[Linux-aus] Re: Microsoft Settlement Means Big Gains Over Linux

Leon Brooks leon at cyberknights.com.au
Tue Apr 20 12:02:12 UTC 2004

> ''Microsoft clearly wants a clean slate,'' says Laura DiDio,
> tech industry analyst at the Yankee Group. ''You can't go full
> speed ahead on all of your initiatives with lawsuits as
> sandbags around your ankles.''    

Laura tends to get some technical points badly wrong, has a yawning gap 
in her understanding of open source processes in general, and seems 
unwilling to learn her way past these things.

However, I think she's right with this statement. Microsoft have figured 
out that they have a lot of cash and a bad reputation and are swapping 
one of the other.

> by getting its patents in order, Microsoft reinforces a
> distinct advantage over Linux. Microsoft tightly controls
> its proprietary code, while Linux taps ideas from hundreds
> of sources.

This, however, is completely bass-ackwards. If The SCO Group's processes 
were out in the open for everyone to see, they couldn't have poisoned 
the PR waterhole so thoroughly. You'll notice that their case no longer 
features the original copyright claims, nor does it feature any patent 
or trade secret claims.

Patents are a distinct advantage over everybody else, including your 
customers. Microsoft seems to find this innately pleasing, which I 
think means they've been paying too little attention to IBM's response 
to TSG, because IBM holds far more patents than Microsoft and has used 
a few of them as an additional layer of insurance against TSG. If 
Microsoft ever attack an open source community more directly than they 
have through TSG, it will be Microsoft copping it in the neck from 
IBM's patents, and the consequences of that could be far-reaching.

Meanwhile, the open-ness of Linux's development process is a distinct 
advantage because it is relatively trivial to track the instigation and 
improvement of any section of code. In the case of TSG, within minutes 
of the wraps coming off one of their claims the corresponding piece of 
Linux was identified, along with its authors. In each case, this has 
been enough to clearly show one or more of several things from the very 
sparse code fragments so far confessed to by TSG:

  * TSG's match was false; and/or

  * the code was contributed by TSG (as Caldera); and/or

  * the feature was prior art; and/or

  * the feature was started and brought to fruition by a number of
    people, none of whom had any access to the patented or copyrighted
    code in question; and/or

  * the code was public domain to start with or derived from it.

Because Microsoft's processes are hidden, access is tightly controlled, 
they don't have anything like this level of accountability. Read any of 
their EULAs: they don't even try to claim it, do they?

An ever-increasing number of people are looking at Microsoft's lengthy 
track-record of half-truths, innuendo and false denial, and turning 
away to embrace an accountability which is genuinely useful to them. 
For this growing throng, proprietary code tightly controlled by someone 
else is a distinct handicap, far more troublesome than multiple 
convictions for monopolisation.

> ''Microsoft can stand behind its code because it is proprietary,''
> DiDio says.

Microsoft stand behind a pig in a poke, no more and no less. To many 
wary enterprises and governments (and insurers), that's not enough.

Even the governments which get to see MS Windows code are not allowed to 
verify that what they're seeing matches what they're running, let alone 
adjust it to suit their needs, and that's not enough either. Nor are 
they allowed to see the code for all of the applications that ride the 
operating system, which is definitely not enough.

I think that's a good illustration of how frequently both open source 
and proproietary development models are misinterpreted.

We have a local supercomputing cluster which is built entirely on 
software contributed by random individuals from all over the world. 
Microsoft, with all of the will in the world, haven't been able to 
match that with their secret proprietary sauce.

Go and read http://Wikipedia.org/, a powerful information resource 
assembled by *anonymous* random individuals from all over the world. 
Sure, it has less pictures on average than Encarta, but it also covers 
topics that Encarta wouldn't dare, and covers them with sometimes 
painful honesty.

In both cases, the dominant selection criterion has been usefulness, not 
budgets or marketing hype or corporate roadmaps, and what do you know? 
It works.

Cheers; Leon

http://cyberknights.com.au/     Modern tools; traditional dedication
http://plug.linux.org.au/       Vice President, Perth Linux User Group
http://slpwa.asn.au/            Committee Member, Linux Professionals WA
http://linux.org.au/            Past Committee Member, Linux Australia
http://osia.net.au/             Member, Open Source Industry Association

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