The Microsoft Spin on Linux

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-03-05

If you want to tell the difference between a principle and a platitude, invert a statement and see if the result sounds absurd. If no one could possibly support the opposing sentiment, the original statement is merely a platitude that adds no value to a discussion. Thats our take on Microsofts statements on open-source software licensing: Its stating platitudes, not principles.

Some would say that were actually being too charitable in letting Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin restate his original remarks on the open-source model. As quoted in an interview that Allchin surely must regret, he warned that "open source is an intellectual property destroyer," adding, "I cant imagine something that could be worse ... for the software business." We disagree, vehemently, with that original statement.

If anything, open source has the potential to bring the software industry back to the marketplace—following a decade in which one company determined what innovations would take place, when and at what price. Many IT buyers are discouraged by the resulting accumulation of complex features, piled atop an unsteady foundation of aging but inaccessible proprietary code.

In consequence, the software business is suffering, with savvy IT buyers regarding "upgrades" with suspicion and with individual buyers literally afraid to install new applications on currently working systems. The hardware business is showing sympathetic distress.

Open source restores a market environment in which a would-be buyer can invite potential suppliers to meet a need, at a price, in an innovative way.

It was when Allchin said, "Im an American, I believe in the American way," that he most egregiously failed our platitude test. What was his implication? That open-source practices are un-American?

When Allchin said, "We can build a better product than Linux," did he mean "unless unpaid open-source hackers keep improving Linux for free?" Weve invited Allchin to clarify; hes told us that hes "considering writing a paper on the subject." Well look forward to seeing that.

In the meantime, were sympathetic to Allchins preference for the BSD license, which does not "contaminate" products based on open-source foundations with carry-forward open-source requirements. Yes, this would make taxpayer-funded software a foundation for both open-source and proprietary software products. Were sympathetic, but that doesnt mean were persuaded: First, someone needs to establish that taxpayer-funded proprietary software is good for (they started it) the American way.

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