Microsoft takes on the free world

Some thought it was inevitable, while other thought it would never happen. From a recent Fortune article:

Free software is great, and corporate America loves it. It’s often high-quality stuff that can be downloaded free off the Internet and then copied at will. It’s versatile – it can be customized to perform almost any large-scale computing task – and it’s blessedly crash-resistant.

A broad community of developers, from individuals to large companies like IBM, is constantly working to improve it and introduce new features. No wonder the business world has embraced it so enthusiastically: More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data centers.

But now there’s a shadow hanging over Linux and other free software, and it’s being cast by Microsoft. The Redmond behemoth asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents. And as a mature company facing unfavorable market trends and fearsome competitors like Google, Microsoft is pulling no punches: It wants royalties. If the company gets its way, free software won’t be free anymore.

The conflict pits Microsoft and its dogged CEO, Steve Ballmer, against the “free world” – people who believe software is pure knowledge. The leader of that faction is Richard Matthew Stallman, a computer visionary with the look and the intransigence of an Old Testament prophet.

Then come the details:

Microsoft counters that it is a matter of principle. “We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property,” says Ballmer in an interview. FOSS patrons are going to have to “play by the same rules as the rest of the business,” he insists. “What’s fair is fair.”

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties. Revealing the precise figure for the first time, they state that FOSS infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents.

The 235 number is fairly close to the previously given (and disputed) 228. While the lengthy article does get some minor details wrong, it’s a good way to get up to date on the situation if it’s not one you’ve been following. On to why Microsoft choose to do this now. It could be that they think the GPLv3 has teeth and are trying to get out ahead of its release. It could be that they’ve not been as effective as they thought they’d be at battling Open Source and Linux more directly. Regardless of the reason, I agree with Larry:

If Microsoft believes that Free and Open Source Software violates any of their patents, let them put those patents forward now, in the light of day, where we can all evaluate them on their merits. If not, then stop trying to bully customers into paying royalties to use Open Source. It’s time for Microsoft to put up or shut up.

(Tim put it nice and succinctly: Four Words for Microsoft: Litigate or shut up

It appears that the battle lines are being drawn and the cold war of software patent world may be coming to an end. The players involved here are huge and the amount of money astronomical. Who has the most to lose? I’d say Microsoft. How will this play out? We’ll all be watching closely, that’s for sure. One has to wonder how Novell feels about their recent deal right about now.


2 Responses to Microsoft takes on the free world

  1. winkydo says:

    interesting that about a year ago microsoft launched Port25.

    i would like to be a fly on the wall in a novell board meeting. i’m wandering if they have been contacted or where contacted by the open invention network before the patent deal went down last fall, and if there has been any ‘i told you so’ responses from the industry, not just the blogosphere.

  2. Pingback: Microsoft and the ‘Do More Evil’ Slogan - Untwisted Vortex

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