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:
- Microsoft doesn't have the manpower or the reason to sue every organization that created the infringing code, or every company that uses it.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?