. Hence I'm curious what they will actually do with the influence they are buying their way into.

I was trying to point out that lots of organizations have tried to get rid of Linux with their efforts perceived very differently by the public.

I do not appreciate your dismissive tone. I did read your comment and personally felt the disrespectful tone was uncalled for.

You may not have forecast any specific claims, but the language and attitude of your post suggests that you have already made up your mind about their intentions.

Scott Simontis:

Dilbert's today


Godot and Blender are opensource and they are doing good.


I dare say that the profits of Microsoft make open source contribution very sustainable.

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

Microsoft is now backing Linux after decades of demonizing and trying to destroy it, because it runs the entire internet and Microsoft lost. How's that for economically viable? Just figured you wouldn't want to sound so foolish going forward.


Just figured you wouldn't want to sound so foolish going forward.

I have not spent much time in these dev.to discussions, so I am unfamiliar with the customs here. But your comment sounds very much like the kind of personal attack that is unwelcome in many civilized communities.


Except for the fact that pure open source projects without backing of such big commercial companies often die after the developers lose interest or the time to maintain it next to their commercial jobs to make a living. Not that it can't be done but it definitely cannot be the only way to do it.

Closed source projects die too. G+ anyone? Internet explorer?



But it does not change the even big open source projects are struggling, for example, Docker, and Docker is a big one.


Business speaking, Microsoft is backing Linux, not the opposite.
In fact, Microsoft is part of the Linux Foundation, ergo Microsoft is part of the ownership of the Linux Foundation. Even Linus was almost ousted from his own foundation.

Linux is gaining the server market yes, but with a free product. At the end of the day, only a few companies profit-generating Linux distro, one of them is Redhat but hey, it was purchased by IBM (sneaky IBM). We have Ubuntu but Ubuntu is not truly open source.

It's funny how some Linux community talks about open source and free. I understand it. But Microsoft talks another language: money.

Also, Microsoft IS STILL DEMONIZING LINUX. Microsoft hasn't freed some licenses either has it stopped suing Linux companies.

Is Microsoft an evil company?. Truly it is, but it is sustainable. You can look at RedisLab or MongoDB Inc.


I thought it was common knowledge that the source code was open source but the compiled binaries were not. This isn't really news to most people.


This article should be deleted or edited. The entire thing is based on the author having a misunderstanding of the difference between the binaries and the code having 2 different licenses.


I've been using VSCodium for a year or so because of this.

I'm assuming that the only thing reverse-engineering VSCode binaries will find is the aforementioned telemetry, but the provision is there in their license.

I don't understand why anyone would use proprietary binaries from a company like Microsoft when there's a direct, free alternative.


There could be reasons. I use proprietary binaries because mostly they allow for quicker support than using only open source. Plus, I use Windows anyway, there's no open source version of that, lol.

But it depends on your priorities. I just realized that trying to keep my information out of hands of corporations is a waste of my time, they already have everything they need. So might as well take advantage of it.


Thank you for pointing that I am also seriously thinking about using VSCodium in the interim. But its time also to see other alternatives.


May I suggest Jetbrains products ? I've switched to PHPStorm and Pycharm years ago and never looked back.

Plus they're completely closed source so at least you know where you stand.

It's funny for someone to recommend closed source for that kind of reason, but it's not stupid: things that only appear free are basically trojans.

Important to note that PHPStorm and Pycharm aren't completely closed source.

github.com/jetbrains contains the Intellij Community edition where both Pycharm and PHPStorm are built on as well as the PHP and Python plugins.

Oh wow, I had no idea, thanks for pointing that out !


If you download the Github version and compile it, then the MIT license applies. If you download the binary from Microsoft, then the binary license applies. I’m assuming that’s because there are some proprietary bits in the binary that aren’t in the open source core.

This Seems like a non-issue to me.


For those who dont know theres a project called vs codium which removes all ms stuff from vsc:)


It looks promising but without some of VSCode's MS plugins vs codium is just another normal IDE though I would like to reserve my observation till I try it out.


The only extension I haven't been able to run in VSCodium is Live Share. Other than that all the MS extensions still work fine.
It's awesome

That and also the discord presence one


What do you mean? You can use any extension with it:)


I feel like this issue probably means very little, to a very few.


Yeah, Microsoft didn't buy GitHub because of wanting free open source. They bought it to completely OWN open source.
What will people do if they start charging money for GitHub for basic usage?
You'd have to transfer all your repositories somewhere else.
Everything that's free will never stay free, and conglomerates like Microsoft, Facebook or Google makes sure of that.


The day Microsoft bought GitHub I switched moved all my repos to gitlab. I am happier for that decision every day. I was almost unable to login to post this but thankfully Twitter was an option. I recommend anyone who uses GitHub try out gitlab.


Except the changes that were made to the pricing schedule are opposite what you worry about. I was already paying for github, could stop paying and have same benefits I started paying for initially (unlimited private repos) but I'm not worried about the $7/more which has been providing me quality since well before MS owned it, and will continue to do so.

It would not be in their interest to make the sort of changes you fear... now or ever.

Free access to Saas products, for most businesses, is a very worthwhile loss leader.


It's kind of a debatable scenario. In simple terms, Source code of VSCode is open source, But compiled binaries provided by microsoft is not. So if you want a true open source edition, you can compile the source code yourself. Or you can use a community compiled distribution like vscodium. Only bad stuff is that they have final control of project, So if community want to add a feature which are not in their interest, they can be an authoritive roadblock on the PR. Visa-versa, if there is a feature which they like, they will add it, irrespective wether community want's it or not.

