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Microsoft's open source complaint

Microsoft's open source complaint

Microsoft's claims that open source technologies infringe on 235 of its patents irked some IT managers, while others said they viewed the patent offensive as nothing more than a standard corporate business tactic.

But none of the half-dozen IT executives who were interviewed about Microsoft's infringement assertions plan to change their open source adoption strategies — at least, not unless and until there's a good reason for them to do so.

Among the users in the irked camp was Darryl Lemecha, CIO at data aggregator Choicepoint. The patent claims sounded like "more saber-rattling on Microsoft's part," Lemecha said via e-mail.

"To throw out broad statements to the marketplace doesn't help anyone," he wrote. "It creates uncertainty for the open source community and causes animosity toward Microsoft. No one wins."

Choicepoint isn't a major user of open source technology, but it runs Linux servers as well as Unix, Windows and mainframe systems. The Georgia-based company respects Microsoft's desire to defend its intellectual property, Lemecha said. But, he added, the software vendor's claims weren't specific enough to be worrisome at this point.

Joe Lindsay, CIO at Secured Funding in California, said Microsoft's manoeuvring may scare some users away from Linux and other open source software in the short-term. "It's like saying, 'I have a big baseball bat, and I'm going to hit somebody,'" Lindsay said. "Everyone runs away."

But he predicted that in the long run, Microsoft will suffer the most damage, because it should be focusing more on developing innovative products than on threatening other vendors that have outsmarted it. "Its business model is fundamentally changing, and Microsoft is using [the threat of] the courthouse to extend its old way of doing business," Lindsay said.

In a statement Microsoft issued confirming the patent claims, the company said it was speaking out because of concerns that Version 3 of the GNU General Public Licence "attempts to tear down the bridge between proprietary and open source technology that Microsoft has worked to build with the industry and customers."

Microsoft wants to sign more deals with open source software vendors like the one it announced last November with Novell, which agreed to pay Microsoft a share of the revenue from sales of its SUSE Linux operating system. The two companies also promised not to sue each other's customers for patent infringement.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licencing, said on Monday that the deal with Novell "meets the needs of customers, furthers interoperability [between Windows and Linux] and advances the interests of the industry as a whole". But the latest draft of GPLv3 includes language that could make similar agreements legally impossible.

Bill Hilf, Microsoft's point person on open source initiatives, said the vendor has no plans to start suing companies for patent infringement — a comment that matched the company's assertion earlier that it prefers licencing to litigating.

"I'm trying to be as clear as I can to people that this isn't a threat," Hilf said. "We're not going out and attacking people. We're trying to solve an [intellectual property] issue."


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