Fortune magazine is reporting that Microsoft believes that free and open source software violated more than 230 of its patents. From a business stand point, this seems like another way to increase Microsoft’s revenue from the royalties it must think that I can get from OSS community but at the same time ignorant would be OSS adopters might reconsider and stay with Windows which still means more money for Microsoft. However this is a rather myopic tactic since the possibility of revenue from royalties collected from OSS companies or groups is miniscule (just ask SCO); the number of players in the OSS movement can’t be threatened successfully by a single company. SCO’s approach to taking on Linux was to sue companies that use Linux and demand money from them. What are the effects of such an approach on Microsoft and its enormous install base?
Over the last two weeks I have been spending a some time looking at the projects available at codeplex.com. While most of the projects I have looked at (and were of interest to me) were in their starting stages, CodePlex is an interesting under taking though I still couldn’t get the feeling that I am dealing with Microsoft’s definition of open source. CodePlex is a good way for Microsoft to emulate the open source community and the advantages it has; it is more like Sun Microsystems with their JCP (Java Community Process) approach to managing and evolving Java (prior to its release to open source). I still believe that Microsoft needs to be more accommodating of open source in order for it to survive in the long term and though this particular piece seems more like another FUD tactic. Of course it also shows the internal struggle at Microsoft to have everyone tow the same line as far as Microsoft’s relationship with open source goes.
Microsoft is still putting efforts into defining FOSS in a manner that allows it to do business with it in a manner that it (Microsoft) is accustomed to. The deal with Novell was more about business than anything else and the threat of litigation could scare some more OSS companies to get into such deals with MS; the deals are beneficial to Microsoft from a business stand point and hence the more FOSS companies sign up with Microsoft the better their business.
While the posturing might seem interesting and all, up to this point there is no mention of a specific patent number that Linux or any other FOSS violates. A patent attack on OSS cannot be sustained because the very same reason that allows FOSS to evolve rapidly can be brought to bear to avoid and/or circumvent any credible patent infringement that Microsoft may have against the movement. This is something that Microsoft is probably aware of hence they need to be deliberately vague about their accusations or else those accusation may not hold for long.
The other angle of a patent attack defense would come from supporters of FOSS like IBM, Nokia, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems (and others) and groups like the Open Invention Network which represent a patent pool that can be useful in launching counter attacks.