March 26, 2008 1 Comment
You have to hand it to Brad Smith, general counsel for Microsoft. Last night he delivered the “footnote” address at the Open Source Business Conference 2008. Not only was the general counsel for Microsoft going to have a tough crowd, but he agreed to talk for 30 minutes, then get questioned by a panel [Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu), James Bottomley (CTO, SteelEye and Linux kernel maintainer), Andrew Updegrove (standards lawyer extraordinaire), and Stephen O’Grady (Redmonk co-founder)] for 30 minutes and then get questioned by the audience for 30 minutes. As you can imagine some of the questions from the audience were less than constructive, but overall I think things went well.
Some of the highlights (as I remember them).
* Brad stated definitively that in his opinion the general Open Source community does respect IP. This is the first time I have heard someone from Microsoft say this in such a pointed way.
* He admitted that Microsoft had some messaging problems around Linux and Open Source in the past (a cancer, for instance). In his opinion Microsoft has legitimately changed its opinion on the topic, fueled by customer demand.
* Microsoft is generally interested in wider interoperability with the Open Source community, but admits there are issues around both patents and other items. Also remarked that while Microsoft did not initially lead this effort, market leaders typically do not.
* When asked more specifically about the patent issue by James (and then an audience member), his answer was that “there’s no easy answer to this problem.” He did add that he and Microsoft were more than willing to continue a dialog, but that compromise would be needed on both sides. It was pointed out that on some of the issues the Open Source methodology will not allow compromise, which kind of left things up in the air.
I think it’s clear that some parts of Microsoft really are opening up to the idea of change. I still remain skeptical that real change is possible while Ballmer remains in charge, but I do think the beginning of the foundation can start to be formed. Whether this will go somewhere substantial or whether it’s just lip service remains to be seen, but time will make that quite clear.