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Open source, insert foot

Microsoft has taken the offensive against the rest of the world. 5/09 ReleVents hed: Open source, insert foot dek: Microsoft has taken the offensive against the rest of the world. By James Mathewson

I was dumbfounded as I read a New York Times article last Thursday that discussed an advanced copy of a speech the newspaper had received from a Microsoft senior strategist. The speech, by Senior Vice President of Advanced Strategies Craig Mundie, delivered to New York University’s Stern School of Business, basically labeled the open source movement bad for business.

In a story that appeared on our site over the weekend, Mundie described the GNU Public License (GPL), which is the basis for just about all open source software, as a “virus” that undercuts the ability for developers to make money and jeopardizes their intellectual property.

I’ll let you read the story. And this is just the first stab at the topic that will be covered at length in my Insights column in July. The view I will argue for at length in Insights is that if Mundie represents Microsoft’s actual position on open source software, it’s in for a tough road in the coming months and years.

For now, let me take a swing at a couple of fat pitches Mundie left up in the strike zone. First, Mundie promotes Microsoft’s preferred shared-source philosophy over open source. Basically, under shared source, Microsoft agrees to let developers see certain parts of its source code, so that they can release products around the time of Microsoft’s related products. For example, a Microsoft preferred developer that writes an extension to its Office suite can see the prerelease code and ship its product at the same time as Office 2001.

While this is great business for Microsoft, it does have one very bad consequence for the development community. Basically, Microsoft can set the terms of any release of shared source. If you want to write software that works with one of its OSes or other platforms, you have to agree to a lot of other terms and conditions. Shared source is good for Microsoft, but it is not necessarily good for third-party developers.

Another comment Mundie made must have the likes of IBM and HP rolling. He basically claimed that any large company that agrees to develop with open source software is not using sound business sense by letting its vital intellectual property out the door. In the Times story, an IBM spokesman said the company would not develop with Linux were it not good business. “And, as you know, we have a lot of lawyers,” he told the Times.

Basically, Mundie’s speech should be no surprise to anyone who has followed Microsoft’s business practices. It doesn’t just want to do business within markets, it wants to own markets. Certainly, you can’t own markets with open source. But you can do pretty good business with it.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and

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