6th December 2007

Responses to Microsoft’s “assault” on Linux/Open Source

posted by Eric C. in Uncategorized |

A few months ago this topic blew up, and I typed this up but I’m not sure what happened since I somehow managed to not post it on my blog. Anyway, I found it today and decided to go ahead and post it.

As you probably know, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith recently said in a Fortune article, that the Linux kernel violates 42 Microsoft patents, Linux GUI infringes 65 patents, that Open Office violates 45 and various open source e-mail clients infringe on 15. With 68 more patents supposedly infringed by other free/open source programs. Microsoft has now said it is not going to be suing users of linux and open source. That doesn’t rule out Distros or computer manufacturers that ship PCs with Linux preinstalled. Their goal is to strike deals similar to the cross licensing deal it made with Novell a few months back. Part of the problem with Microsoft’s plan is The Free Software Foundation has a proposed change to the GPL that would prohibit such an agreement. They said that if that happens, the deals like the one they have with Novell is only “one particular way of dealing with this problem. It’s not the only way in which the problem can be addressed.” I’m not sure what that means besides just suing the developer/distributors of Linux and open source but as that change to the GPL is still only proposed we’ll just have to see how this shakes out.

Microsoft also said that they won’t be publicly disclosing which patents they think are infringed, but “Microsoft has made the patents in question known to corporate Linux users and distributors.” according to InformationWeek. Which is one of problems Linus Torvalds see’s in Microsoft’s claims, stating that “Naming them would make it either clear that Linux isn’t infringing at all (which is quite possible, especially if the patents are bad), or would make it possible to avoid infringing by coding around whatever silly thing they claim.” “They’d have to name the patents then, and they’re probably happier with the FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] than with any lawsuit,” Torvalds predicted. Also that, “It’s certainly a lot more likely that Microsoft violates patents than Linux does, Basic operating system theory was pretty much done by the end of the 1960s. IBM probably owned thousands of really ‘fundamental’ patents,” Torvalds said in a response to questions submitted by InformationWeek. But he doesn’t like any form of patent saber rattling. “The fundamental stuff was done about half a century ago and has long, long since lost any patent protection,” he wrote.”

Sun CEO and President, Jonathan Schwartz replied to the situation, without actually mentioning Microsoft (or SCO, the company suing IBM for Linux copyright infringements). He talks about when Sun was pushing only high priced systems with Solaris OS on SPARC hardware and were loosing many customers to Linux OS and x86 hardware. “With business down and customers leaving, we had more than a few choices at our disposal. We were invited by one company to sue the beneficiaries of open source. We declined. We could join another and sue our customers. That seemed suicidal. We were offered the choice to scuttle Solaris, and resell someone else’s operating system. We declined. And we were encouraged to innovate by developers and customers who wanted Sun around, who saw the value we delivered through true systems engineering.” He then talks about some of the things they’ve done to get back the customers they lost. It’s seems to basically be fairly similar to what IBM has done and how most Linux Distros seem to make money, through customers paying for service and tech support. The main difference is Sun still sells hardware, they’ve made new UltraSPARC hardware and cheaper x86 hardware as well.

I agree that it’s pretty obvious that suing your customers is a bad idea, I’m not sure how Microsoft switching to a service only company would work out. I’ve heard people say that Microsoft sells Windows basically at cost and make their money on Office and server products. Well, why not make a “real” Office for Linux and start cashing in?

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