Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, networking, open source, and cloud computing

Who Didn't See This Coming?

Network World published today that Microsoft is reportedly seeking royalties on the distribution of open source software that supposedly violates 235 patents. Now tell me, who didn’t see this coming? With the recent Novell-Microsoft pact, it became much clearer to me that Microsoft was preparing for outright war against the open source community, and now it appears that is very likely the case.

The Network World article is based on an interview from Fortune magazine (available here via CNN/Money) in which Microsoft officials, including Brad Smith (Microsoft General Counsel) and Horatio Gutierrez (licensing chief?), discussed their plans for getting FOSS (free/open source software) users to pay royalties on violations of no less than 235 Microsoft patents. (By the way, I strongly recommend you read the full Fortune article.)

Now, it may be true that Microsoft won’t actually sue FOSS users or developers, as indicated here or here. I certainly agree that it would be monumentally stupid for Microsoft to start suing its own customers, and it makes sense that Microsoft distributing SuSE Linux coupons makes it a Linux distributor and therefore subject to the GPL themselves. However, after Microsoft skated out of the antitrust violations essentially unharmed, I’m not convinced that the FOSS community is as well-protected as they might think. I hope that they are, but I’m not entirely convinced yet.

I’ll tell you one thing: This most certainly reverses a great deal of the goodwill that Microsoft had been generated with the FOSS community and FOSS users, and it drives many users to stop using Microsoft products altogether. I don’t consider myself a Microsoft basher, and have on many occasions openly welcomed many pieces of Microsoft software because, quite honestly, they were the best available. I can’t say that I’ll be quite so open to Microsoft now, especially personally. (Anyone care to recommend a high-quality replacement for Microsoft Office on Mac OS X?) If nothing else, Microsoft has definitely succeeded in creating a larger amount of bad press, ill will, and mistrust.

There’s a lot of discussion going on around the Internet on this topic; here are just a few links:

I also strongly recommend that you read the Groklaw article on this turn of events as well.

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