Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Microsoft Is Not Suing OSS, So Relax

So ya, Microsoft made a statement in Fortune magazine that Linux infringes on 235 of Microsoft's patents. And now the web is aflame with people raining fire down on Microsoft, assuming that they are gearing up for war. While I'm sure most of these people wrote their stories on this a long time ago, and pushed the "draft" button to publish at a later date. But the sky is not falling, and the world isn't coming to an end. People need to put their "big girl panties" back on for a second, and chill out. Here's why:

  1. Microsoft doesn't have the manpower or the reason to sue every organization that created the infringing code, or every company that uses it.
  2. Even if it did, I don't believe that its shareholders (or board members, for that matter) would allow that kind of expense to be expended when there is little guarantee of an equal or greater return (which is the purpose of doing business in the first place).
  3. Microsoft has made great effort in the last few years to be inclusive when it comes to dealing with the OSS community. They would not destroy that shareholder investment by filing a couple hundred lawsuits.
  4. Even if Microsoft were to take infringers to court, and won, the likelihood that the infringing software could be completely disentangled from the OS (which is the other result Microsoft would be looking for, besides cash) is low.
  5. MOST IMPORTANT: Microsoft even said specifically that suing companies "was a non-starter".

Let's face it. In the world of software development, everyone copies everyone. And Linux is, at it's heart, a decentralized operation to build software that competes against Windows by mimicking it, directly or indirectly. It may even have been done accidentally, which isn't terribly farfetched. Accident or not, it happened, and that's all well and good. But if you're an open source developer, and you think that duplicating someone else's technology doesn't open you or your organization up to liability, then you're an idiot.

Having said all that, here's what I think is going to happen. I don't know anything about Microsoft's plans on the situation, so my prediction is only based on my understanding of how Microsoft operates today. So anyway, Linux isn't going anywhere. I think this is part of a VERY highly coordinated operation to create an "amnesty blanket" for any current infringement, and work to prevent infringement in the future. Microsoft may very well get money out of whatever arrangement comes to pass, but I don't think that is the goal.

I think Microsoft's true goal here is to get FOSS developers to admit that knowingly duplicating Microsoft investments is wrong, just the same as piracy is wrong. Getting FOSS companies to enforce non-infringement with the FOSS developers their associated with is a good investment for Microsoft, because their technology is not duplicated, driving sales; and they don't have costly enforcement litigation.

Take a look at it another way: What if Microsoft stole technology that an FOSS developer had patented. What do you think would happen? The Slashdot crowd would scream bloody murder, that's what would happen. The same crowd, by the way, that is freaking out now.

So I can't stop the pundits of the web from punditizing over what is going to happen. But I do highly urge everyone involved to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and think this through logically. Maybe if we all have a civil and frank discussion over the state of the current patent situation, and come up with concrete solutions, maybe we can keep a crapload of lawyers without work. And that's a cause we can all get behind, right?

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Comments

  • Mattias said:

    Doesn't this sound very similar to the (alleged Microsoft funded) SCO campaign? SCO also claimed there were plenty of cases of infringements but later sort of came up short when it was time to reveal just exactly what these infringements were? Until they reveal the evidence which I guess means going to court I don't think they are credible at all just seems like the standard FUD campaigns they've been running for years?

    May 14, 2007 3:47 AM
  • PComment said:

    "Maybe if we all have a civil and frank discussion over the state of the current patent situation, and come up with concrete solutions, maybe we can keep a crapload of lawyers without work."

    I'd like to point out here that proprietary software companies provide a LOT more lawyers with work than open software developers ever could.  ok?  :)

    With regards to the hope for a "civil and frank discussion" over patents in the linux kernel, the fact that Microsoft has withheld the list and details of the infringements until now shows that they have no interest in getting OSS developers to avoid copying microsoft's code.  It shows more of a tactical move on M$'s part: make big claims to scare corporate linux customers into avoiding potential issues.

    Another fact is that some very important linux developers at Novell have quit in protest over Novell's new amnesty agreement with M$.  As far as I can tell, every kernel developer I've heard from has expressed disgust and frustration with M$.  Among other things they claim that M$ has done little to work with linux kernel developers to resolve IP infringements in any way.

    So please do tell me again HOW is it that M$ is simply fighting over the principle of it, if they made no good faith efforts to resolve the "situation" and simply went straight to the press with wild claims and no facts behind it.

    May 14, 2007 5:31 AM
  • DosFreak said:

    [quote]Microsoft doesn't have the manpower or the reason to sue every organization that created the infringing code, or every company that uses it.[/quote]

    What infringing code? Microsoft has provided no proof, which they need to do unless they want to go through the same thing that SCO did.

    If they do decide to provide the proof then the code can be rewritten and therefore there is no infringement. I doubt MS will do so anyway, the statement they issues was just more FUD for their Novel/Microsoft partnership.

    [quote]And Linux is, at it's heart, a decentralized operation to build software that competes against Windows by mimicking it, directly or indirectly[/quote]

    Explain to me how a kernel copies Windows?

    May 14, 2007 6:31 AM
  • May 14, 2007 7:23 AM
  • May 14, 2007 7:23 AM
  • Marco Louro said:

    How about Microsoft copying Apple in since the 80's or more recently copying Google? Do you think they should stop mimicking it?

    It's because of these kind of atitudes that I've switched to linux as my main operating system. Too bad I'm still kinda forced to use windows to develop in .NET

    May 14, 2007 8:43 AM
  • aa said:

    I find it ironic given Microsoft's history of copying (and hence in your terms not respecting other companies investments) you now feel Microsoft should be immune from the same.  Word, Excel, XBox, Windows, C#, Internet Explorer, Direct3D, SQL Server, etc. were all copied from other companies work.