It's bad but it's very common scenerio. Chromium is open source but google chrome is not. But marketing team of those companies love the twist of terminology. And google has final control of the project itself, so screw adblockers, If you want one, good luck maintaining your own fork.

It's even worst for android. The project and base code is open, android OS is not. But if you try to compile the OS yourself, you can't because there are hard dependencies on google services, without which the OS won't be functional. And those services are licensed. There are a few open source alternatives like gapps, but recently google want's you to get a certification key from them if you want to use those alternatives on a real hardware. Similar to how microsoft want to provide UEFI keys for linux distros.


I like that many here are having a much needed discussion about VSCode and Open Source license in general. But I am not alone in raising the issue.

Few References:


Those who do not care or understand about dual license issue and its implications, they can ignore my post. But those who do, they should explore vscodium with a clear license stipulation. As in stack exchange one user commented:

So VSCode and Visual Studio Code are different products. What a mess. I'm sticking with Mousepad. – 

I release my code under the ISC license. I use OpenBSD. I pay server companies money to use their hardware. They win. I have a secure server. I want that to continue. So it's in my interest to contribute money or diff's to OpenBSD. They win. I win. Microsoft Windows 10 is closed source and having a mountain of problems that their employees can't seem to fix. Looks like a closed source financial loss. Plays both ways.


I switched to vscodium after learning about the telemetry closed source code that Microsoft adds to vscode.


What's the problem with telemetry? Without it most of the products, including websites would be full of useless features.


Nothing at all, telemetry for guiding the direction of a product is great.

Why is it closed source? And what else is in the code? What stops other "actions" from being added to this telemetry codebase??

I can't be bothered to wonder about all that when there is a perfect alternative in vscodium.

So vscode source gets updated with bug fixes found by telemetry in vscode, then vscodium gets the code fixes? That's great as a free rider approach, but if the telemetry and fixes weren't there vscodium would suffer.

Telemetry stuff is closed source so you don't see how they send the data back to their servers. It doesn't necessarily mean something nefarious. You use closed source every day. It isn't inherently bad.

That said, Microsoft has given enough reasons to mistrust them over the years that the paranoia is understandable.


"It isn't open source so I don't want to use it". What?

Alright Julian Assange, go and make your own code editor.

And by the way, comparing VSCode to Eclipse is flat-out wrong. Eclipse is an IDE, VSCode is a souped up text editor.

If you want to talk about a Microsoft IDE, you need to look at Visual Studio.

To be honest I don't even know why VSCode exists. No need to hate on it for 'open source' reasons though. A criticism like that doesn't make a jot of sense.


I read through all of your post, but I'm not sure what your exact concern is. I'm not trying to be dismissive, but I don't understand your complaint.


theres a version of vscode that runs on a server, for those wanting a alternative.

so far ive only had problems installing some plugins but other than that it works great, and i can edit from wherever i am without having to install anything

search for "code-server" if you're interested


MIT license applies to source.
For binary release, they may distribute VS with any "bonus" features and their own licence.

Thanks for your post, I would rather have telemetry disabled by default...
And I will definitively check vscodium !


Normally i don't weigh in on issues such as this as i am a huge fan of VSCode and thus my opinion is biased. Here, though, misinformation is being spread in the comments regarding telemetry and the perspective of what is being "added" or "removed" is skewed.

The telemetry code and information isn't secret, hidden, closed-source, proprietary... You can look at the telemetry code in the repo, and you can view the telemetry information being sent by setting Log Level to Trace (F1->Developer->Set Log Level...) then navigating to Log (Telemetry) in the Output panel's dropdown.

While VSCodium does remove this code, it also isn't hidden from the public or "added in" to the official MS build. What is excluded from the MIT-licensed repo and added in to the MS-Licensed build are urls and keys used by the telemetry code. Excluding private keys and such from a git repo is standard practice, no ? To reiterate: they are not adding telemetry code to the MS build, they are excluding telemetry keys required for this functionality from the repo. (Of course, those biased against MS will point out that there is likely code that implements telemetry within the marketplace/debugging/etc code that is bundled with the official build - but this is incidental.)

There are other things like copyrighted icons/logos, marketplace/debugging/update code included as well, but that's not conspiracy-worthy is it ?


Now, for some opinion...

I look at telemetry of this sort as similar to voting. There are some features i use that i don't want to go away. If i (and others) let them know i'm using it, it's less likely to go away. If something is going wrong, i want them to know, so it can be fixed. You can skip voting or telemetry if you so choose, but you're not helping yourself or anyone else by doing so. And if you do share, you are likely to help yourself and others. A key difference being - MS isn't collecting any personal information and worst-case-scenario is the shared info is ignored.

If it can be shown that i'm mistaken about any of this, do let me know - i don't want to be spreading misinformation myself.


Every last bit of this. Yes.


So for those of us in the audience not paranoid and wearing tin hats, what exactly is there here to “worry” about?


Hopefully, it also sustains your mortgage


VSCode was the first product that gave me hope about the company and its direction after Steve Ballmer called Linux/Open source a cancer.


Is good to see in the comments that many people now have an open mind about this kind of questions 🙂. Yet, many still use their dusty tin foil hats.


A lot of governments will be looking again at open-source to lessen their dependence on foreign and sometimes capricious governments.


You can get a build of the opensource mit licensed vscode here



You have way too much time on your hands and might need a hobby