Microsoft: 'We love open source'

A couple comments on this NetworkWorld Article:

Everyone in the Linux world remembers Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s famous comment that Linux is a “cancer” that threatened Microsoft’s intellectual property.

Ballmer is still CEO of Microsoft, but that comment occurred in 2001, a lifetime ago in the technology market. While Microsoft hasn’t formally rescinded its declaration that Linux violates its patents, at least one Microsoft executive admits that the company’s earlier battle stance was a mistake. Microsoft wants the world to understand, whatever its issues with Linux, it no longer has any gripe toward open source.

In 2010 Microsoft is trying hard not to be public enemy No. 1 to open source proponents, in some cases by making key contributions to open source code and in other cases by making Microsoft products interoperable with open source software.

“We love open source,” says Jean Paoli of Microsoft in a recent interview with Network World. “We have worked with open source for a long time now.”

The mistake of equating all open source technology with Linux was “really very early on,” Paoli says. “That was really a long time ago,” he says. “We understand our mistake.”

First, the article is correct: we all do remember the “Linux is a cancer” comments made oh so long ago. Unfortunately for Microsoft though, they have much to atone for. It’s not just the vituperative comments made in 2001, but the continued incursions since: the 235 Linux patent violations, the OOXML debacle, the HTC and TomTom licensing issues – the list goes on and on. Does that mean that Microsoft can’t change its ways? Of course not, but it does mean that many in the Open Source ecosystem are going to be a bit circumspect. I continue to believe that the odds of Microsoft truly changing while Ballmer is still CEO are minuscule, but I could be wrong.

Paoli’s recent work involves a new Microsoft initiative to promote interoperability among the key components of cloud networks. The initiative, described in July at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, is attempting to promote data portability; use of standards-based technologies; ease of migration and deployment across cloud networks; and developer choice.

The initiative isn’t strictly an open source project but it does illustrate Microsoft’s evolving relationship with open technologies.Microsoft seems to be making a concerted effort to befriend portions of the open source community, and the company could benefit in the public relations game from unpopular moves by Oracle, which is ending the OpenSolaris project and suing Google over use of open source Java in Android.

Along with the Cloud initiative the other large initiative mentioned centers around virtualization. It’s no accident that Microsoft tends to look toward Open Source and favor interoperability in markets where they are weak and demonstrably NOT the market leader, while doing all they can to fight interoperability in the markets where their cash cows are. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, and they do have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits, but it is something to keep in mind. Like other large companies such as Oracle, they’ll tend to be opportunistic supporters of Open Source.

But while the Linux driver project seems to be a success, it does not mean the entire “open source community” is ready to call Microsoft friend instead of foe. Open source is an approach to developing technology, and to some extent a philosophy. By its nature, open source cannot be represented by a single voice.

“You need to be careful about the term, ‘open source community,'” Kroah-Hartman says. “That’s a huge group, all of which operate independently and have their own views and goals. All I can represent is my own view as a member of the Linux kernel team and as a developer who creates different Linux distributions.

A good point by Greg KH and something that too often gets lost or misunderstood by the media. there is no single “Open Source Community”, but a large Open Source ecosystem made up of other ecosystems, communities, companies and individuals.

Microsoft is only “dabbling” in open source at this point, argues Matt Asay, chief operating officer of Ubuntu Linux vendor Canonical, in a column for The Register.

“One big bet Microsoft should make is on open source, the tool of the underdog, a label that is coming to fit the Redmond giant,” Asay says.

Microsoft “needs to go deep on Linux,” not by replacing Windows with Linux but by “acquiring Novell’s SUSE Linux business and focusing it completely on mobile,” Asay argue (though perhaps he simply wants Microsoft to take out one of his competitors).

Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that the COO of Canonical is suggesting that Microsoft should acquire Novell?

Microsoft has an opportunity to boost its reputation among open source proponents in part because of public relations mistakes by Oracle, which as noted earlier is ending the OpenSolaris project and suing Google over use of Java.

The unfortunate thing for Oracle is that it has previously embraced Linux by belonging to open source organizations, contributing to the Linux code and supporting Linux in the enterprise, Lyman says. In the case of the Java lawsuit, Oracle appears publicly to be attacking the open source community at large, even though its specific target is Google.

The Oracle moves do make Microsoft look good by comparison, Lyman says.

“This is good for Microsoft, that Oracle is being talked about as a foe of open source software,” he says. “A lot of observers see similar behavior from Oracle that is the stuff that got Microsoft in trouble. Oracle probably could have done a better job of making sure nobody thought they were attacking open source.”

If there ever were a time where Microsoft had the ability to ameliorate its image in the Open Source world, it’s now. I’ve covered the recent Oracle issue here and here, but suffice it to say that Oracle has stepped into a tenuous position in the Open Source world. Whether Microsoft is adroit enough to parlay that into them looking better by comparison remains to be seen.

–jeremy

Amazon Sells GNU/Linux down the River

From @glynmoody:

Here’s a particularly stupid move by Amazon:

Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has signed a patent cross-license agreement with Amazon.com Inc. The agreement provides each company with access to the other’s patent portfolio and covers a broad range of products and technology, including coverage for Amazon’s popular e-reading device, Kindle™, which employs both open source and Amazon’s proprietary software components, and Amazon’s use of Linux-based servers.

Microsoft has consistently refused to give any details of its absurd FUD about GNU/Linux infringing on its patents, which is not surprising, since they are likely to be completely bogus and/or trivial. So Amazon is showing real pusillanimity in making this unnecessary deal. Shame on you, Jeff.

The official press release is here. Is Microsoft out to once again start using FUD against Linux? The Financial Times seems to think it’s a possibility:

Late on Monday, it announced a patent cross-licensing deal with Amazon. Among other things, this will cover the e-commerce company’s use of Linux in its servers. That is a big deal: given Amazon’s ambitions to become one of the biggest operators of public computing “clouds”, this amounts to a major endorsement of Microsoft’s claims over some of the core IP in Linux.

There is a caveat, though: the announcement was short on detail. And that is sure to bring accusations that the software company is once again using FUD to scare other Linux users into submission.

It’s easy to predict how this will be received. Once again, Microsoft will be accused of using underhand methods to advance its claims against Linux. Remember the anger in open source circles when Linux distributor Novell reached its own deal with the devil? But the agreement still stands, and other big Linux users will be forced from now on to factor that in to their assessments of the IP risks of using the software.

As FT notes, details at this point are pretty scarce. Large companies enter into deals like this all the time though, and while it’s disappointing to see Amazon do this I can’t say it’s a huge surprise. What I do find surprising is that Microsoft decided to make a large press release about the deal. For its part, Amazon doesn’t seem to be releasing any additional comments. So is this a sign that Microsoft may once again try to get the patent FUD against Linux going? Will this force other companies to capitulate into signing similar deals? It’s too early to tell, but I hope not. I’m hoping additional details become available soon, which may help us glean some of the motivations behind the deal (which does specifically mention the Linux-based Kindle). As more details become available, I’ll post an update.

Additional Reading:
TechFlash
Financial Times
Jim Zemlin
Microsoft-Amazon IP deal dusts up old ‘target Linux’ story

–jeremy

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