    As for patents, there are so many of them that it is impossible for anyone to write any code and avoid them (in part because if you took the time to learn about all the patents you would never have the time to actually write any code).  And yes, it is likely that Microsoft has violated patents held by open source companies like Red Hat or through the patent defence agreement the open source community has.

    May 14, 2007 8:48 AM
  • May 14, 2007 11:09 AM
  • James said:

    If they are not going to sue, why won't they release the EXACT list of things they allege are being stolen?  If you are so sure Linux only exists to copy windows, then why don't YOU post the list?  In the real world, when someone makes scary sounding threats and asks for money to prevent those threats from becoming real, that is called "extortion".  When Microsoft (or SCO) do it, the Windows crowd makes excuses and applaud.

    May 14, 2007 11:49 AM
  • May 14, 2007 4:22 PM
  • fog said:

    dude, relax yourself

    May 14, 2007 4:39 PM
  • May 14, 2007 4:42 PM
  • stubear said:

    Something I think people are forgetting the the distribution of source code with FOSS.  If one has access to the code and it can be proven that they have developed their own solutions around that code, even if it's in-house, they coudl be liable for patent violations because they are now developers of the infringing FOSS application.

    May 14, 2007 10:00 PM
  • DosFreak said:

    Looks like Balmer is going to be throwing a few more chairs....

    http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1729908,00.asp

    May 15, 2007 7:25 AM
  • monty said:

    [quote]And Linux is, at it's heart, a decentralized operation to build software that competes against Windows by mimicking it, directly or indirectly.[/quote]

    Have you ever worked on a linux environment?

    I understand that you must defend microsoft at all costs, but please do not make a fool of yourself.

    May 15, 2007 10:19 AM
  • Mattias said:

    This must by far be the dumbest move Microsoft has done in some time.

    "I think this is part of a VERY highly coordinated operation to create an "amnesty blanket" for any current infringement, and work to prevent infringement in the future."

    Oh so it's just another of their racketering like license scams is it? They watched SCO pull their crap and blatantly copied it, monkey see, monkey do. Me thinks monkeyboy corp. will have to invest in a whole lot of new chairs fairly soon.

    May 15, 2007 11:25 AM
  • May 15, 2007 1:56 PM
  • May 15, 2007 7:01 PM
  • Monty, I have used Linux before, very recently in fact. It was one of the most frustrating experiences I've ever had. Apparently you have to be in MENSA to use it, because it was a royal pain in the ass to figure it out. Let's just say that my mom's not going to be running linux on her machine any time in the near future.

    May 17, 2007 11:13 AM
  • May 20, 2007 3:34 PM
  • May 20, 2007 11:09 PM
  • May 22, 2007 5:45 PM
  • Jacob Immerson said:

    > Let's just say that my mom's not going to be running linux on her machine any time in the near future.

    Well, my mom (and my little sister) runs Linux on her box. It seems to work sufficient well, as she does all her daily computer-work without my slightest help. Quiet happily.

    I know there are some deficits regarding multimedia... but it's simple and works very well out-of-the box (thanks to Ubuntu&Co.).

    Maybe she just isn't bound tight enough to specific OS quirks...?! ;-)

    May 31, 2007 11:11 PM
  • Ivan said:

    Interesting...

    June 22, 2007 11:33 AM
  • Aiakos said:

    interesting

    July 9, 2007 9:13 PM
  • Panayiotis said:

    interesting

    July 13, 2007 8:07 AM
  • Rev said:

    [quote]Take a look at it another way: What if Microsoft stole technology that an FOSS developer had patented. What do you think would happen? The Slashdot crowd would scream bloody murder, that's what would happen. The same crowd, by the way, that is freaking out now.[/quote]

    So Microsoft placing a patent on the same functionality of an operating system using "User Account Control" to require local admin privileges to perform certain tasks doesn't infringe on intellectual creation of actually being a command call sudo in *nix environments? Let's see, Coggeshall and Spencer implemented it around 1985 and the patent by Microsoft was failed, erm filed, in 2000...

    Not only that but when you talk about mimicking, you may want to cross check some time lines prior to blogging your ignorance to the intarweb. Microsoft just started to think that local users as local admins _might_ be a bad thing. Linux has done it from the beginning.

    Microsoft claims to hold all these patent claims on Linux against using a GUI, yet they don't even mention Apple? If they invented the GUI they better hit Sun and Novell too...

    Windows fanboys can be some of the worst simply because they actually believe MS pioneered the Operating System. I use Windows and multiple distros of Linux, i like them both, I have however grown weary of the Microsoft militia waving patents and over-exaggerating on groundless claims just because their Vista OS (which highly resembles Linux GUIs not to mention the Widgets idea they stole) sucks in sales. Windows XP is out-selling Vista and will continue because of the simple fact they are forcing too much change at once on people they made millions on by providing a dumbed down operating system that required little thought of consequences.

    You can say Linux was the most horrid experience in your life but for those of us intrigued by it and it's uses and qualities just feel you are that much less qualified to post articles pertaining to it or about it. Take your blinders off and quit drinking the MS koolaid. They aren't the end-all be-all and as time progresses they will continue to push more people away from their product.

    If you research the growth process of an piece of software, in the US Windows has peaked and it's only a matter of time before people start drifting to the thought of change to save money. Not to mention with the recent raids on their offices overseas for antitrust suits, and trying to go after all mom and pop computer shops in India and Asia they're actually propelling people to choose Linux.

    July 27, 2007 12:27 PM
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