Microsoft Relaxes Open Stance

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2005-05-02

Microsoft Corp. is softening its attitude toward the open-source community, calling for a sit-down to discuss how it can better work with the open-source world.

At a recent conference in Cambridge, Md., sponsored by the Association for Competitive Technology, Brad Smith, Microsofts general counsel, called for cooperation among Microsoft, its competitors and the open-source community.

"I think that in the world of software development today, there is a broad panoply of software development models," Smith said. "I think were going to have to figure out how to build some bridges between the various parts of our industry."

One open-source community leader said this was the first conciliatory statement to come out of the Redmond, Wash., software vendor.

Larry Rosen, former general counsel for the Open Source Initiative and a leading open-source supporter, in Ukiah, Calif., who witnessed Smiths speech, said: "Im pleased to hear requests for bridge building, and I have been open to it all along. And I think its important that the entire IT industry, both the proprietary side and the open, free-software side, needs to at least understand each others positions better."

Eric Raymond, an open-source community leader based in Malvern, Pa., and a consultant to Sun Microsystems Inc. on its move to open-source Solaris, said he, too, welcomes the conciliatory tone from Microsoft.

"Nobody in the open-source world expects Microsoft to open-source their core products," Raymond said. "Given their business model, that would be insane. But, realistically, they could do some important things. One, open up their file formats. Two, put down the patent weapon. Do as IBM has and offer their software patents under royalty-free, paperwork-free license to open-source projects. Three, support open technical standards rather than sabotaging them."

But Smith argued that Microsoft and others have the right not only to hold their patents but also to exercise them to defend their intellectual property—though also to work in partnership with others.

Sanjay Prasad, chief patent counsel at Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, Calif., said: "A lot of people say that patents are the tools of big business to lock out other people, and they certainly are used by big business, but a patent has quite a bit more value to a small business than a big business. There is just no doubt about that."

Rocket Fuel