Monday, May 14, 2007

Microsoft versus Open Source Software

Microsoft has decided enough is enough. They have decided to publicly admit that Open Source software, such as Linux, is in fact a major competitor and threat to Microsoft's closed source Windows monopoly. They are accusing Linux developers of violating 235 Microsoft patent claims. The 50 billion dollar man, Bill Gates, wants another billion in his portfolio. Microsoft's Zune and Vista products must really be failing in the marketplace for Gates to pursue Linux so ferociously.
U.S. Supreme Court 9899
To begin with, Linux and other Open Source software could not have bought better publicity. Millions of people that never really understood what Linux represented will now receive an education on the viable, free alternative to insecure Windows. Hundreds of thousands of software developers that contribute a few hours to various open source efforts will now redouble their efforts.

This foolhardy move by Microsoft is actually the next step in a strategy designed to introduce an MS-Linux product. Microsoft and Novell, which sells a version of Linux, came to an agreement in 2006. Microsoft and Novell signed a pact in which both parties agreed not to take each other to court. In return, Microsoft secretly agreed to go after Red Hat's version of Linux, which holds the lion's share of the Linux market, approximately 70%.

The end result will be new versions of Linux that pose an even greater threat to the Windows monopoly. Anti-Microsoft hackers will be induced to redouble their efforts to breach Windows security with virus', worms, spyware, and similar threats. Google's alternative tools will get a major boost out of this confrontation. Finally, millions of other computer users, unwilling to sacrifice their data in this Verdun-like stand off will simply switch to Apple's OSX alternative.

Software patents have been riding an old horse lately, so far as U.S. courts are concerned. Various judges have recently decided that the U.S. Patent office has been issuing too many frivolous patents for inventions that multiple people were likely to have thought of at the same time. In another area of concern, the Labcorp v. Metabolite decision by the U.S. Supreme Court weakened patent infringement cases that seek to stop significant benefits from reaching the general public. In reality even the U.S. government knows it cannot stand in the way of technological progress that is leading to many huge economic and personal benefits.

Disclosure: The author worked for Novell several years ago, served as a consultant to Microsoft's Professional Support Services for a time, and holds stock in practically every major publically-traded software and hardware manufacturer.


Free Software Foundation

Fortune magazine

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