Microsoft Lawyer Faces a Community Grilling

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2008-03-26 Print this article Print

Brad Smith admits the company has not always been as friendly to the open community as it could have been.

SAN FRANCISCO-Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith took the hot seat at the Open Source Development Conference here March 25, facing an hour of questioning from panelists and attendees.

But before the grilling started, Smith gave a 30-minute address about the parallels between open-source and proprietary software business models.

Microsoft respects and appreciates the role free and open-source software has in the industry and the hard work done by its developers, Smith said. "This is not what you have always heard from us, but I wanted to say it," he said.

There are three fundamental business models in the industry today: direct monetization, indirect monetization and open source, and there will be a number of business models going forward. "There is room for all of them," he said.

Turning to the controversial issues of interoperability, Smith said there is no historic example where the market leader pushed interoperability forward. While Microsoft has been on both sides of that fence many times, interoperability is a leading issue now as it is being driven by customers who "are in charge and want us all to work better together," he said.

A panel says the weakening economy is good for open source. Read more here.

The recent articulation of Microsoft's interoperability principles will guide where the company goes in the future. "I understand that people measure you by what you do, and that people will measure us by what we do. But words also matter, and we stood up and articulated what we wanted to do going forward with those principles," he said.

While a direct conversation on hard issues such as intellectual property and patents also is necessary, two engineers could solve a problem a lot faster than 1,000 lawyers, Smith said, "so let's get the engineers together."

But even after this conciliatory tone, Smith made clear that Microsoft believes in the patent system, as evidenced when company officials warned last year that free and open-source software violates 235 of its patents.

"We really do believe in the benefits that a well-functioning patent system creates when we all adhere to it," he said.

Even though Microsoft executives expressed support for patent reform in Washington and Microsoft has had more patent lawsuits filed against it than any other company, it still believes in the value of the patent system.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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