Microsoft vs Open Source: only one loser

Microsoft, of course. Fortune reports that Microsoft will seek to extract royalties from users of open-source software. That would be monumental folly. Here’s why.

First, the company already has an image problem. It’s the “Evil Empire”, the vendor we love to hate. Litigating against free software would be appalling PR.

Second, let’s consider who would lose out if Microsoft succeeded in making widely used open source operating systems or applications illegal. Clearly, it would be the users of that software. But these users are in many cases also Microsoft’s customers. Windows on the desktop, Linux and Apache on the server, for example. Anyone who uses the internet uses open source software. If Microsoft litigates against open source, it will be litigating against its own customers.

Third, Microsoft won’t succeed. I don’t find it difficult to believe that:

…FOSS infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents.

as Fortune reports. But what if big patent holders like IBM decide to trawl their files looking for ways in which Windows or Office might infringe a patent or two? I’d be astonished if they came back empty-handed. This is not a game that Microsoft can win.

Fourth, the free and open source software movement is good for all of us. It’s lowered prices and fostered innovation. That’s a problem for a company that decides to attack it, because everyone will want it to fail.

Fifth, Microsoft has a dismal record in the courtroom.

Sixth, major legal confrontations are a huge distraction. They drain productivity. They divert energy and attention away from what the company is good at.

If Fortune is to be believed, Microsoft has been listening too much to its lawyers, and not enough to its customers.

Microsoft can thrive alongside open source. The way to do so is to create great software like Silverlight. Not by embarking on unwinnable legal contests.

Despite the above, I can understand (though not approve) that Microsoft may wish to mutter about its patents now and again, to spread a little FUD and dissuade customers from a switch to Linux. This may be no more than that. Otherwise, it is making a costly mistake.


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3 thoughts on “Microsoft vs Open Source: only one loser”

  1. the internet is open and public by its original nature, to allow every individual in the world to communicate, the rise of the blog, the rise of different space for meeting. there is a war against this happening, from governments to corporations controlled by government, MS is one such entity controlled and seeking to control, in the process stopping any and all free creativity. if MS has such a desire for absolute use of its products eg ie they should get out of the free world wide web and have their own vpn. being forced to use any parties software is not the future it will be sad to lose such a developer as MS but if they chose to crash who can help them!

  2. This is not just spreading a little FUD. Microsoft has already secured millions of dollars in payments from Novell for patents it claims it controls, so it has already distorted the marketplace. And don’t be too quick to assume that everyone will be appalled by this. Obviously FOSS advocates will be, but for obvious reasons, big businesses tend to come down on the side of patent holders. If Microsoft’s claims get to court and win, it will be a ridiculous situation but not many will blame them for taking this action besides those who already hate them.

    I hope they do push it, all the way to the Supreme Court, because eventually something’s gotta happen to break all of this software patent insanity, but I very much doubt any of the big players are ever going to let it get that far. Why? Because they all know that software patents are on very shaky ground. It’s in all their common interest to protect the belief (and at this point it is just a belief and hasn’t been confirmed by the highest court) that every crummy little menu item in every two-bit program deserves a patent.

    If you think about it, the patent system is now run by a syndicate that cooperates to act as the gatekeepers keeping the American court system from working as it should. And they conspire to keep those gates shut with counterthreats, the risk of mutually assured destructions, and carefully chosen settlements.

    For Pete’s sake, it’s time for somebody to call their bluffs! A Microsoft/LINUX patent war could heat up enough people under the collar that we’ll finally get to see that happen.

    My prediction is that if the supremes were allowed to rule on it we would see software patents restricted to a very small subset of software operations, if any.

  3. I think it might be a good idea to revisit the reason why patents were introduced in the first place. It was to encourage innovation by guaranteeing a revenue stream for a fixed amount of time. Not to allow people to make as much money as they wanted for as little effort as possible.
    If somebody invents a truly innovative algorithm that addresses a long-standing gripe, such as a string search that doesn’t have a linear dependence with the string length, then they deserve to be rewarded for their creativity. Instead, we had Apple opening the Pandora’s Box of software patents with quite ridiculous claims on windows, scrollbars, icons and the suchlike.
    The most ridiculous patent I ever heard of was back in the 90’s when I was writing up my PhD. I was using an X-Window based system, and some firm claimed it violated one of their patents on ‘backing store’, where the contents of an obscured window was saved to another area of memory ready for redisplay when needed. If anything, I think the situation has got worse. Did you know that the idea of edit designers in MSHTML is patented, Tim? I didn’t, until I got really desperate with it and started searching the NET.

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